The Science Behind Edison Batteries: Pros & Cons

Even if you currently believe you can do without modern electronic devices, you are sure to reach a point where you realize that some gadgets such as thermostats, tractors, and medical equipment are critical if you want to live safely and comfortably.

In many cases, the most vital electronic devices may draw large amounts of power or require a steady supply to function properly. While solar, wind, water, and magnetic generation methods can deliver power, batteries or other storage devices will be important for managing excess power as well as smoothing out electricity delivery amounts. You can try using Edison batteries for this purpose as well as consider other power storage options.

What is an Edison Battery?

Essentially, the Edison Battery is a rechargeable battery. It uses iron and nickel plates covered by a solution of potassium hydroxide, which acts as an electrolyte. Even though this battery was patented by Thomas Edison in 1901, there are older, and far more efficient rechargeable batteries developed by other inventors.

For example, fore runners of the Nickel-Cadmium (NI-CD) batteries commonly used today were originally invented in 1899 by Waldemar Junger. He was a Swedish inventor that tried, and then dismissed the usage of iron in batteries in 1897.

Nevertheless, Junger has patents for his version of the “Edison Battery” going all the way back to 1897. As with many other things “invented” by Edison, other brilliant scientists either paved the way for his progress or simply got lost in the pages of history because Edison holds the patents here in the United States.


The Positive Plate is filled with nickel hydrate.When it comes to off grid survival, there are only two advantages to using an Edison Battery. First, these are the only rechargeable batteries that can withstand recharging on a daily basis. In fact, many people today that generate power from windmills rely on Edison Batteries because they do not break down for years on end.

Unlike other rechargeable batteries, Edison Batteries are much cheaper to make. Iron and nickel are both readily available when compared to cadmium and other metals used in modern rechargeable batteries. In a time of crisis, you may be able to create your own Edison batteries if you have access to a good junk yard or other sources of used metal. Once you know all the steps to building these batteries, you can have a reliable method for storing electricity generated by other devices.

Many people getting involved in the green revolution are concerned about avoiding adding more toxins to the environment. Since Edison Batteries are lead free, they are far safer than other rechargeable batteries on the market. When combined with lifespans of over 30 years, Edison batteries tend to be favored by people that want a battery that lasts for decades without a high cost to the environment.

Finally, Edison Batteries have a reputation for being able to withstand just about any temperature. They are also resistant to failing in applications where large amounts of vibration would cause damage to other batteries. As a result, they are commonly used in mines, trains, and other applications where having at least some functionality is more important than overall efficiency.


While Edison Batteries can be recharged many times; the charging process must occur slowly. If you happen to have, or develop high output solar panels or wind turbines, it is possible that these batteries will not be able to absorb the electricity fast enough.

Some other problems include:

  • Battery weight is very heavy. Therefore, if you need to move from one place to another, these batteries will definitely hamper mobility. At best, they should be stored at your bug-out location or you will wind up leaving them behind in favor of other important items.
  • Edison Batteries do not discharge high levels of power quickly. Consistently high drain devices such as refrigerators can be powered by these batteries, however the battery itself will break down fast under such a strain.
  • If recharging happens too quickly, or current is too stable, and the battery will heat up and cause permanent damage to it. Even though this can also happen to other rechargeable batteries, Edison versions are far more prone to having problems at lower voltage input levels.

Obtaining Edison Batteries

Most Edison Batteries purchased for off gridding and green energy are made in China. You can expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to almost $10,000 for 12v Edison Batteries sold in the United States. Batteries made in China may be cheaper, and will most likely work just as well as ones made in other countries. Before purchasing these batteries, you should know where they are manufactured so that you can be sure of getting the best deal.


As you may be aware, many people building DIY solar and wind power systems use old vehicle batteries for power storage. While lead batteries can contribute to pollution, they can still last for years on end and be recharged with acid as needed.

It is also important to note that capacitors can also act as storage devices for electricity, and be able to hold, or increase the voltage for years on end. Looking at your options and applying some creative thought to power storage needs is likely to show a solution that is cheaper, and perhaps better than using Edison Batteries.

That being said, if you happen to have some extra money in your budget, it won’t hurt to experiment with this battery type to see if it works for your needs.

Overall, there is no question that Edison Batteries play a key role in providing power for mines, forklifts, trains, and other applications where less expensive batteries tend to fail. On the other hand, it is not entirely clear that this type of battery will serve as an effective means to store power in a post crisis scenario.

Perhaps it is fair to say that if you know how to store and discharge these batteries properly, they can certainly enhance your chance of surviving a crisis without losing the use of important electronic devices.


This article has been written bu Carmela Tyrell for Survivopedia.

