Supply Chain Disruption

Just a short note on the effects of “Supply Chain Disruption”.

I was watching a video about RV Life (as we may end up doing that) and the “story” of that episode was about tires. These folks had a Big Class A with what looked like 19.5 or 22.5 inch (industrial truck sized) rims and tires. The basic point they were making was that “they got the last 6 tires of that size in the nation”. The tire company had to call all over the place to fine tires, one at a time, and have them shipped Fex-Ex to them to install a set.

Now I don’t know they really got the very last tires, simply because you always find things in the last place you look. (Folks stop looking then as their quest is satisfied…) I also heard the name Michelin go by, so it was unclear if their search was also limited to one brand. A quick check with TireRack about common RV tire sizes available, showed a 225/70R19.5 in stock but a 245/75R22.5 was unavailable. That last one is the “same” more or less as a 235/80R22.5 that they do have in stock.

Qty: 4
Per Tire: $537.71
Availability: 09/11/21
Can be delivered Tuesday, 09/14 to 95050

Free Shipping
Set of 4: $2,150.84

But notice that availability date… One Month Away. (Also notice that nosebleed pricing…)

So is that when the next container comes in? I note too that they listed only 1 tire type available in 235/80R22.5 size, none for 245/80R22.5, and one in 255/80R22.5

Size: 255/80R22.5 G
Style: Blackwall
Load Range: G
UTQG: None
Qty: 4
Per Tire:$786.94
Availability: 1 In Stock, Special Order Available
Can be delivered to 95050 when available

Free Shipping
Set of 4: $3,147.76

At “way higher” price, with ONE tire only in stock and others “when available”…

So depending on just what size tire they were looking for / required, there is evidence for their claim.

For the “smaller” 19.5 rims, TireRack has 5 listed in 225/70R19.5, but in 245/70R19.5 they list only one and it is not available until 8/28.

(H/T Another Ian in the current W.O.O.D. for pointing to this link about inflation:

It points out that containers in China are presently in very short supply with shipping rates “way high”, like triple normal, and that smaller markets are not being serviced fully. I’d expect that with tires that run $500-$800 each, they would be getting priority, but apparently not.

Sadly, this is now having severe repercussions in smaller shipping markets around the world. From Africa, from South America, and from smaller Asian countries, we’re hearing reports that ships are calling at their ports less frequently, because the demand on major trade routes between China, the USA and Europe is so strong. What’s more, there are fewer containers available to serve smaller markets, and the suppliers from whom they normally buy are no longer selling to them because they can make so much more money selling to bigger markets. Shortages of critical items – spare parts, medicines, even food – are thus becoming more frequent in smaller countries.

I’d point out not only in “smaller countries” but also in particular goods in larger countries. If my choice is shipping a container of iPhones priced at $1k / pound, or giant tires with way fewer per container and about 90 pounds / $800 , guess who gets the container out of the bidding war…

FWIW, all my cars have relatively new tires on them but one, and it has a couple of years left before those tires “age out”. I tend to keep good tires on the cars just so I can go a few years without buying any if times are tough. But, should I buy an RV, I’ll be looking closely at tire Age / Size / Wear and availability…

Was it just a halt in global shipping that stacked up containers where they were not needed? Is it that we have a deficit of inventory (backlog of demand) from a year of folks NOT buying things and shipping shut down? Are ships just out of place and not where needed? Has some capacity gone bankrupt and left the system? Or is it just as the link suggests, greed?

I’d bet on a combination of deficit of inventory, ships out of place, containers out of place, and staff running into all sorts of rules about where they can, and can not, land a ship. (Imagine the nightmare of trying to get a load of anything into Sydney, NSW during their travel prohibitions; and staff dismay at ZERO shore leave.) The globe was set up for a LOT of “Just In Time” inventory. Manufacturing to retail. Suddenly halt that system and empty the pipeline, it will take time to refill it and get it running smoothly again. We still have barriers to letting that process run.

Here’s the video. She covers some of a “Global Rubber Shortage”, so that might deserve a “Dig Here!” of its own to validate. I stopped the video at 4:49 and got their tire size. 265/75R22.5, so a bit odd IMHO, and likely a big part of their particular issue.:

CNBC has an article calling it a “Rubber Apocalypse” in their usual breathless form, and Bloomberg has one from April 14, 2021 (no linky for either of them as they are acting all evil and TDS) that claims it’s about cyclical things (and China buying up inventory…)

Industry watchers say rubber prices are at the beginning of a cyclical, multi-year rally because flooding and leaf disease have ravaged supply, while swooning prices gave rubber tappers little incentive to plant new trees, which take seven years to mature.

These dynamics came to the attention of some rubber distributors last year when China, the world’s largest consumer of natural rubber, began making big purchases to replenish reserves as its economy opened up.

By December, U.S. manufacturers who had held back on ordering rubber during lockdowns were now scrambling to secure it.

Seems to me that China, being the largest consumer, buying inventory, would just mean lots of tires from China and not as many from France and Ohio. But still tires…

But is this really new? Perhaps I ought to start a Rubber Plantation in Florida?

US seeks domestic rubber as global shortage worsens
The importance of developing alternative sources of natural rubber becomes clear when considering that there has been a shortage in the supply of this critical resource every year since 2004. By 2020, the global shortfall of natural rubber is projected to be more than the entire amount (1.2 million metric tons) the U.S. imports every year.
Mauricio Espinoza, Ohio State University | Nov 01, 2012

So 9 years ago and well before any Chinese Wuhan Covid pandemic supply chain disruptions.

The 6,000-square-foot pilot plant in Wooster makes gloves and a variety of other latex and rubber products. This is nothing new in a town and region historically known for rubber manufacturing. What’s different about the facility is the source of its natural rubber: plants grown in the United States rather than the Southeast Asian trees that currently provide all of the world’s supply of natural rubber.

Established earlier this year, this unique pilot plant is operated by Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). It’s a crucial step in the university’s effort to develop and commercialize domestic natural rubber sources that could one day replace a portion of the imports of this strategic yet largely overlooked raw material.
“Natural rubber is probably the most underappreciated critical resource that we have,” said Katrina Cornish, project leader and OARDC endowed chair in bioemergent materials. “There are over 40,000 things made with natural rubber, including 400 medical devices. Life as we know it wouldn’t be possible without natural rubber.”

Driving to the grocery store wouldn’t be possible. Neither would be flying around the world. Even with the most sophisticated advances in synthetic rubber technology, passenger vehicle tires need about 50 percent natural rubber content to adequately resist the road’s demands, said Hiroshi Mouri, president of Bridgestone Americas Center for Research & Technology in Akron.

