The Edison

Batteries Power Storage Units (PSU) Chapter 1 The Edison

We all know the drill of capitalism, repeat business pays the bills and keeps everyone employed. If every manufactured sold a product that never failed, once the market was saturated with that product, the company would fail unless they came up with an upgrade version, a 2.0 so to say. The U.S. automobile manufactures, back in the 1970’s, took the concept to automobiles. The cars broke down, smoked and raddled their way to the junk yard in a few short years. Then came the Japanese automobile manufactures, producing high quality engines, well built frames and smooth riding suspensions. The people loved it and the U.S. auto sales dropped off the charts. Why? Most of us want quality, not junk. The trick to the Japanese automotive industry was to produce long lasting engines and high quality chassis yet have the interiors fall apart in 5 years and keep changing the designs to look modern and new to drive the resale of their product… and this worked!!! So why bring this up when this post concerns batteries? Simple.

Survivor Duty means just that, industrial grade, heavy duty products designed to NEVER fail or at least have the survivalist a means of repairing the product with minimal “supply chain” resources. ALL batteries manufactured today are designed by “cycles of duty” for the markets they cater too. For the home user, the typical auto battery, has the most inexpensive materials, designed to fail construction, and durability just last at least 2 to 4 years. If the infrastructure failed for any length of time, the “cheep” lead acid storage batteries will be everywhere, yet they will be useless unless we had the knowledge to re-design them to last a lifetime, ( A SurvivorDuty future featured essay).

Survivor Duty products would go against the industry theories of profit and productivity. Our products would have twice the weight, twice the price, half the efficiency, yet have a duty life of a century and the ability of repair. Similar products manufacture today are military grade and industrial grade. Though the higher end products will last longer than the civilian markets, most are not serviceable or have minimal serviceability. The exception to this rule are products manufactured 20, 30 or 100 years ago. Examples are machines that did not consist of integrated circuits, did not contain unserviceable motors, did not contain plastic gears, and the list goes on. I will feature in this post an example of a product that was designed to last a century; the Edison Storage Batteries circa 1900s. A simple example of how U.S. industries can manufacture a product that will last a lifetime but today’s industry would laugh at the thought to sell one.

Battery technology is advancing so fast that most of us can not even keep up with the new technology. We simply buy the devices and motors that batteries supply power too not even giving a first or a second thought about the battery design or longevity. But there is one product that is NOT advancing in today’s markets and this is a serviceable, heavy duty power storage unit that would last a lifetime. Why would they? Most devices are obsolete in 2 to 4 years. We all like “new” devices, why keep a weathered old looking washing machine? In today’s market, there is no reason to manufacture anything lasting more then 3 to 5 years. So industry simply engineers products to fail after so many cycles. How do they do this? By way of sizing thin motor shafts, sleeve bearings, plastic housings and weak pulleys all mathematically proven to fail after so many fatigue cycles. But there was a product intentionally designed to last a lifetime, still in use today over 100 years old and more valuable today then the day it was manufactured and that is the Edison Battery. Not like old wine that increase in flavor as it ages, but the value of the Edison battery is in its construction. The old Edison batteries are weaker than originally sold, but they are still valued for their durability.  The Edison battery may not have the power density of today’s batteries if manufactured new, but if constructed like Edison made them, they would have a value to the survivalist. The Edison is a nickel–iron (NiFe battery). The electrolyte is caustic (alkaline), KOH, yet has no effect on the plates unlike sulfuric acid leached lead acid batteries do. The NiFe batteries use active metals that are oxidized, oxygen transfer between the two oxides as “oxygen lift” then reversed by way of the KOH electrolyte with no adverse affect to the plates. They can be over charged, undercharged, stored at no charge and the plates inside still look great even after 100 years of use (if water is maintained). Great for survivalist who may not have access to integrated circuit charge controllers! Open a lead acid battery today, 2 to 4 years old and the plates are buckling and the active paste is falling off. The electrolyte in a Edison cell is simple pot ash (wood ash), a survivalist dream of a storage device that can remain operational outside the supply chain. Do NOT mistake a newer NiFe battery of today to Edison’s originals. Today’s NiFe batteries are now held to the lead acid industry standards; all manufactured by way of polypropylene resin (plastic), unserviceable plates, sloppily construction and most manufactured overseas adhering a quality control that I find slap stick. The price of the new crap stick NiFe’s, are UNAFFORDABLE!