Written by

Carmela Tyrrell is committed to off gridding for survival and every day life. She is currently working on combining vertical container gardening with hydroponics. Tyrrell is also exploring ways to integrate magnetic and solar power generation methods. On any given day, her husband and six cats give thanks that she has not yet blown up the house. You can send Carmela a message at editor [at]

Latest comments
  • I have read your article with interest since I switched to nickel-ion batteries almost a year ago. I purchased the 500 amp hour batteries and have been very happy with them. The cost is less than half of what you have stated. I paid $463.00 per battery. Also, for off grid applications the batteries are 1.2 volts each not 12 volts. There are several advantages beyond their long life which is 20 years and better. They can take a near complete discharge without harming the batteries. My system will turn off the inverter when the batteries discharge to 40 volts and turn back on with the first power input from my 3600 watt solar array. There is no corrosion factor to deal with and with proper sizing they use very little water. Over charging does not harm them. Mine will charge to just above 67 volts but could go higher if my controller and inverter would permit. Being on a 48 volt system I could charge to 68 – 70 volts. My solar array provides 40 to 60 volts input to charge and charges my batteries adequately. I am powering a 4000 square foot home with two refrigerators and two freezers along with the other amenities such as a microway, hair dryer, vent fans and radiant floor heating. My one recommendation is to over build the battery bank so as not to boil off the water content in the batteries. In out little community there are about 10 households using the nickel – ion batteries. One individual let cost get in the way and purchased the 200 amp hour batteries and having to add water on a daily basis. I have only added water three times since I installed the batteries in May of last year. I was lucky to get eight years of service from my lead cell batteries (T-105). Since I was coming up on replacing 32 T-105’s it wasn’t a hard decision to make. One factor is that I can no longer carry the heavy batteries if I need to replace one. Respectfully, Carl

    • Carl, where did you get them? I, too, have a 48 volt system, live OTG and in Canada. Batteries are a killer price up here (well, everything is, actually). What was your source|?

    • hey, where did you get your batteries at that price.? I’m looking for some, and can’t find them for anywhere near that cheap without ordering them directly from China.

  • Wow! I didn’t know they still made these! Will be experimenting with this tech soon and was planning to start making them for myself as soon as I could update and optimize them for storage density and overcome their limitations. For instance, pairing them with a supercapacitor bank should more than compensate for their current handling limitations, as even a very small supercap can absorb and deliver 1,000amps with little heating.
    Except for heating and cooling appliances, modern technology actually needs very little power. Ok, I do have a homebrew supercomputer that demands up to 1,000W plus active cooling, but like the A/C and waffle iron, that’s what generators are for.
    I think the answer to the battery overheating is to incorporate active cooling. That is, cooling lines need to be integrated into the plates, with coolant circulating through them.
    If anyone knows where we can get more info on the operating characteristics of FeNi cells, pls post here! Thx 🙂

  • I would be VERY interested to know Ms. Tyrell’s qualifications to write on such technical subjects….the title of the article is VERY misleading, since NONE of the actual SCIENCE behind the Edison Nickel/Iron batteries was discussed. a TINY bit of technical tidbits, but NOTHING of substance, in this engineer’s opinion.
    While her statement about “30 years” of life IS technically correct, it is highly misleading – there IS NO practical lifespan for these batteries, since the electrolyte is not corrosive, and the plates, when properly manufactured do not degrade or transfer their plating from one plate to the other as in other. much less efficient batteries. There is a working set of Edison’s batteries in the Smithsonian that is over 100 years old, and has been continually working – charging and discharging, for over 65 years.
    ALSO – a HUGE caution….the nickel/iron batteries coming from China are, in this electrical engineer’s opinion, like nearly all other junk from China – they are CRAP!! Yes, they are cheaper….for good reason. Those that I have tested and experimented with have a lower life expectancy than standard automobile batteries, due to the nickel “plates” being merely nickel PLATED, rather than made of.
    The only reputable American manufacturer of the Edison batteries is, so far, Zappworx of Montana. If there are others, I would dearly like to know.
    Edison batteries are indeed MUCH more expensive, as an initial investment….if, however, your system is well designed by someone who actually KNOWS what they are doing, instead of simply opining, as this author appears to be doing, your system AND the batteries, should be something you can pass on to your grandchildren.

    • Rambuff,


      I have been building small scale solar and wind power systems for over 20 years. It started out as a hobby that I inherited from my father, who dismissed the idea that DIY solar power is sustainable and practical in all areas. You could say I have spent the last few decades trying to prove him wrong; which led me into Tesla Turbines and other means of enhancing solar plus conserving energy. That, and of late I am looking more into water and magnetic power generation methods. There is a lot of wrong information out there; hence my hesitance to title something as DIY unless I’ve actually built it, know for a fact that it works, and can highlight the speed bumps to watch out for.