And in the case of aircraft tires, they are made entirely from natural rubber.

“It’s very important to have an alternate source of natural rubber,” said Mouri, who works closely with OARDC in the project. “We want to diversify the sources of natural rubber to make sure our production is sustainable. The rubber tree has a history of extinction in the past in Brazil, and if that happens in Southeast Asia, we won’t have a source of natural rubber. So it’s important to have other alternatives.”

Those alternatives include Taraxacum kok-saghyz, or TKS — a type of dandelion native to the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. This plant can produce large amounts of rubber in its roots and can grow in Ohio and other temperate areas of North America. OARDC researchers have been working for the past six years on turning this weed into a crop that can grow on a consistent, predictable basis and can yield as much rubber as possible.

Looks like Rubber Trees are prone to plant diseases. Perhaps they ought to put effort into breeding resistant types…

But this fragile supply is under threat. A native of the Brazilian rainforest, the rubber tree Hevea brasiliensis is no longer grown commercially in the country due to the prevalence of South American leaf blight, a catastrophic pathogen which killed off the country’s rubber industry in the 1930s. Strict quarantine controls have kept the disease contained to the South America for now, but arrival in Asia is thought to be almost inevitable.

In the meantime, farmers elsewhere in the world still face local pathogens such as white root disease and other leaf blights that have made the leap from neighbouring oil palm plantations. Climate change is also exerting its toll – Thailand’s rubber production has been hit by droughts and flooding in recent years, with the latter also further spreading disease-causing microbes across growing regions.

So is it all down to weak genetics and pathogens? Or might there be farmer decisions involved?

This situation further jeopardises the supply of rubber. “The mathematics smallholders make is that income equals price times volume,” explains Meyer. Low prices force farmers to over-tap their trees to obtain more rubber, weakening the plants and making them more susceptible to disease. The low prices have also discouraged planting of new trees to replace those at the end of their commercial lifespan, and many farmers have abandoned plantations entirely.

Eleanor Warren-Thomas is a research fellow at Bangor University, Wales, who has studied the dynamics of rubber plantations. “Oil palm and natural rubber make the same money per unit of land, but the labour input is higher for rubber,” she says. “Because the rubber price is falling, farmers are switching from producing rubber to selling the timber for near term profit, and growing oil palm instead.”

These factors combined means that the world is now at a point where the supply of natural rubber is not keeping up with demand. In late 2019, the International Tripartite Rubber Council warned the global supply would fall short by one million tonnes (900,000 tons) in 2020, around 7% of production. Then the pandemic hit.

So it’s a market price oscillator. OK… As short supply drives prices back up, that will reverse.

Demand reduced immediately, and driven miles – the key measure for ultimate demand for rubber – dropped as countries went into lockdown. But rubber soon bounced back. “Demand outpaced even the most bullish predictions,” says Meyer. As they came out of lockdown, Chinese citizens bought huge numbers of new cars, thanks to fears around the safety of public transport. Similar patterns are expected globally. “Demand has since eclipsed supply,” says Meyer. “Now there is an acute shortage (of rubber) in destinations, and inventory held by tyre makers is very low.”

Although synthetic rubber can be produced from petrochemicals, natural rubber has unique properties which even these synthetics can’t match: natural latex gloves are more resistant to tear than nitrile ones, while aircraft tyres use natural rubber for its high elasticity and resistance to heat, which can build up from friction during landing.

OK… so a massive fleet buying pulse will end too. Looks to me like this is something of a self healing disruption and likely just a short term disruption to get through.

OTOH, part of the cause of W.W.II was Japan wanting to capture the rubber supply from South East Asia, in part in retaliation for the USA stopping oil supply to Japan. That put the USA in a hell of a bind, and we created / invented synthetic rubber as an alternative. Not a perfect replacement, but “good enough” for a war. Most importantly, for things like tires, you could still make a GREAT tire with just 10% natural rubber and 90% synthetic. So what natural rubber we had got used to make far more total rubber products.

Still, point taken, rubber, natural rubber, is essential for a whole lot of products as made today. Were the supply to be stopped suddenly, in short order airplanes would not be able to fly as their tires wore out. (Landing burns off a lot of tread rapidly for some planes). This would be catastrophic for both commercial aviation and military. Though I’m pretty sure the Military would get near instant waivers for a fully synthetic tire. You might need to change them more often, but you could still fly. (At one time I saw a (Pop Mechanics?) story about Jeeps running on Urethane Tires – and then the story died. I suspect a “military secrecy” kill happened for “run flat tires” that need zero rubber. In times of shortage that would be a dramatic strategic advantage.)

There’s always Fear Porn thrown about on “Shortage! GASP! END OF LIFE AS WE KNOW IT!!!! BUY NOW!!!!”, and that forgets several things. The biggest is just “resource substitution”. Engineers and Chemists find another way. Then there’s the economic forces that have more “discovery” and production done when prices rise. That Ohio R&D being a good example. We can make rubber from another plant IF or WHEN the price gets high enough. So never panic long term about a “Shortage!”, though in the 1 to 2 year span it can be disruptive.

So for now, I’m not worried as my tires are relatively new and in good shape. I’ll just “check the tires” a bit more closely on anything I might buy. But it does look like a little bit of a “watch this space”, and keep an eye on China buying up “rubber plantations” in proximity to the South China Sea (and then “finding” a map showing some Chinese guy visited it 2000 years ago so it must belong exclusively to them…)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Economics - Trading - and Money, Emergency Preparation and Risks. Bookmark the permalink.

58 Responses to Supply Chain Disruption

  1. Quail says:

    Last month I put new tires on one SUV a few months early because I was worried about the supplies. This month the other SUV blew out two tires, one older and one relatively new. My go-to tire guy for the last 30 years had difficulty finding correctly sized tire for it so it was sitting in the shop for a while. Usually he has stacks of tires in the large building but now he only has a few, sad, unpopular tires scattered around.
    I hear oil filters are in short supply as well.

    Have fun with your move! I am still stuck in the bay area because the spouse won’t retire.

  2. David A says:

    An RV lifestyle is an interesting option.
    ? Selling your home you are suddenly in a very high cash position, at a time where inflation is picking up. Yet real estate has been on a 2.5 decade run and accelerating, at a time when Covid and move moratoriums have created a low supply and a sizable percentage of the population works from home, and has no problem moving 50 miles from the office. Trillion dollar stimulus packages are in play. The junkie has to be fed or die.

    What is your idea of how to protect the purchasing power of a cash position?