In figure (1), note the Edison rubber that held up for almost 100 years in an alkaline solution. Edison was a master with plastics at his time to develop the acoustic record. His rubber, (plastics), were not petroleum based as today but organic. Whatever the rubber compound Edison used in his batteries for internal insulation back in the 1920s are still just a durable as today sitting in a caustic solution for almost 100 years. [1] The only “corrosion” I found was “creeping salt crystals” on the positive tubes due to the absorption of carbon dioxide or carbonic acid form air. The crystals can be dissolved by over charging with new electrolyte then physically opening the case. The only recommendation for those who own and use Edison’s, if there is a high internal resistance, DO NOT THROW THEM AWAY! The plates could be warped and simply need to be straightened so no plate touches the other. If the insulation separators are damaged, simply cut and form your own insulators from rubber mats resistant to KOH. Cutting the top off, like I did, just below the terminal, (I simply used a “dremel”), the top can be re-attached and sealed at the cut line with a chemically resistant silicone. Simply apply to the silicone with a thin strip of package tape or “Kappler ChemTape Chemical Resistant Tape” to strap around the joint to give a smooth seal. Now you have a re-conditioned Edison to last another 100 years. Any modification to an antique battery will lose it value for a re-sale. So do you want to just look at it on your shelf like baseball cards or use it?


Figure 1

In Figure (2), Edison used plastic strips in place of fiberglass matting and separators. This method proves vary successful noting that this Edison battery is almost 100 years old and the plates are still divided. The condition of the plates and strips are in great condition considering they sat in a alkaline solution for almost a century. The open spaces between the positive and negative plates, without having matting and spacers, is greater. This allows greater oxygenation of the electrolyte with the active metals.

Figure 2

In Figure (3), is a great example of the durability of organic rubber Edison used on this batteries. This organic rubber vent cap maintains the flexibility and rigidity after over 90 years of use. If a reader has access of the rubber chemical composition Edison used in his batteries, please contact SurvivorDuty.

Figure 3

In Figure (4), the comparison of the quality of American industry back in the 1900’s. Stainless Steele was not widely used and expensive until the 1950’s. The quality and workmanship with nickel plated steel appliances such as this rail road lamp,  post 1920s, that after 100 years, there is only minor rust on surfaces that were heated. The Dietz “Vesta” Lantern was hand crafted and brazed with nickel solder. The quality of lamps and batteries manufactured today show the profitability of the “designed to fail” technology that would NOT survive 100 years, the “throw away” generation! This lantern was used, (held) by my grandfather who was a train engineer on the Monongahela Connecting Railroad in Pittsburg PA back in the 1920’s. His line fed the Steele mills of smelted red hot ingots while crossing the “Hot Metal Bridge.” Pittsburgh was once the backbone of America’s industrial revolution and was the same steel that forged Edition’s battery industry. On the burner of the lamp and the cap of the battery is stamped “Made in the USA” and they really were. Back when America not only made our own steel, but crafted our own products by our own ingenuity.

Figure 4

In Figure (5), Edison batteries are now a hot “commodity” for solar battery banks. Simply cleaned up and replaced electrolyte, the batteries are now the backbone of the modern era homesteading. The example of my Edison above, the rubber insulation and the condition of the plates, there is no need to open the cases to recondition the cells as long they do not have a high internal resistance. Modern manufactures hate this for the homesteaders who use them did not have to buy a “new” battery and the sale did not fill their pockets of a “modern” limited life, cheap, battery the manufactures now  love!

Figure 5

I am looking for investors to bring the original market Edison back in production. We are a limited market and there cost will exceed what most of us can afford. But, if we have a large volume of orders placed at one time, we can have a manufacture reproduce them, by Edison’s spec, in a volume price. This would eliminate a middle man and the design is no longer patented. So anyone can produce them but there is no market for them for most of us want the plastic versions from China at a somewhat affordable price. I have 10 of the modern, (plastic) version of NiFe and I am going to remove the PVC case and place them in the traditional glass case. Glass cases were used for both the lead acid batteries and the NiFe even though KOH does react with glass. But there are arguments by chemist that KOH does NOT react readily with glass and this would make sense since the earlier NiFe batteries used glass. I have not tested this yet. My new NiFe’s are crystallizing inside the case for the manufacture used their own patented electrolyte and that battery is no longer in production due to design flaws. I want to see what is going on and replace the electrolyte with straight KOH. I may even beef up the plates and feature this in a future post.

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