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Obtaining FREE BATTERIES (or really cheap ones)  RSS feed

 
Posts: 55
Location: Valley City, ND.
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I have been writing a lot about how to rescue AGM SLA batteries once they "wear out."  And in those posts, I mention that I get free batteries.  (I have even had a few solar systems given to me too.  Seriously.  Even scored a HUGE tow behind generator that runs on gasoline, propane, natural gas and wood gas- just about anything that can explode, for the cost of towing.  What's the best nation?  DONATION!  But that's a different story.) 

So in today's post, I thought I should write about how I get these batteries for FREE.  Yes FREE.

What kind of batteries are we talking about here? 

Well all kinds, really.  The most popular type that are "thrown away" are Absorbent Glass Mat, better known as AGM.  They are also called Sealed Lead Acid or SLA or maintenance free.  Some people call them "motorcycle" or "lawn mower" batteries, etc.  But whatever they are called, the most common battery out there you will see is the sealed lead acid AGM.  I won't go into why they are so common, because I already covered that here: https://permies.com/t/84240/Maintaining-Maintenance-Free-Sealed-Lead#697159

AND HERE:  https://permies.com/t/84194/Salvaging-Dead-Absorbent-Glass-Mat

This is about where to FIND these batteries free.  In fact, somebody might even PAY you to take them.  It depends on how desperate they are. 

A typical AGM battery looks like this: 


But I have gotten this type,


The awesome Optima types below.


And the regular old car battery types. 

Why do I want all these different battery types?  Well first off lead is heavy.  That's a good thing.  A typical price per pound for lead acid batteries is 30 cents.  The average car battery weighs 42 pounds.  That's $13 per battery!  That assumes you can get a scrap yard to buy them for that price of course.  Many scrap yards are simply saying, "We pay X price for all batteries."  But if you have say 10 or more or you are a regular customer like me, you can get the 30 cents a pound price.  Not bad for just the time and energy it takes to load them into your car.  

Now my obligatory post about not killing yourself.

Please don't kill yourself.

Lead acid batteries are heavy.  They have acid in them.  They admit hydrogen, especially when under stress.  Seriously bad things can happen if you smoke or vape around them.  Bad things, like Phantom of the Opera things or Harvey Dent from Batman, kind of things.  They are a seriously old tech though, like 1859 or thereabouts, so they are really safe.  Just exercise caution when lifting and don't pile them up next to your rocket mass heater, gas water heater, etc, and you should be fine.  One other word of caution: lay some plastic tarps down, ones without holes, because old batteries are kind of like people as they age.  They can randomly leak....  So make sure that any battery you don't know well enough to say it is not incontinent, is sitting on a tarp. 

"Ok already!  Where do I find my free batteries!?!?!"

Well you would think a valuable resource like lead would be wanted by those that have lots of these batteries.  But to be honest, most everybody that has them sees them as pains, as something to be rid of, not as a valuable resource for recycle or even reuse.  To people that traffic in a lot of these, they are a pain in the bottom. 

And that's a pain you can take advantage of!

Even if every battery you collect can't be salvaged, you have a boat load of cash in those things.

"Are you ever going to tell me where to find these things?"

Yes, as a matter of fact I am.  You can find them in places you would not think to check.  Here's the free list.  Alarm companies.  The oldest trick in the book is the old "cut the power" gag.  Then the alarm can't sound.  So alarm companies fight that with AGM type batteries.  By law, they have to replace them every so often.  And when they do, it's onesy twosy at a time.  They pile up in trucks, corners of the warehouse, etc.  Alarm companies are a primary source.  Now when I say "alarm companies," I don't mean giants like Simplex.  (Though you could certainly try!)  I mean the contractors that work for Simplex, etc.  Little, regional guys that maintain those big guy systems.  Or the satellite office of Simplex, etc.  Drop by if you happen to have the time or call.  Often you will find pallet loads of these things gleaming with a halo around them as they call out to you. 

Elevator companies too!  And their satellite or contract office.  They do the old onesy twosy thing too and see old batteries as a pain.

But one of the biggest and largest places to find a haul are in the local fire inspector companies.  I am talking about the people that maintain emergency lighting systems, specialty fire alarms, et.  Those rectangles with car headlights that sit on the wall and only come on when the power goes out.  These guys sweep through a whole building and sometimes get 100s of the  AGM batteries at a time.  Many do their own recycling, but every once in a while you find a company that can't find the time to dispose of these- and you can make a small fortune.  Plus get a lot of batteries that are still good. 