    We have considers the RV route, and I told my wife that if we sold and bought an RV it would be a very high end used class A, used to cushion some of the almost inevitable depreciation loss, hopefully covered by saving net 18 k a year in mortgage while paying near the high side of 1,000 month for full hook up, and be where you want to be, leave trouble where it may flare up. (First choice, best high end small class A New Aire 33, Newmar I think)

    BTW, the other side of inflation in these crazy times is the wheels come off, the dollar is decoupled from being a national currency of choice, interest rates are forced up to attract any federal investment funds, and the junkie dies, deflation. takes over and we crash down the hill we have been climbing. How do you plan for that?

    Crazy times, everybody is shuffling, all the very Best…

  3. philjourdan says:

    Yea, except tires have only 19% natural rubber in them. The rest is oil by products and steel. Rubber disappears? Wanna bet that some smart simon figures out how to get rid of the 19%?

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    @David A:

    The basic “Value Preservation” strategy is unchanged from what was done in the ’70s Great Inflation as we came off the gold standard.

    You have a currency that is “inflating” toward 1/2 and then zero.
    You want a “money” that is a valid “store of value”.
    “Proper Money”, per the (Mises? Austrian? are they really that different?) school of Economics is “the most trade-able commodity”. Traditionally precious metals, but in fact can be most anything that is a decent store of value and can be traded relatively easily.
    You also want “non-money” objects and commodities that do not degrade in intrinsic value over time. Diamonds, land, collectibles, etc. To some extent, stable currencies from other countries can be used for modest periods of time.

    So mostly just a matter of picking your preference in that lot.

    Initially, some will be spent on “Toys”. Probably an RV and a small sail boat ( I really miss my boat…). As soon as reasonably well packed up and living in the Free Land Of Florida, I’ll be looking to buy 2 things there (or perhaps in Tennessee): 1) A house. 2) A plot of recreational land with water where I can put an “RV Pad” or “Improved camp site”.

    I could easily see it being a house in Florida near Disney (spousal preference) and a bit of God’s Country Rural Tennessee where we would vacation in the RV and use as a Hurricane Bugout Destination.

    What to do with the excess (which ought to be a fair amount…)?

    1) Initially, shove a chunk of it into traditional short term liquid investments. Stocks, Bonds, etc. These will likely have a higher than usual emphasis on Non-USA choices… I’ll also be opening an FX account with a chunk… as I’m pretty sure FX (Foreign Exchange) rates and trading are going to be Very Important “going forward”…

    2) Some fair amount will end up in “Hard Assets” once physical security is assured.

    3) I’m likely to stuff some amount into a currency like the Swiss Franc or similar, provided it is still sound…

    4) Things that analyse out as a Decent Deal. This one is a grab bag. It is fraught with peril (as are some of the above) just from the question of ADE / pandemic deaths long term. IFF there were to be a “Mass Die Off”, then “stuff” is left sitting all over with little need to build or make more of it. (See plague history of Europe where a great deflation of house and possessions values happened as there was about 2 x as much left laying around as there were people to use it). So there will be “issues” involved that will cause me to watch vaccine response / “issues” closely and adapt over time. Similarly, since “Political Decisions” are driving corporate values more than actual markets, products, competition & tech changes (like, oh, mandating Oil Companies not sell oil…), picking companies will be tricky.

    5) A bit of “Paranoid Prepper Goods”. Not a lot, mind you, but just likely to buy some stuff I’d otherwise not “stock up” on. Powder, molds, lead, primers, a couple of Black Powder guns, a full “one year supply” of decent food. Maybe even a bunker next to the RV ;-) pad.

    6) We’ll See: Once the dust settles, and I actually HAVE money in hand and a sold house: there will be a BIG re-visit of choices and options. “We’ll see” what makes sense then. Maybe a Beach Bar in Belize (and a mooring for the boat…), or maybe a bit of a Rancho in Mexico on the Gulf Coast in a reasonably stable area… Perhaps a “rental house” in Bermuda… that one can reach by 40 foot boat… if things make that look increasingly “valuable.”… then there’s also the possibility of shoving some at buying a “Citizenship” in somewhere else IFF things go so sideways as to justify it. In some nice places, just investing 2/3 of what I’ll have in any business gets you the OK. So “Smitty’s Bar, Grill, Hotel & Dock” has a nice ring to it ;-) Live in the hotel, have chef cooked meals, and your boat. Nag the manager from time to time ;-) Drink up the profits 8-0…

    7) Investigate: Puerto Rico. Costs are low, it has special tax treatments, I speak Spanish and a LOT of them speak English. Ancestral home land of step-daughters family. Might find something I like there. (Spouse & I ought to visit it sometime…). So an exploratory vacation & ponder.

    8) Just blow a chunk of it: We will be doing a couple of “Trip of a lifetime” things as opportunity presents (i.e. Politicians stop their present rush to destruction and we get a more normal global situation happening… which might be never.) So we’d like to visit Disney Paris and Disney Tokyo, plus take a look around Europe. I’d love to take the spouse on a tour around Australia (likely 2 or 3 years away given the present actions there… at best…) Essentially “Turn cash into experiences and memories”. No idea if this will ever happen, given the stupidity rampant in the world’s politicians today.

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    @Phil Jourdan:

    Interesting. I thought it was less than that (closer to 10%) but it looks like you are right:

    Has passenger tires / light trucks at 19%, big commercial trucks at 34%

    Natural rubber provides specific performance characteristics to tires. It is especially good for tear and fatigue crack resistance.

    So right off the bat you could take 15% out of commercial truck tires by accepting passenger tire like structure.

    They list 25% (+/- 1%) “Fillers” that, IIRC, is rubber “crumb” from old tires.

    FWIW, I’ve wondered why folks don’t just make it as a synthetic. Looks like some folks do (though probably at a little higher cost):

    The purity of synthetic polyisoprene provides more consistent dynamic properties with better weather resistance. Synthetic polyisoprene’s lack of ”tree organics” also gives a relatively odorless rubber.

    Superb Resistance and Non-Allergenic.

    Synthetic polyisoprene is produced with a synthetic version of the same base polymer as natural rubber latex, then compounded to mirror the same properties.
    It is a safe alternative for those with latex allergies and counted on for a wide range of uses where latex-allergens are a concern, including the medical, food and beverage, and sports and recreation industries.

    With the benefits of natural rubber latex still desired, synthetic polyisoprene compounds are a versatile, resilient, and natural latex-free alternative that are safe for use in a wide range of industries. Our customers count on our expertise to provide the right solutions for their industry and keep their deadlines on track—from the prototype to the testing phase for their synthetic polyisoprene products.