      With regard to rechargeable batteries, I have been using the conventional small ones for decades and then auto batteries for solar and wind systems. Nickel-iron batteries are interesting and I have seen them in operation, but never bought one for my own use. I remain open minded but have seen these batteries turn into colossal failures if not taken care of properly. For survival, I might want to keep one on hand, but would never put all of my energy storage needs into one.

      I more than agree with you on “made in China” – perhaps many of the Edison batteries that I have seen fail were from there and not the US; so I thank you for highlighting something I hadn’t given much mind to.

    • Interesting observations, Rambuff, especially if you are an electrician and have experience in such things. These are always the best input /feedback in certain item comparisons. Carol wasn’t ‘misleading’, she just doesn’t have the space in a short essay to go into all the complications of such systems. At the Midwest ‘Energy Fair in Wisconsin last year i spent three days there with electronic oriented friends and i came away more confused than ever, lol! as far as OG systems and the variety of deep cycle batteries. The most fascinating thing was the engine that runs on water! That’s something the mechanical engineer friend i was with thinks is viable even though the G had been keeping it suppressed as they like to do often enough.

      Anyway, though, with all your criticism, you never gave us an idea of what YOU think the best batteries might be?

      • Please tell me about the engine that runs on water and how I can make one or get one or the info about it. I remember the video about the man that ran a car on water. The G had him killed. The powers that be hate anyone that can do this. I’ve been looking for more info on this for a decade and always ends the same…very little info about how to do it…actually do it.

        • BigMoe, i gotta find it again. I have so many priority projects to study needing more immediate attention that this was ‘shelved’ for the time being. I even have to search for the box of pamphlet info i gathered from the fair.

          I also saw an early version of water being used as fuel in a side booth at the EAA annual air show in Florida a few years back also. So the idea has been around.

          At the energy fair booth the guy actually had a small lawnmower size engine converted to water fuel. But i think only about a month ago i received something in my vast influx of related email info that also had plans for sale for a workable water fuel engine.? I’ll try to check on that.

          In the meanwhile search the web again and maybe you’ll come up with it updated and proven. It’s gotta be something to do with the hydrogen in water. In fact it’s coming back to me now, it might even be considered for Military use now also? So check that angle.

          But yes, if you research it enough you’ll come up with the factual truth. All forms of cheaper and more available or safer or just better fuels have been ‘suppressed’ since the oil revolution 200 years ago. This is simply because the well established oil power elite just didn’t want the competition. And at the time the world fossil fuel and oil dependence was going so well and so profitable that they weren’t interested even in acquiring and dominating the technology themselves, other than perhaps stealing it just so they can ‘shelve’ it for their own future use, if desired. But mainly to keep anybody else from using it alternatively.

          Remember the ‘myth’ of the 80 mpg carburator/engine that was floating around years ago? It’s not. GM engineers were getting over 50 mph on the GEO metro –a Suzuki vehicle–even with emission controls in 1994! 20 years later do you really think they couldn’t refine the original 50 mpg limit to 70 or 80mpg? Of course they could. I know a mechanical engineer/hotrodder who ‘tweaked’ his Honda Civic engine to get 60 mpg in the city a couple years ago. There’s a diesel Ford Fiesta, i think, a diesel, that gets almost 70 mpg but only available in parts of Europe! hahaha!

          Are we getting the picture yet? The high mileage Geo Metro was rather quickly discontinued despite its great potental as a nice little high mileage city buzzer. The made a larger 4 cylinder going back to more ‘profitable’ for oil companies, who also control the auto industry to a major extent, of around 35 mpg at best. We can’t have a high mpg trend that cuts so deeply into our fuel profits, now can we. The Geo Metro was eventually phased out, LOL!

          This has been going on in commerical electrical power alternatives as well. Delve into the Tesla story for a real interesting reality check.

          So it wouldn’t surprise me if some backyard-but likely MIT professors–DIY people are driving around in their own hybrids somewhere using only water for fuel?

          As long as the super wealthy power elite control the majority of the masses and their ‘habits’ they don’t worry too much about the ‘fringe lunacy’, lol!

          If it even smells like it might hurt their profit margin, they’ll make the inventors an ‘offer they can’t refuse’…

          unless they want to have them, or their loved ones, have a freak accident…or something.

          • I had a Geo Metro- what a lousy car. Had the three cylinder engine which couldn’t push the car to 65mph if there was much of a head wind. Junked it when one of the pistons broke off the crank shaft.