Another place, your local hospital.  Even the pencils in a hospital have a backup battery attached.  Many of the heart monitoring and other systems have a rolling cart with a deep cycle, car sized battery sitting in them.  The second it goes on the fritz, they usually buy a whole new cart!  You can get a free cart, with a battery and a computer just for asking!  Invariably it's just a blown fuse or the battery needs water, etc.  These then become mobile tool and work benches!  Plus you get a free, 110 to 12 Volt charger to boot.  A new one is $100,000 plus- and they throw these away like they are tissue paper.  Hospitals make so much money, they can't be bothered trying to fix stuff. 

That's not always true, but if it's a government funded hospital, I find it often is!  (Am I saying government is being wasteful?  Not by the time I get done selling all those great gadgets on E-Bay.  I don't think they are wasteful at all. Truth is that by the time they hire somebody, pay their salary and benefits, they could have replaced all their equipment with new stuff.  I don't understand the inner workings of finance, but I am certainly willing to profit from it.) 

Another place to look are small car shops.  Mom and pop auto part stores.  They are often short staffed and don't have anybody to take care of this stuff.  Also, independent car repair, but sometimes that's a dead end.  But you never know and there is no harm in asking!  If their battery collection connection is short staffed, you can save the day and make all those awful, mean old ugly batteries go away. 

Even retail chains like Wal-Mart run into this sometimes.  Talk to the repair bay manager.  Worse thing that will happen is you will hear the word, "No."

Another place nobody ever looks is small computer repair places.  These things pile up when people bring their Uninterruptible Power Supply in.  The customer says, "It's alarming every time I turn it on."  The computer tech smiles, "You need a new one!"  $85 US later, customer leaves the shop and is back two years later saying, "It's alarming again."  That cycle builds up not only a supply of old batteries, but a supply of old UPS!  Almost every one simply needs a new battery.  You can "repair" the battery in them using my aforementioned salvage technique and put them around your house.  Next time a thunderbolt hits, your TV will be protected, along with every other electronic device.  I have so many I use them as extension cords!  And you get a built in, high end battery charger, plus an AC to DC transformer\inverter.  I keep one in my basement with a 25 watt light bulb running.  If the lights go out, I can see my way to a flashlight.  

And here's another way to get batteries from people that normally might sell them for scrap.

Run a "UPS restoration service" like I do.  I get so many of these things and their batteries, I don't know what to do with them all.  So I give them away to local city, county and government agencies, including ones like Head Start, etc.  It pays to have friends in local government.  Police, fire and medical too.  A company might be suspicious until you say it's going to the local government and charity agencies hereabouts.  And I am not lying- most do go to charity.  But a few find their way into my systems too.  Nothing wrong with that.  And if you tell them that any battery or system that can't be reused will be responsibly recycled, they will hand everything to you- with a sigh of relief.

And here's the hidden side benefit. 

People start giving you all kinds of stuff once they know you are into such things.  Generators, free solar cells, brand new stuff- no kidding.  Lots of people buy a solar system and want to do something with it, then decide it's too much trouble to bother.  That's when they give it to you.  They can't even be bothered to resell the stuff at a reduced price!

Follow my other two guides above about salvaging "maintenance free" AGM style batteries and you could find these coming out your ears too.  Good money in lead, let me tell you!

And I am building an emergency water pumping\charging\lighting system from salvaged 45 watt solar panels, brand new, that were given to me for nothing.  Brand spanking new, still in the box!

Questions?  Feel free to ask.

JR  
 
pollinator
Posts: 574
Location: Southern Arizona. Zone 8b
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A couple other places to look:

Phone companies.  They are required to keep the phones working even when the power goes out so they have LARGE UPS systems.   You might even get lucky and score some Edison cells.  Those are almost always rebuildable and last for decades.
Cable and other telecom companies.
Hotels, they have small phone switches that need keep running during power outages.
Data centers and other places with servers running 24x7. 
Government and military installations.  These can get tricky, they often want you to sign a waiver stating that you won't just toss the batteries in the garbage when you're done with them.
Malls, large stores, grocery stores, etc.

Find the companies that service UPS systems, the bigger ones will likely already be selling their batteries to recyclers, but they might be willing to sell you 'decent' batteries cheap.  Smaller companies might be willing to let you have them.

I got almost 100 of the little 7AH batteries from a company that was retiring a 3 phase UPS system, the batteries had less than 2 years of standby service and hadn't gone through a single power outage.

From a different company I got 2 pallets of group 27 AGM batteries, they had 3 years of standby and a few power outages.
 