    Alternative Compound for Dip-Molded Products.
    At Kent Elastomer Products, we offer synthetic polyisoprene as an alternative compound for dip-molded products. Our compound K-440 has a base polymer the same as natural rubber but is polymerized in a reactor producing an artificial latex. K-440 is the best product available for medical applications and beyond that demand the properties of natural rubber latex without latex-allergen concerns.

    K-440 is manufactured to meet the demands of the medical and surgical, dental, sports and leisure, and food and beverage industries and beyond. Compatible for medical devices, K-440 has been tested and passes USP XXII Biological Class VI Testing. This compound is also food grade compliant, meeting all recommended safety levels as specified by the United States FDA Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21.

    Advantages of Synthetic Polyisoprene.

    The most significant advantages of synthetic polyisoprene compared to natural rubber is the purity, consistency and homogeneity of the polymer structure. Synthetic polyisoprenes are non-allergenic and offer good processability and purity compared to natural rubber. They are also competitively priced thanks to the efficiencies that are gained in the consistency of their manufacturing process.
    Synthetic polyisoprenes are also durable and have high tensile strength, good adherence, and good resistance to abrasion, inorganic chemicals, weather and cold.

    Synthetic polyisoprenes have better resistance to weather than natural rubber latex, although it does sacrifice some tensile strength, tear resistance and compression set. Applications of synthetic polyisoprenes are similar to natural rubber, including tubing, dip-molded products, sports equipment, medical equipment, protective gloves, conveyor lines, adhesives, sealants and more.

    So looks like it is mostly just a question of cost and willingness to make it in volume.

  6. Paul, Somerset says:

    It may feel less of an issue in the Land of the Free, but the remorseless drive towards vaccine passes and digital IDs here in Europe inclines me towards investments which can’t be terminated by the State pressing a button on a keyboard. Whether that’s precious metals, a year or more’s supply of good food or a home you can drive away in depends on your personal situation. But right now I’d feel happier owning a couple of dozen tins of corned beef than fifty dollars in a financial instrument which could be terminated if I fail to get vaccinated (or fail to embrace climate vegetarianism).

  7. The True Nolan says:

    @EM: ” Maybe even a bunker next to the RV ;-) pad.”

    There are multiple companies that manufacture tornado shelters which can be buried on your property. Some even have top entries so you bury the shelter and then pour your pad over the top. Stock your SHTF supplies inside the shelter so they are there when you arrive in your RV. You may be interested in checking designs of cave gates if you want a way to lock up the shelter so that it is maximally difficult to break into.

    @Paul, Somerset “inclines me towards investments which can’t be terminated by the State pressing a button on a keyboard. ”

    Cryptocurrencies (like Bitcoin, Etherium, etc.) are complicated subjects and definitely NOT for everyone. On the other hand, a Bitcoin “brain wallet” is easy to set up so that anywhere in the world which has internet you can access your Bitcoin. The passphrase can be whatever you wish, such as “Paul Somerset is a financial genius for making this wallet he can carry in his head!” Very handy, especially if you find yourself fleeing to another country with only the shirt on your back. In fact, if you go to El Salvador, BC is legal tender.

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    @Paul, Somerset:

    “Financial Instruments” subject to electronic cancellation or confiscation are only for temporary use, for me. I.e. deposit the check in the trading account, stuff it into inflation resistant stuff for a couple of months while you “move it on” to other things, like land, metals, RV, boat, etc.


    I’d rather have a very nice gem stone or two in what looks like a cheap gaudy paste setting ;-)

    Oh, and my personal idea: Get a set of “fishing weights” made of gold. Plate them with lead. Put in tackle box… “I’m just going fishing officer…” For people rich enough, learn to scuba dive. Replace your multiple pound “diving weights” similarly ;-)

    I suppose one could also go full on “Goldfinger” and get a gold head made for your car, plated over and painted…

    Oh, and for those Filthy Rich: Some tractors traditionally filled the tires with lead powder (lead oxide I think…) so instead fill them with gold dust and just drive your fortune over back roads… ;-)

    Seriously, though, what happens to your “Bitcoin via internet” when the internet is shut down and / or you must show your Vaccine Passport to log on?…

    Oh, RIGHT! It’s not a “bunker”, it’s just my Tornado / Hurricane Shelter! Have to remember that… ;-)

  9. DaleC. says:

    Synthetics and recycled rubber are like hamburger helper for tires—good for extending a limited supply of natural rubber, but not good on their own. Brazil is fine for collecting rubber from naturally occurring and widely scattered trees, but plantations = blight, which has followed rubber plantation attempts throughout the new world. A big US company used to have plantations in Liberia. Not sure if they still do after the melt down there. Other than that, the Far East is a single point of failure worldwide for processes requiring natural rubber. At one point during World War II, the Japanese held 90%+ of world supply. Fortunately, stockpiling and synthetics got us through.

  10. The True Nolan says:

    @EM: “Seriously, though, what happens to your “Bitcoin via internet” when the internet is shut down and / or you must show your Vaccine Passport to log on?…”

    Well, then you are just screwed! Sometimes it happens! I think of a brain wallet more as a sort of very last ditch way to transport wealth when you are fleeing the country and you can’t carry anything physical. For physical, gold, platinum, silver, diamonds — it all depends on what you can carry and on how thorough the search will be. Sometimes even gold teeth will be taken. Might want to put some white-out over those molars… :)

  11. David A says:

    E.M and all, thanks for sharing the thoughts.
    Hopefully the statists have overplayed their hand, and spiral down into the pit of self destructive actions prone to those who think of themselves as Demi gods.

  12. Paul, Somerset says:

    The only reason I have some gold sovereigns hidden away is as a hedge against The End Of The World As We Know It. Something to begin again with on the other side. That’s assuming I come through it and there actually is another side, of course.

    But if you’re still able or allowed to access the internet, then it’s not really The End Of The World As We Know It, is it? So, that’s why I’ve never been interested in cryptocurrencies.

    I do understand what you’re getting at – the advantage that cryptos can’t be found and confiscated in the way gold can be (though Chiefio has clearly been thinking of ways around that). Perhaps a compromise is rare stamps. You can keep your life savings on one tiny piece of paper if you wish. Though that again assumes that stamp collecting as a hobby will survive The End Of The World As We Know It.

  13. Simon Derricutt says:

    Seems we’re back to a bit of discussion on the best form of stored value to choose. Sure, things like Bitcoin are very transportable, but have no intrinsic value (or even mass) if the net goes down or someone breaks the system. Gold doesn’t have much value except that it’s fairly scarce (and it is nicely shiny). The question is how to store the value of accumulated wealth in a way that can’t easily be stolen by government or other crooks.

