Improvised Batteries

One thing that we live with in our daily life, so much that we never really even consider, is electricity. We are plugged in, turned on, and lit up. If and when we ever get to a time and place that we can’t just plug in any more, run to the corner store or Wally World to buy a pack of batteries, what will we do?

A lot of electrical items we will use in our survival situations are rechargeable.  If we think ahead, or get lucky later and find or trade for one, we can use a solar charger to keep them running. Another option is making a DYI generator as discussed in another article.

But what will you do if your batteries are all dead? You don’t have a solar charger and you can’t find anyone to trade with (or don’t trust trying to trade with anyone), then what will you do? Make your own batteries, of course.

baghdad battery
Photo: baghdad battery

Baghdad Battery

Although surrounded by much controversy and discussion about what it actually is, the story goes that sometime back in the 1920’s or 30’s an object was discovered during an archaeological dig in a small town near Baghdad, Iraq.

The object is thought to be from as far back as 250 BC, a time of course when it was widely believed (and still is by most) that electricity had not yet been discovered.

In my opinion, if you find an object that looks and acts like a battery, it’s a battery. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, and puts out between 1/2 and 1 volt DC, then it’s a duck, err, a battery. No quackery here.

When I first heard about this Baghdad battery, I just had to see for myself. One day I was bored and puttering in the garage so I got a glass bottle, a piece of 1/2” copper tube about 8 inches long, and a piece of 1/4” steel rod. I used some handy duct tape and wrapped the steel rod to make a plug. Then I stuck it in the copper tube, with the ends of the rod and tube about even. Then I wrapped the copper tub, so as to make a cork that fit the bottle neck.

I used apple cider vinegar and filled the bottle about half way. Then I stuck my copper tube/steel rod creation in the bottle. I got my tester out and hooked the positive to the copper, and the ground to the steel rod. To my surprise, it was putting out almost 1.5 volts DC.

I tried to power a flashlight bulb that required two AA sized batteries, and it barely made the bulb glow. I suppose if I had made two “batteries” and ran them in series, it would have been strong enough to make light.

Copper and Iron and Ions Oh My

The object was constructed of a terracotta vessel approximately 5 inches tall. There was an opening at the top about 1.5 inches in diameter. Inserted through this hole was a copper tube made from hammered copper sheet.

Inserted through this copper tube was an iron rod. The iron rod was insulated from the copper tube by a substance called bitumen, which is a naturally occurring, black, viscous, sticky, substance otherwise known as asphalt.

With just these four simple components and an acidic liquid in the vessel (vinegar was probably used, but there are a lot of different things that will work), you have a battery.

lemon battery array
Photo: lemon battery array

Various testing on recreations over the years showed this object to put out a DC current ranging from 1/2 to 1.5 volts (Yet there are still naysayers, go figure). This may not sound like much, but consider that your common AAA, AA, C, and D batteries put out 1.5 volts DC. If these are wired in series, the voltage increases per the amount of each battery in the series arrangement.

In other words, 6 batteries with 1.5 volts DC each wired in series puts out 9 volts DC at the end. 100 of these would put out a whopping 150 volts DC! Shocking, isn’t it? (That was corny, I know, but I just had too)

Fruity Batteries

What’s even more amazing is that you don’t even have to go through the trouble of making a jar if you don’t want to. Believe it or not there are several every day, ordinary, food items that you can make a battery with.

lemon battery
Photo: lemon battery

All you need to do is just insert a copper wire into one end (or brass, gold, or silver) and a steel rod (zinc or zinc coated steel wire works best, like a paper clip for example). But really any kind of ferrous metal nail (I think aluminum works too) in the other end, and that is a battery! No seriously, it is. Here’s a video showing it working.

Video showing a lemon battery at work:

Here’s an alternative method using salt water. This guy even claims you can do it with urine!

Here’s a video showing voltage from vinegar, any acidic solution with two pieces of metal will create voltage.

I wanted a video that showed ionization (?) in action that I knew was 100% legitimate so I made my own (I think that’s what it’s called, my chemistry terminology is a little rusty, but it’s makin’ ‘lectric):

Fire With Fruit?

In an emergency survival situation, if you happen to have a citrus fruit like an orange, lemon, or grapefruit you can use this piece of juicy yummy goodness to build a fire!

Simply insert a piece of steel or tin, or probably even a strip of aluminum from a can, into one end and insert a piece of copper wire or a penny into the other end. Those become the positive and negative terminals of your battery.

Then simply cross these terminals with a metal object to make a spark. If you happen to have a piece of steel wool, you might be able to just put the steel wool between the terminals and get it to ignite.

I know for a fact steel wool will ignite with a 9 or 12 volt battery, I’ve never actually tried it with a 1.5 volt battery. so I’m not sure it will work, but if you split the fruit into its sections you, can then make an individual battery with each section. Wired in series, as mentioned above, you will then get a higher voltage output which may be enough to get the desired ignition.

I found this video on YouTube showing a fire being made with a lemon. The validity is questionable, simply because when I looked this up there were so many idiots making spoof/joke videos about it that I spent literally THREE HOURS before I found a video that I feel confident in showing as an example.

I’m still only 99% sure it’s genuine, but in theory if you made an array of “fruit batteries” in series and got 9 volts or so it should work because I know you can start a fire with an actual 9 volt battery and steel wool:

Starting a fire with a battery and steel wool, it even works with wet steel wool:

In Closing

So there you have it. As I always say, look around you, and use your head. Anytime you find yourself in a survival situation, everything you need is generally on hand.  You just have to think about it. The one guy in the video said even urine can be used, I don’t know, I never tried it. It seems to me that if your pee is that acidic that you might have something wrong with you.

People often have colas with them when they venture out, I’ve never tried that either, but it might work. If someone tries it, leave a comment and let us know. That’s another valuable resource for survival, sharing information.

Some people may know a lot of good valuable information and yet they just keep it to themselves. Unfortunately a lot of the videos on YouTube are the opposite. People know nothing and want to share their ignorance and stupidity.

But if you get on there, and watch and pay attention, and use your head, you can generally tell who has real information. Educating yourself NOW is vital for survival. You may think to yourself, “Well, I’ll never need to know any of this stuff unless I’m in that situation”.

Well, that’s correct, you won’t. But the thing is that once you are in that situation if you don’t know anything you’re screwed. So you think you’ll just look it up on your phone, well that’s just it. Your phone is dead, and you need to charge it. How will you do it?

One way is being prepared for that by keeping one of those keychain flash chargers on you where ever you go. It’s small and doesn’t eat anything, and you’ll never even know it’s there. But that one time you need it, you’ll be glad it was. But if you don’t have one, when life gives you lemons, make a battery and a fire.

About Eric W. Eichenberger

Eric W. Eichenberger
Eric Eichenberger is an avid outdoorsman, skilled marksman, and former certified range officer and instructor with nearly 40 years experience handling and repairing firearms. A skilled craftsman with a strong love for working with his hands, Eric spent 20 years as a carpenter and custom woodworker in high end homes. As a gold and silversmith he has created hundreds of pieces of jewelry over the years using the lost wax casting method. The grandson of humble country folk, he was raised with the “do it yourself” mentality and so is accustomed to coming up with unique solutions to problems utilizing materials at hand.

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