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Location: Dawson City, Yukon
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Sorry, really stupid question here......what is a UPS restoration service"?

Maybe its because I'm Canadian....but I have no idea what that is and "the Googles" have let me down again.

Cheers,

Tyler
 
Jeffrey Rush
Posts: 55
Location: Valley City, ND.
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Tyler Flaumitsch wrote:Sorry, really stupid question here......what is a UPS restoration service"?

Maybe its because I'm Canadian....but I have no idea what that is and "the Googles" have let me down again.

Cheers,

Tyler



No, not stupid at all.  I tell everyone that gives me "broken" UPSs and "worn out UPS batteries," that I will restore them.  I do indeed do just that.  I then give these free of charge to local fire, police, etc and can thereby legitimately claim to be a "UPS restoration service."  It avoids a lot of, "What are you going to do with these batteries?" questions.  I further promise that any I can't restore will be recycled at a battery scrapper that recycles them responsibly.  (I don't tell them how much I make recycling them though.  They get grand ideas about retiring rich.  It's worth the while to do it, but you likely won't retire a millionaire.  Like all things scrap, the money is in the macro.  Takes a LOT of batteries to make a reasonable wage.)  

UPS stand for, Uninterruptible Power Supply.  It's a shoe box sized contraception that contains a combination transformer\inverter and battery. Essentially, it takes in AC, transforms it to DC, charges a 12 volt battery and then inverts DC to AC power back out.  The battery is then "in the loop" and takes over providing enough power for your system to shutdown gracefully when the power goes out.  Also protects against lightning, etc.  They are great for anything that needs protection from poor power system, as well as anything that if the lights go out, you will lose data.  Also things like phone service, internet, pretty much anything that needs to survive a power outage.  I use them as emergency lights in the basement.

They come in all sorts of sizes and voltages, from 12 volt "personal" UPSs, to room sized monstrosities running whole buildings.  (Like the one I maintain for the company I work for.) 

Computer shops can have stacks of UPSs laying around, as well as their batteries.  To them, it can be a nuisance that you can profit from.

JR
 
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Jeffrey Rush wrote:The awesome Optima types below.


Just out of interest, why are those batteries so good? What sort of equipment uses them?
 
Jeffrey Rush
Posts: 55
Location: Valley City, ND.
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Optima has positioned itself with some unique marketing schemes and claims to become one of the foremost "Tough Guy" battery companies.  In terms of police\fire\military, they are well situated in the market.

They have three main types.

Red tops: These are meant for the car and truck market.  They are pretty rugged.  I would not buy one for my car though.  If I was in search and rescue, sure!  Lives depend on it.  But being late to work 15 minutes once every three to five years when my regular car battery has seen too many Winters, is just not worth the extra money.  They do seem to be "the bomb" of car batteries though- in a good way.  Further, they are built is such a way as to provide optimal service for both cold crank amps AND devices like radios, LED players in your car, that sort of thing.  They are pretty much loved by first responders and military because of it.  This "dual purpose" design let's them occupy middle ground between the yellow tops and the blue tops.  Sort of a blend of high current, like starting a car engine, and a low current like running radios, electrical equipment, etc.   

Yellow tops:  These are of most interest to folks like you and me.  These are the solar\wind\alternative energy types that generally need to maintain a charge for long periods of time and then provide that charge back at medium to light discharge cycles.  Perfect for alternative energy systems. 

Blue tops:  These are strictly for starting.  Things like generators where all they do is kick the engine over for cranking purposes.  Often used in boats for JUST engine starting, Optima claims they are the most reliable starting battery out there.  That's kind of important if you are out of Hawaii for a three hour tour...  "The weather starting getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed..." is NOT where you want to be because you could not get your engines started.  They are sometimes referred to as "marine batteries."   

That's a name that causes a LOT of confusion.  They are not intended to be used with alternative energy systems.  They are intended to provide a tremendous amount of current for a short period of time.  Like three to five seconds.  My generator here starts with less than a second of cranking- and that's what they are meant to do.  It's a BIG generator running EVERYTHING in a large, two story building, including the heat, in North Dakota.  It can't not start in a crisis.  It's an emergency aid station too, in times of a crisis like tornado or long term Winter power outages.  So we depend on these types to always crank over the hard to start diesel.  Being custom designed, they are really good at starting, but awful at supplying current for long term use.  They are referred to as marine batteries because they are meant to turn over boat engines..