    A really tricky problem. If you’ve got the space, high-quality tool steel (or tools) might work pretty well in an EOTWAWKI situation. Figure on people wanting to rebuild after, and that the skills and infrastructure needed to make that steel won’t be around and it’s going to be in demand. After all, given just a hatchet and some trees you can build a house. Add in the other woodworking tools and it gets easier and better. Stocks of brass, Copper, Lead, and Zinc could also be more valuable relatively than they are now.

    Thing is that the relative value of things (and that includes precious metals, stones, etc.) really depends on the level of technology you’re living at. Things that need a large population with a lot of specialist trades will no longer be easy to get if a significant proportion of the population dies from vaccine or other problems. Figure on transport being hit pretty hard, too, so if they’re being made they may take a while to get from where they are made to where people want them.

    Thus what you choose as your store of wealth really depends on just how bad you expect things to get. Probably a good idea to make sure the land you buy can be farmed, so has some water source in it.

    Interesting point is that there actually isn’t a permanent store of value – there’s always some decay involved and a period over which the value dissipates. You have to figure what other people will want in exchange for the food you want to get from them, and in dire situations the food becomes worth much more. Still, sounds like the black powder and other makings would be a good thing to have….

  14. E.M.Smith says:


    Yup. ALL value comes from “what do people want”. I suspect in a real EOTWAWKI situation my frozen archive of most common seeds will be the highest value (and I become a “seedsman” to all around me, growing out a crop of as many as possible each year).

    A BIG crate of bar soap is also likely to be in high demand. Historically, spices and perfumes were valued the highest, and keep well. (So ladys, stock up at the grocer and cosmetics counter!)

    I’m mostly going for “Diversified and flexible” mixed with “current utility”. Little bit of a lot of things, not all of anything.

  15. E.M.Smith says:

    @Dale C:

    All correct, and I agree. I’d only point out one minor “new thing”. Historically, the synthetics were things like Butadiene and not a natural rubber replacer. We now have companies making polyisoprene that IS a natural rubber replacer, just costly.

  16. cdquarles says:

    “Store of value” is opinions in minds. Those change; but people can generally agree about means of exchange.

  17. The True Nolan says:

    @Simon D: “Interesting point is that there actually isn’t a permanent store of value – there’s always some decay involved and a period over which the value dissipates. ”

    Not only is there no permanent store of value, there is not even an OBJECTIVE store of value. Most economists act as if “value” is a definite thing, something which can be found by a free market, or assigned by a centralized committee — but it isn’t. Value is a personal thing, it is a psychological phenomenon. I place one value on an apple, you place another. Centrally controlled economies fail because they attempt to place the same value on something for everyone. Free markets prosper because they allow all individuals to express their own values for things. The only reason why I would ever sell you my used car is because I place higher value in your gold coins than I do in my old car. The only reason why you would ever want to buy my car is because you place a higher value on my old car than on your gold coins. We trade, and both of us walk away happier and more prosperous. When a store puts a price on a car or a coin, it is attempting to find the sweet spot somewhere near the midrange of the bell curve of local “values”.

    In TEOTWAWKI we see a HUGE shift in values, and the nature of the catastrophe determines the nature of the shift. I try to have a range of things in my possession so that I will have SOMETHING which is still useful. Something I can carry, someplace I can grow a garden, something I can travel in, some books to feed my ideas. Diversify! Probably the BEST all around thing to have? Family, friends, church members, local officials, and (critically) knowledge which will make you not just USEFUL, but HELPFUL to all those people. Very few people make it through hard times by becoming a hermit.

  18. E.M.Smith says:


    Very good points.

    FWIW, I’ve often said that when the Crisis Arrives, I’d open “Smiths Kitchen” on the front lawn. I’d use some of my stored goods to get started, but then ask folks to “bring what they can”. Meat thawing out and getting warm from the freezer? Bring it. I’ll show you how to smoke and dry it on the fire… for a nibble or two ;-) … and a bone to toss in the bean pot for the communal “Beans & Rice” free buffet… No meat, but an old bag of Briquettes & some fruit wood or hardwood chips? Here’s your lunch, thanks for the fuel ;-)

    Show a couple of folks how to start seeds in pots and how to set up a garden square, in exchange for a small percent of whatever produce they ever get going – then give them some seeds. (Have some already started for other folks less able to not kill seeds…)

    Essentially, become a local source of “How To” knowledge for food preservation, preparation, and eventually “grow your own”; all while giving minimal “keep alive” food ration in exchange for what they want to contribute to the community pot.

    Who knows if it would work, but that’s the idea.

  19. cdquarles says:

    Who knows if it would work? Our ancestors. They’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt, and mostly passed the lessons on. “Modern” city dwellers, it seems to me, have forgotten that. Nature is harsh, folks. You really don’t want to crash a successful civilization.

  20. E.M.Smith says:


    My Dad made sure I knew how to catch, clean, and cook a critter. How to go from seed to plate. How to dig a well by hand (at least in shallow water where we were ;-) and how to fix anything you used and depended on. He also took us camping and did some orientation to compass and sky. Made sure we could survive it caught out in The Wild.

    I like to think I did some of that for my kids. Maybe not quite all of it, but enough. We had a garden, raised bunnies (but skipped the cleaning part… I figure they can work that out ;-), and taught them to cook, sew, solder, turn wrenches (rebuilt a motorcycle…), shoot and more. Also a couple of small camping trips and some “yard camping” (aka “training sessions” ;-). My Daughter can ride a horse better than I can (and I’m not bad…).

    I have some hope for them. There friends, though, not so much.

  21. p.g.sharrow says:

    If you are a city person that thinks ,”when shit hits the fan” you can move out into the country and provide an existance by hunting, fishing and growing a small garden, you are a fool ! far better that you fight to keep things running then cut and run.

    First, when the locals catch you poaching on their turf you will be invited to leave….. If you refuse they will make you a permanent resident. The wildlife will not support a hundredth of the present population.

    Hand growing food for 4 people is a full, dark to dark, job. The fact that you live in a city means that country living is too tough a way for you to exist.

    If you hoard enough supplies to save you and yours near any city the locals , including government people will take it from you by any means necessary to preserve themselves.

    Only real Country people will band together to preserve each other and will drive out any interlopers that invade their area. So if you are not a part of their extended family there is no place for you to hide out in the country. …pg.