    • Why all the down volts(grin) to what Rambuff posted. What was said that was deserving of that? His opinion of the author, maybe maybe not. I don’t know her or her credentials on this matter so I have no opinion on this. Or was it his 100% correct opinion of the trash batteries coming from China?

  • Like all batteries the array needs to be sized according to it maximum safe discharge/charge rates not just its amp hour rating.

  • a new battery – Aqueous Hybrid Ion Batteries – is based on saltwater, magnesium oxide, carbon, and cotton. It as not been around long enough to test very long rechargeability, but for the some 10 years of testing, there seems to be no deterioration.

    It is made for grid support or replacement, and is combined in stacks and modules.

    It comes from Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburg PA.

    Individual units are available only at 48 volts, but are combined for hundreds and thousands of volts at large power draw. It has been developed for solar and wind systems.

  • One of the disadvantages of the nickel iron style batteries is they are a weird Per cell voltage I believe there like 1.1 V per cell. as well as they have about a 50% self discharge rate.

    It also seems strange when you’re not using them that you short them.
    I have probably 70 or 75 of these cells out of a rail company down in Virginia

  • I would like to know information of Carmel;s on gardening–mostly hydroponic (organic if possible) I have tried various kinds of indoor to outdoor and have not been terribley successfull with any. HELP

    • Maam, I think you might be on the wrong page for your question. good luck

  • Say- It just came to me- how can I use a faraday cage= or an aluminum garbage can to “save” my electronics from an EMP if I need to use them and no on is going to call me and say- “you have 30 minutes to protect your electronics from an EMP-” Duh=
    We aren’t going to get any warning-
    Say-=here’s a thought – why not make sure your are “right” with Christ then if something happens even if you don’t “make” it you still have eternal life- you know only that which one can have if you know and believe in Christ- ie, that he died on the cross for you and me and now sits at the right hand of the Father.

  • Okay, let me answer some of the leftover questions above, at least partly.

    Hydrogen Energy:
    Mostly misunderstood; it’s actually an energy storage and transfer medium, not an actual energy source itself. Hydrogen is always found locked up with something else and it takes energy to extract it–that’s the energy you get back when you catalyze or burn it. Usually it’s split from oxygen in water by electrolysis (throw the positive & negative electrified wires in salt water and collect each gas bubbling from each electrode).
    Large scale hydrogen is released from water by dropping pure reactive metals in it. Cars that really “run on water” have metal pill made from pure sodium for instance. The sodium usually comes from sodium chloride (table salt), which is also extremely common, but actually take more energy to extract it than you get back. It also reacts violently and flammably to moisture in the air, or on contact with moist things like wood, which is quite dangerous.
    You can also use common metals like aluminum if you add lye to the water.
    Most US aluminum is produced with Canadian hydroelectric power.
    Finally, most of the “water burning” and “hydrogen burning” engines nowdays are actually just using the hydrogen to greatly increase gasoline burning efficiency by increasing burn rate, so that maximum pressure is developed earlier in the power stroke cycle, and there’s more than enough time for the real fuel to burn completely, giving up all the heat energy in time for the piston to capture it. This requires very little hydrogen, which is good because unbound hydrogen has very little energy density. What are two hydrogen atoms compared to the two dozen plus carbon in a hydrocarbon molecule?

    These “energy sources” are just like batteries. What does it mean when a home or car “runs on batteries”? Don’t confuse energy storage and conversion with sources. Until we can overcome the technical tyranny of establishment energy companies, if you want free fuel, you need to look at all-fuel technologies that can burn anything – wood, used oil, trash, junk mail, tax forms, bra – anything at all, but cleanly, and produce electric and motive power.

    Zero Point Energy:
    Much like other “natural” energy sources, this is indeed free energy. You aren’t aware of it the same way fish are unaware of water. Unfortunately, the technology we know works on differential energy – the difference between two energy levels. But electromagnetic and heat energy is vibrations and atoms bouncing around in every direction at once, homogeneously, so there is no differential except at microscopic scales. ZPE machines work by trapping these energies in one direction only, or by polarizing them and feeding them to more traditional convertors. An extremely simple example is the archaic “crystal radio” which gets all its energy from the signal itself. A better example is a radio design that rectifies all the radio signals rejected by the tuner and uses that energy to power the RF and AF amplifiers, enough to power loud speakers — and never needs batteries, not even solar cells! Even at night! It even picks up power radiated from power lines and electrical equipment.

    Hope this helps 🙂

  • You should deifne of better’. Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) batteries have a larger capacity per space unit (square cm, inch, whatever) but they cost more. ALso, Li-Ion batteries do not suffer from discharge memory’, as ni-cads do. To keep NiCads in good condition, you have to fully discharge them before recharging. If you recharge them when they’re only half empty, they will remember’ this and next time you use them their capacity will have halved.