The yellow tops are really good at long discharge cycles.  Stuff like your 12 Volt lights on a boat will use yellow top Optimas.  Any system where long term power is needed at moderate to low drain.  Motor homes will use them too.   

The red tops are really good at having a mix of properties for cars and such.  The police love them because they don't have to constantly be maintained.  A trooper on a frozen section of North Dakota can't have a dead battery because he had his flashers on covering an accident  

And when I say that Optima uses marketing claims and schemes, I don't think that's bad.  Claiming something you can't backup is a bad thing.  But after what my friends from around the nation have said, these batteries stand up to their claims.  They can take abuse that other batteries in the same class can't.  Things like bitter cold, ridiculously deep discharge, long spaces between charges, etc and come out undamaged.  Optima claims that they have unique technology that lets their batteries take some serious abuse- and not suffer from it.  From what I have seen and heard, that's true. 

If I had a system that needed to work no matter what, I would certainly consider buying these.  But the only way I can afford them is by inheritance or resurrection, lol.  If I had the cash for a large scale alternative energy setup, I would go with Optima.   Just remember that red is for starting and vehicle use, yellow is for many cycles of moderate use over long periods and blue is starting only, and all will be well. 

JR
 
Matt Coston
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Jeffrey Rush wrote:Yellow tops:  These are of most interest to folks like you and me.


Thank you, that is good to know.

I see the optima batteries cost about 3x or 4x that of a budget "leisure battery". Would you say that premium is justified? Would it really give 3x the performance?
 
Jeffrey Rush
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Are they worth it...

Well from what I can make out, they live a LOT longer than regular plate technology.  But I have seen standard lead acid batteries last close to a decade....   But that's only if treated right and properly maintained. 

It really depends on who you are.  If you are the type that likes to putter around with systems and things, mother hen them and learn all the tiny nuances of how they work, go with a standard lead acid battery.  Size the system for what you think you will need, then double it- you will still be on the cheap side.  And you will be building in extra life and protection for the system.  It's rather like the old proverb, "Many hands make light work."  Many batteries make for a robust system because they all share the load. 

Think of it like this.  An ant is no match for an elephant.  But even a dozen elephants can't stand on an ant mound for long.  So an over-sized, cheapo, lead acid battery system can defeat a high end battery setup, if it's built correctly.  

If you want set and forget, than Optima or one of the other high end battery types are for you.  If you don't want to get up in the morning with a smile on your face thinking, "Gee, I wonder what voltage my batteries are sitting at today!?!" get Optima or one of the other high end, expensive cells.  Lithium has started to enter the picture too and is fast becoming an alternative.  I think it's way too expensive, but that's me.  If you are trying to build a house with a backup or primary alternative energy system, then the extra cost is worth it.  That won't make a big dent in your monthly house payment.  If you are trying to put one in on a budget, I would recommend using cheapo batteries and over sizing the system- especially if you are just learning how to do this.

Alternative energy is a roller coaster ride of new technology versus cost, versus old reliable, invented in 1859 lead acid batteries. 

My best advice to you is to read my post over here: https://permies.com/t/84292/Small-Scale-Growing-Solar-Setup

That's about how I stumbled across a setup that will charge your phones, provide light in a crisis and pretty much teach you the basics of alternative energy for under $50.  (Not counting batteries.  I get those for free.)

The reason I recommend you buy that setup is that you will learn a lot about the basic concepts here.  If you are considering getting into alternative energy, you should start small.  Build a system on the cheap that rugged and reliable.  You are going to kill batteries. (Actually MURDER batteries.  They never die of old age, lol.) And you will learn big from that experience, just as I have.  That can be a $30,000 mistake or in can be a $15 mistake.  Start small, fail small, learn BIG.  And with that setup, you will be better prepared for any disaster, be it man-made or natural, than 99.999999999999999999999999% of humanity around you.  You could even trade electricity for food, shelter, water and protection- if things got great depression style bad.  Anything that works on a 12 Volt cigarette lighter socket can charge with this system.  It can handle a pretty big battery setup with multiple cells too.  This would literally be a life saver in a crisis.     

If you don't know much about the systems, how they work, the various battery types and makers, then you really need to buy the starter system I recommend.  I knew nothing except the basics of electricity when I started.  Now I am building a 45 Watt system with an AGM battery bank that will power an off grid water pump for emergency use.  Being able to flush toilets and wash dishes is an important step towards staying clean -and healthy- in a crisis.  That's a big, albeit reasonable, step up.  I went from less than $50 US to less than $150 US.  Next leap will be $1,500 US- and I expect to be able to live off grid if needed.   

JR   
 
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