  22. The True Nolan says:

    @p.g.: An old friend of mine (in his mid-fifties) lives in a big city — a million plus people. His plan for social chaos? Figure out how to fly a plane, steal a plane, fly to the deep woods of North Carolina, crash land in the woods, find a cave to live in, and live by hunting, trapping and foraging.

    I wish I were joking, but I’m not.

  23. E.M.Smith says:


    Exactly. That’s why I want to pre-locate at least an RV and periodic residency (perhaps 1/3 to 1/2 the year) to a rural place and “start integrating”. I know it can take a decade plus to stop being “That new guy”, but got to start sometime.

    That’s also why I figure my “highest and best” emergency behaviour until that’s a done deal is to just set up the BBQ in the front yard (if still in sub-urbia) and issue a Y’all Come Pot Luck message. Good for a couple of weeks, max, I think.

    FWIW, IMHO the biggest limiting factor here in California is water. As soon as Central Services collapses and the water is shut off, no garden is possible at all. It is a functional desert that only exists via irrigation. BUT, until that point, folks can grow enough “green leafies”and sprouts fast enough to keep vitamin & mineral profiles up while the Beans & Rice lasts. Maybe a month or two, max. “micro greens” and “baby greens”.

    After somewhere around 30 to at most 60 days, it’s time to get the shovels and start digging big holes, IMHO.

    BTW, part of the reason for mentioning The Boat: While living off the land in an extended (more than 1 to 2 months) Aw Shit is just not going to work for anyone not already living off the land, you can much more easily catch enough fish from the ocean each day to feed yourself. (Especially when catch limits and all are gone… and if you are not so picky about species…) So I’m just looking at keeping options open…

    1) For a few days to a couple of weeks: Smith’s Kitchen and Local Community Support.

    2) For a few weeks to a couple of months: Potentially a pre-built bug-out acreage with on-site facilities for leach field, well, power, etc. Pre-stocked and frequented enough to be seen as a “New Local” at least. Known to neighbors. Productive garden already developed and in place; especially some perennials… Emphasis on “greens” as most folks don’t think of leaves as food so don’t raid them. Mustard greens, horseradish, grape leaves, etc.

    3) For a really bad “Don’t know when things will end” – point the boat out into the ocean and “see the world”… (sail boat, BTW). I figure I could keep that up for a couple of years before it was essential to find a stable society and move back ashore. ( I was a “live aboard” for a couple of years so have some clue about the life style and work involved… Be sure to have a water catchment system.)

    Don’t know if I can get all that set-up and done in time. But clearly “escape the urban” is in progress ATM.

    Oh, and you can get a whole lot of meat faster by raising bunnies or guinea pigs than you can by hunting small animals, and expect that big game like deer will be gone in a few weeks… and unless they are on YOUR LAND, you will not be the one getting them. Part of why I don’t really have any “hunting rifles” (i.e. bolt action .308 or better) in my collection. Just not going to be productive. A “brush gun” (lever gun) for opportunistic shots while mostly being defensive is quite likely a better choice. Oh, and expect to sit up at night with the garden… You might well get some wild pig that way…long or short…

    My goal / planning horizon really ends about 4 to 6 months out from any major (potentially global) Aw Shit. By then, either order has been restored and the civilization is in recovery, problem over. Or you are dead. Or there will be a whole lot of bodies laying all around and you were Damn Lucky and now need to figure out how to live like a Cave Man in a completely collapsed world with about 1/10 th the prior population.

    For almost everyone in, for example, North America: Water runs out in hours to days. Food runs out in days to weeks. Power is gone when either food or water is gone for more than a week or two, max. Society destabilizes into gangs, mobs, and chaos shortly after that. The ones who do NOT die as that status drags on? People on self sufficient rural land with self supplied water, sewer, power, and food – and the ability to defend it OR so hidden they are not found over months elapsed time (preferably both).

    That’s why I don’t have a plan beyond 6 months and have had no “Emergency Supply” of longer than about a 4 to 6 months size. Just not seeing the context where it works… Hopefully that will change with a couple of remote very rural acres and a well / RV pad / Leach field ;-)

  24. Simon Derricutt says:

    EM – maybe one thing you might want to invest in for your bug-out place is a steam engine driving a generator. After all, wood will be available to fire it. Even a small amount of electrical power is a useful thing to have. Solar panels would of course supply some power intermittently, but it’s nice to also have power at night and batteries may not last long enough. Of course, if you have a stream on the new property then you can get power from that instead.

    As Jason says, in a EOTWAWKI situation, the relative values of things will change massively. So much of things that make life easy depend on a long supply-chain consisting of thousands of people all doing their little bit. Doesn’t take much to disrupt that, either.

  25. jim2 says:

    Wood gassification is an alternative to steam. Here is a discussion of it. Me? Not sure which is best, but this could be a starting point.

  26. E.M.Smith says:


    I have 3 or 4 old Briggs & Stratton Engines available (on old gear…):


    Steam conversion is easier, but the gassification is more efficient, but the gassification needs a good filter bed or you gum up the engine, but the filter bed can be wood chips on their way to fuel…

    I’d likely do both just for the fun of it ;-)

  27. E.M.Smith says:

    Newer variation with testing done on compressed air:

  28. E.M.Smith says:

    A “way cool” one, but looks more costly and work than I’d do for an emergency use only device:

  29. The True Nolan says:

    @Simon Derricutt: “Solar panels would of course supply some power intermittently, but it’s nice to also have power at night and batteries may not last long enough.”

    My personal experience is that lead acid batteries will give you maybe five years or so. If you get the Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries you can probably get ten or twenty years. If you get Nickle Iron they will last longer than you will. Of course you still have possible failure with charge controllers and inverters.

    @EM: One advantage of wood gasification over steam is that with gasification you can run most IC engines and generators with relatively simple adjustments. If gasoline were not available there would be excess unused IC generators for free or cheap. Also the gas gives you an option to cook and run a gas refrigerator or water heater (and even lighting if you want gas lights.) Additionally, depending on your gasifier design, you may get charcoal as an output.

  30. Paul, Somerset says:

    One measure of how concerned I’ve become about the weirdness all around me is that I collected a bag of dandelion seeds for the first time this year. Why do that, you ask. There’s hardly a shortage of dandelions in the wild, after all. The thing is, I don’t particularly want to rely on the wild. Plus, it’s a right faff cleaning the roots of wild or lawn-grown dandelions for consumption, whereas with cultivated ones in loose compost you can pull out the whole plant cleanly.

    Three reasons for planning a dandelion patch:
    It was the crop the Pilgrim Fathers brought with them – if it was good enough for that project, it’s good enough for me.
    No other crop combines such a wide range of nutrition with complete reliability and early maturity.
    And, as Chiefio alludes to above – who’s going to steal them?

