Battery, gadget hoarding is in the eye of the beholder

By Tom Gocze, BDN Staff
Posted July 02, 2010, at 10:33 p.m.

I spent way too much time last weekend watching TV shows about people who hoard stuff.

I asked my wife if she thought I hoarded stuff. She said, “No, not at home.”

My workshop is a different story.

There is a lot of technological detritus there. If you are at all mechanically inclined and live in Maine, you have to save stuff. There is always that project tomorrow.

During a recent slow week at work, I thought time would be most productive if I sorted out some of my electric car stuff. I found that I have about 15 250-amp 150-volt DC circuit breakers. That might not mean much to you, but on eBay, if you need one, they are going for $100 to $150 a throw.

A veritable king’s ransom in high current circuit breakers is sitting on that shelf.

I probably will never need 15 high current DC circuit breakers, but when I do, well, you know.

Most of these parts actually do get used, and believe it or not, I am diligent about keeping the inventory under control. Extraneous artifacts do actually wind up on eBay. And some of them even sell.

One item that I acquired was for a TV program about 10 years ago. It is a desulfating battery charger. If you work on cars or use lead acid batteries, you probably know about sulfation. If a lead acid battery sits for prolonged periods of time, especially if it is not fully charged, sulfation starts to form between the battery’s plates.

A lead acid battery has a number of lead plates that are immersed in acid. Sulfates of lead will form in an idle battery in between the plates. These are crystals that will eventually short out the plates and render the battery useless.

I had found a company that made a desulfator to help prevent and reverse sulfation.

We did a TV show on their products and tested one of their commercial 12-volt battery chargers.

I gathered up a bunch of car batteries that were considered dead and put them through the cure. The treatment consists of putting a battery on the charger on a pulse cycle. This pulses voltage into the battery at a frequency that is supposed to break down the sulfation and make the battery chargeable.

The pulse cycle can take a couple days if the battery is pretty bad off.

After using this thing for about 10 years, I can usually bring back batteries that are considered lost. I call it the Lazarus device.

When we did the TV show, we had about an 80 percent success rate. Since then, I think we are closer to 90 percent.

The most recent resurrection was last week. A small garden tractor battery would not take a charge. I pulsed it for a couple hours and then put it on a pulse-charge cycle.

The battery was drawing about 20 amps and the desulfation charger’s circuit breaker kept tripping. I put the errant battery on what is known as a bad boy charger to throw some power into the battery so it would not pull so many amps from my Lazarus device. The bad boy allows me to control the voltage and current while still getting some charge onto a battery.

After charging it with some brute force, it went back onto the desulfation charger, and after a day, it is fully charged.

The whole process is pretty simple and was painless except for when I opened the battery (yes, it was a battery where I could actually check the water level) and splashed battery acid on my jeans. Another set of holey pants for my wardrobe.

The greatest success has been in rejuvenating eight 6-volt golf cart batteries that were dead. Deep cycle batteries are more difficult to resurrect than conventional car batteries. Car batteries usually have less severe use and are just dead from sitting for a couple months. Golf cart batteries might be dead from a hard life and sitting for very long periods of time. The success rate is not as great with electric car or golf cart batteries.

The reason for bringing all this up is that I think there is some merit in considering a desulfation charger for maintaining batteries for emergencies and standby purposes. Some solar installers are using desulfation technology to enhance the life expectancy of off-grid storage systems.

Such chargers need not be real expensive. The one I have is a little pricey and is really oriented toward a professional (yeah, that’s me).

The unit I used was made by a company called Pulsetech. They seem to know what they are doing.

There are a lot of resources online: Google either desulfator or desulphator.

You can also build your own. Of course, there is a whole culture of people online who fool with desulfation. I prefer to let someone else engineer something that is as arcane as lead acid battery restoration.

Some people I know who have considerable knowledge of battery technology do not believe that there is much merit in desulfation technology. I know it has some limitations, but I cannot argue with the fact that I have avoided replacing at least 20 batteries since using these devices.

And I only need one desulfator, not 15.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/07/02/living/battery-gadget-hoarding-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder/ printed on July 30, 2014