What are you doing with all those batteries!?

What to do when a few hundred pounds of lithium lands on your door.

If there’s one thing that can motivate me to do a personal blog post, it’s other people’s concern for my well-being. Yesterday a freight truck dropped off a couple hundred pounds of lithium ion batteries, and when I shared pictures this picture with my friends and co-workers on Slack, they did not laugh. Instead there was a quiet, unspoken dread.

Listen, I get it. Batteries are scary. People are only just coming around to the idea of having big-ass consumer batteries like a Goal Zero Yeti in their lives and I’m over here buying in bulk. Why? Because there’s really no other option.

Let me back up: A couple of years ago I decided to work super remotely out of my car. Car camping all summer long while doing social for Engadget. It was awesome, but I learned a lot about batteries and electricity along the way.

Back then my car had 400 watts of solar panels on the roof and a Goal Zero Yeti 1,000 battery, which as the name implies had 1,000 watt-hours of power. When I was designing my car for this trip I thought this would be way more power than I would need. I was hilariously wrong.

If you’ve ever used a small window air conditioner, those things use about 500 watts of power per hour. That means my $1,500 Goal Zero could only power one for two hours. At best!

Similarly, a small space heater you might sneak under your desk in a cold office uses between 800 and 1,500 watts of power per hour, meaning that I might get two hours of it with my old Goal Zero.

In Colorado and Arizona I found myself hot during the day and cold at night. I was out there working on my laptop, sweating my ass off and thinking pretty darn hard about what it would take to air condition a van or a tiny home all day long, with only solar power, and lemme tell you, 1,000 watt-hours of battery capacity is not enough.

This brings us to today. I think this summer I’m going to build a full-sized camper van, but this time it’s going to be a power house. Literally.

So far I’ve made two large battery purchases. The first was 40 scooter batteries from here, totaling about 18,000 watt-hours of capacity. These are great cells; super power dense, an incredible deal, but their BMS (battery management system) is proprietary to the scooters, so you need do a lot work to get them working.

I grew tired of doing this work, so I bought a second, larger (22,500 Wh) round of batteries from Battery Hookup. These are less power-dense, but don’t require any additional work. (Also, these sold out within minutes, if that gives you any indication of how in-demand these batteries are.)

All together we’re looking at 40,500 Wh of capacity for between 5-6 grand. I really can’t emphasize enough how insane that price is for this capacity. In Goal Zero terms 40.5 kWh of capacity would cost more than $33k. In Battle Born terms (a more realistic battery supplier for van makers), that capacity would cost around $35k.

That said, I probably won’t use all this capacity in my future van (the weight would be substantial), but it’s nice to have the option. The next thing I need to do is break these scooter batteries down completely and rebuild them as 48v packs with new BMS’. Fun!

Anyway, while I appreciate the concern from my friends and coworkers online, I promise it’s totally fine! This is a totally normal thing to do and absolutely isn’t some kind of pandemic coping mechanism!

P.S. Yes I have a fire extinguisher.