  31. philjourdan says:

    @EMS – Fake Rubber, etc. Just look to Germany and Japan 80 years ago. They had to make do without real rubber and oil. And they came close to dominating the world.

  32. p.g.sharrow says:

    Small generators have interested me for over 50 years. I prefer steam but Gasifiers would seem to be more logical for a low tech build.
    A couple of years ago I got the chance to buy 50 – 200 watt used panels for a good price and this year accumulated enough wood to build a rack to mount 40 of them on for a 8Kw array. Now to find a couple of tons of batteries to load them and an inverter for split phase 120/240vac to get usable power from them. PG&E is planning a 2 day outage starting tonight due to winds forecast. so back to the 5Kw IC generator for that and continue the dream of electrical independence….pg

  33. The True Nolan says:

    @P.G. Sharrow: “Now to find a couple of tons of batteries to load them and an inverter for split phase 120/240vac to get usable power from them.”

    You may want to look around for a used electric fork lift battery. Call some shops that service such devices. They are normally lead acid (boo!) but on the other hand they tend to be built very heavy and designed for rough conditions. Doesn’t really matter what voltage they are grouped together for since you can always wire up the individual cells for what suits you best. A used battery may have some bad cells, but either just don’t use them or try to restore them to working order with an easy-to-make-at-home pulse charger.

  34. E.M.Smith says:


    Start smaller. Just set up a few of your panels for about 1 kW and get a 1 kW inverter for 120 VAC. And an RV Battery Box with 1 deep cycle battery and you have lights and computer into the night (but not an electric stove…) That’s enough to run the house. Now the PGE outages mean you run the generator when you need 240 VAC for power tools…

    Cheap and easy start.

    Then over time just add a bit from time to time.

    FWIW, DIY Edison Cells are nearly trivial to make. Industrial quality are hard to make (lots of small bits embedded in a matrix) but if you just don’t care about how big it is (i.e. have a chunk of land) you can make them with just a tub and sheet nickle and iron.

    In a real emergency, you can make your own alkaline electrolyte from ashes…

    Personally, I’d just buy RV LiFePo batteries as they will last longer than I will… and 2 of them are enough to run my home all night, but they are very pricey, so a $2k or so buy. 2 x lead acid RV batteries are enough and cost about $400 all up, replace in a few years. Count up your night time power use and I think you will find it isn’t that much. My home averages 1 kW-hr around the clock, but most of that is the electric stove / oven and the dish washer, cloths washer, etc. that are run during the day…

    IF your household usage is the same or lower than mine (likely) then 5 panels and one or two RV batteries gets you through the day and night. Folks on boats use 1 RV battery and one 200 W solar panel (fuel driven kitchen and only lighting one “room” really, plus electronics).

    You don’t really need a high end inverter ( I got one at Costco years ago for under $100, 1 or 2 kW) but the fancy ones are relatively cheep. This is a “solar” rated one and “full sin wave” for $250
    so I think that sets the upper bound of what to pay. This one is 1 kW for $116 bucks:

    FWIW, we rarely go over 1 kW and that takes major appliances. During power outages I run all the needed lighting, the “entertainment center” and the fridge off a 1 kW Honda generator with some power left over. Fridge is 700 W and the major load. TV about 100. Everything else, trivial.

    You can get rid of the majority of the PG&E power outage Aw Shit misery with 1 kW, and you can get that just from the $116 inverter attached to your truck battery, running at low RPM every hour or two. Heck, set up a couple of solar panels to keep the truck charged and add the inverter, you have the start of a nice solar power system.

  35. p.g.sharrow says:

    @EMSmith; Sorry but our needs are a bit larger. For water we need 3Kw split phase 240Vac, all the needed refrigeration for farm is about half that, Electronics is barely noticeable at about 200watts. Then there is water heating and cooking. Except for the electronics the other demands are intermittent and can be managed to some degree in a pinch.
    A 5Kw generator will power our lights and refrigeration or Water pumping but not both. Live in the Bush and water becomes that one commodity that you really must consider. As to intermittent outages you can just do without, but after 24 hours in the summer, the refrigerated things really start hurting. Country living is a bit different in requirements. Your water, sewer, gas, electric, roads and garbage is provided, Food is a short distance away that you can walk. Even the Internet is just another part of a communication package provided “at your door” Living “out in the country” has it’s own set of logistics that you must consider or do without….pg.

  36. p.g.sharrow says:

    Now that I have a 8Kw PV collector/rack the next step is to acquire a couple of tones of batteries to hang on them, even if used, as now I will have power to burn as I reclaim them…pg

  37. E.M.Smith says:


    Didn’t realize you had already built the rack! I though it was just a pile of ‘acquired wood’ at this point, so looks like the hard part is done.

    Per water: We dug a well in our back yard when I was a kid and had a pump on it running on 120 VAC at about 3/4 HP. Pumped 50 GPH continuously. I’m guessing your pump is set up for a lot of rapid irrigation of a large bit of farm, not just house water. 3 kW is about 5 hp? That’s one BIG pump! So you are looking at not just “keep the house going during outages” but also “keep the farm running long term”… Got it.

    Looks like the inverter will run about $1300…

    might make more sense to DIY a motor / generator. Get a motor that can run on DC at your available volts and have it turn a generator (like from a gas generator that had the motor die). One DC or Universal motor and a “broken motor” Generator for under $1300? Hmmm…. don’t know how available either of those are.

    OK, with the solar cells already working, putting the power to use is “on the cards”, so inverter or find things that will just run on DC already. (some lights, “universal” motors in some small appliances and tools – think vacuum cleaner, etc.) or an inverter. Then you have some utility while building out the battery bank for nighttime.

    Given the amount of power already available, that “used forklift battery” sounds like a good idea…

  38. p.g.sharrow says:

    Yes things are FINALLY under way. Our well is over 300feet deep, 200 to water. 6-7 gpm,. a good well up here. But tough to mickey mouse. sort of irrigates 2 ac. the power management unit sounds about right but I am still studying the best direction to go. Maybe divide the array into 4 vertical management systems to convert the panel’s voltage to battery voltage to charge them on a common bus, and then inverter to feed split phase 120/240vac into my AC system…pg

  39. The True Nolan says:

    @p.g. You may want to consider a solar well pump:

    I have one of their pumps. Looks good in the box, but I can’t give you a usage report. I have not yet taken my old 120VAC pump out of the well and put the new one in place.

  40. YMMV says:

    Golf cart / traction batteries. tons for sure. Maybe that is something that can be built up gradually.

