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A Sponge for Electrons

Yesterday was the day for the last big ticket items needed to get back on the road: I bought four new Interstate (GC-2) golf cart batteries; these are the conventional 6 volt, flooded, lead-acid batteries that lose water gradually and give off trace amounts of hydrogen when charging.

It is remarkable how much worrying a new RV camper/boondocker can do over the "need" to vent flooded, lead-acid batteries. It is usually difficult to find a place to put a large vented box full of batteries, put a hole in the wall, and then open the box every three or four months to put more distilled water in. Thus it's easy to go RV camping with inadequate battery capacity, run the generator too much, or get sucked into buying even more expensive AGM batteries because they don't need venting or filling.

These days a new camper should just search 'hydrogen safety' on the internet, and learn that hydrogen is not flammable in air until it reaches about 9%. Then get out a calculator and estimate how long it would take, with a few tiny bubbles coming off per second. In actuality lightweight hydrogen would just zip out the roof vents, which I never completely close.

Not convinced yet? I've had four (conventional) flooded, 6 volt, lead-acid batteries (not AGM) sitting on the trailer floor; they each sit in one of the standard black plastic battery boxes, but without a lid or plywood box around the whole thing; they just vent to the inside of the travel trailer. I've done this for six years, with no problems. In fact two of them are right underneath the propane stove.

(Based on Andrea's horror story, remember that this blog is not giving professional advice to you. I am simply chatting, based on my experiences as an amateur. Also, my whole approach to camping is to use low power appliances; seldom do I draw more than 6 amps from the batteries. I do not use a high power inverter, microwave oven, Mr. Coffee, etc.)

So it was battery day, for the first time in six years. No complaints there. It was quite impressive to study the voltage and current monitor. How long was it going to take to saturate these new batteries?! This made me realize how much capacity the old batteries had lost.

It was like tearing the wrapper off a new kitchen sponge and being amazed at how well it soaked up water. No it was more than that, it was like activated charcoal being exposed the first time to...or maybe the catalytic convertor of a new automobile... or...

Wait a minute. Strunk and White would not approve of simile or metaphor pile-up. "Let the reader come up for air..." they argued.

I believe it was Samuel Johnson who also argued against the excessive or trivial use of metaphors: he didn't think they should be used unless they compared the situation to something with more grandeur, or referred to the infinite.

Grandeur and batteries or any kind of soaker-upper? Hmmm. But in fact a Tucson friend showed me an example of that once: we were hiking in the Tucson mountains and he pointed out the flat basin off in the distance where the big ditch, the Central Arizona Water Project, discharged the remains of the Colorado River. And there it sank through the porous ground into the aquifer and was pumped back up by the city.

The Colorado River certainly counts in the grandeur department, or rather, the topography that it goes through, does. But Tucson and Phoenix are such ignoble uses of the southwestern Father of Waters that the image is ruined.

Recently a commenter asked how my travels would be different this time around. One big gap in my first chapter was the Great Plains. I only spend a month traveling around the westernmost counties of the Plains. It was interesting and I always meant to do more. The Plains aren't just flat and featureless. They have towers, escarpments, and canyons. In terms of pure size these are smaller than what you'll find once you hit the Rockies, but that's not the only way to look at it. Compared to the surrounding land, these features of the Great Plains are remarkable indeed, as is the spaciousness, the infinite space that America used to represent.

Such were my thoughts as I continued watching the current and voltage monitor. My battery charger simply wasn't able to saturate those new batteries. Great! But was everything working right? It seemed like it. So I kept watching and gloating over the unfill-ability of this mighty Ogallala of electrons.


Andrea said…
I have pictures of a year old battery same brand as yours with top and side blown off.....

My big heavy RV shook when it happened.

Boonie said…
Thanks for the warning Andrea. It's never easy to know how to constructively use horror story anecdotes. Every mass-produced item has to be looked at statistically, not in absolute terms. To my knowledge, Interstate Batteries is a reputable company, although I would have stayed with Crown batteries if they weren't so hard to get.

I DID find one way to act on your warning: I re-examined the "catastrophe" circuit breaker in the positive 12 volt line, near the battery post. I added a fuse in one place, and rewired my low power inverter.
Anonymous said…
I just love a man with big brass balls. Actually you only risk blowing yourself up when you are equalizing the batteries at 15.8 to 16 volts , that's when the battery boils and makes max gas about 1 cfm for your 4 batteries , also if it reaches 50 deg C ... You should turn it off ASAP no matter what.

As for propane you can only blow yourself up if the concentration is between "I believe" 4 -9% , the bad thing about killing yourself like this is that you look like a French fry should you be so unlucky to survive. Your so ugly then - you will need to live in a cave.

I live life on the edge too :-)) so far so good !!