    Solar cells are not constant voltage, and the no-load voltage can be quite high, so my first thought is what do you plan for a charge controller? I would go for MPPT. Another expense.

    There are ways to run solar panels without batteries (when the sun is shining).
    For example:

  41. E.M.Smith says:


    Lead Acid batteries are fairly stable to mild overcharging (just watch water level or get ‘recombiner’ caps that turn the H and O back into water via catalyst). You can even use old “dead” ones. IF your panels put out 20-something volts open circuit, you can “float charge” a LA battery across it and the volts will drop to battery voltage (as long as the current is not crazy high… in that case add more batteries ;-).

    Essentially, even if the battery doesn’t hold much charge for long, it draws enough current to drop volts to battery level (and then the current draw drops off as it stabilizes at charging volts…) In this case, the fact that “dead” batteries don’t reach full charge becomes a feature ;-) It will start to break water into H2 and O2 though. (IF you can so arrange it as to capture the gases, that can become a feature… but for that you need to rework the battery guts…)

    Not the best way to treat a new battery for longest life, but if you just want a quick voltage regulator, a couple of old “junk” batteries can do the job. Hard to “shorten the life” of a battery headed for the recycle pile ;-)

    Note that this doesn’t work well with batteries with a fully shorted out cell as that’s 2.2 V missing from the stack of plates. Batteries shorted via sloughed off lead gunk in the bottom can be recovered via dumping the acid out into a glass pail / plastic tub, hosing / rinsing the gunk out of the bottom of the battery (toxic lead though…), then putting the acid back in. So if you DO have a completely shorted cell, sometimes it can be recovered (though with lower A-H capacity).

    If I had an array of solar cells, I’d scrounge an old battery for that purpose while I figured out the best “charge controller” and inverter and all. At least I’d have usable 12 VDC then. (Really about 14-18 VDC depending on battery vs panel capacities, but inside the expected 13.2 to 18 V range of most “12 volt” systems and devices).

    If the Amp supply of the panels is not too much higher than the target device, the device draw alone can stabilize the supply voltage at or near the desired level. You do have to watch for sags if the sun is not enough to drive it to the needed capacity though.

  42. The True Nolan says:

    Speaking of old batteries… The first batteries I got for my cabin were old lead acid batteries (roughly the size of a Marine Deep Cycle battery) from the backup power supply for a computer room. The company was replacing the system and gave me the old batteries for free. They were sulfated and heading to the scrap heap. I made a rather dangerous but simple pulse charger very similar to this:

    We all know that you would not normally charge a 12v LA battery with an 85 volt input, but “normally” is not “always”. The pulse charger feeds one leg of a 110VAC line through an old starter capacitor of about 20 or 40 MFD, and then puts the 110 into a bridge rectifier. That gives you a series of roughly 85VDC pulses (peak) coming out of your rectifier with a relatively low amperage. That spike of higher-than-12VDC current will dissolve (slowly) the sulfates built up on the plates, returning the sulfates to the acid, and charge your battery in the process. I gave the old batteries between 24 and 48 hours on the pulse charger. The thing to remember is that with a capacitor in the 20 or 40 MFD range, the actual wattage coming through is not enough to cook your battery, at least not with a big LA battery. Do remember that this circuit has ZERO safety features. Hook up the battery BEFORE plugging it into the wall and UNPLUG it before touching anything on it.

    My brother used the same process on an old golf cart that was being junked. Worked! Very simple, and can turn a piece of junk into something worth having.

  43. Ossqss says:

    Folks, using bad batteries will produce bad results. Sure, you can desulphate some, but don’t count on it with anything produced since the imposed the new restrictions on such. Thin lead plates Ain’t happening. They be toast if they are deemed toast by the original user. It’s like an iron butterfly>

    Don’t ask :-)

  44. YMMV says:

    “They be toast if they are deemed toast by the original user.”

    It may be possible to get lucky though. If you can find UPS batteries which were replaced only because they acquired a certain number of years, regardless of how much useful life was remaining.

  45. p.g.sharrow says:

    @The True Nolan says:
    18 August 2021 at 12:44 am
    Thank you for that comment. That is some of the information that I seek.
    As I now have access to “unlimited” power I need to use that to reclaim missused old batteries that I can beg from others. As a one time Navy electrician I am familiar with all forms of generation and use of electrical power, both AC and DC, but, there are lots of known patches that are unknown to me.
    For those speculators that want to help:
    The panels are Sanyo HIP-200BA5 produce 3.8 amps @56.7vdc, open circuit 68.8vdc max.
    the rack carries 40 panels, 5rows of 8.
    I presently have 12- 12volt 80amp hour deep cycle batteries of questionable condition to play with.
    I need to provide 240/120vac split phase power to drive my electrical system…pg

  46. E.M.Smith says:


    Those are nice panels, per the installation manual:

    Two will give 113.4 VDC which ought to directly run a lot of AC/DC universal motors and things like resistance heaters or incandescent bulbs. For LED bulbs, they likely start with a step down transformer then rectifier so likely will not work. Many small appliances and tools have universal motors and ought to run fine. (I foresee a fair amount of R&D about appliances and tools in the future ;-) If you know the model number of your well pump, you can likely find out if it is a universal motor as well, but at several HP it is much less likely.

    Batteries are often recoverable. (Yes, Ossqss, it’s often prone to failure too, and preferred is always new, but at $240 each for a “big one” it is often a more economical approach to recover it for a couple of more years of use.) It is a bit of a black art. My mechanic is good at it and I’ll ask him some questions… (news in a day or two ;-)

    What I know (you probably already know all this, but documenting it anyway):

    1) Use a battery hydrometer on each cell. Do this BEFORE topping up with water as that water will float on top and give a false reading. IF any cell is a lot different from the others, it is likely a dead cell. Dead cells can sometimes be recovered. Then top up with water.

    2) Try to just charge it the regular way first. Get a “car charger” and just let it sit for a day or three. Get one with a gauge on it as that is going to give you information you want. If it charges, you have an OK battery. If it doesn’t take any charge to speak of, you have a dud that is likely sulphated. If it sucks big current and never charges, likely a shorted cell (in which case the other cells are being over charged after the first day or so.)

    3) For Dead Cells that suck charge power but never charge (i.e. likely shorted): Dump the acid out of the battery into a glass or plastic container. Hose out the battery with it upside down (i.e. wash out the “gunk” that has settled to the bottom of the battery and is shorting the plates). Some folks go so far as to cut the top out of the battery and lift the “guts” out entirely, then hose it off. Do this where you can catch the lead particles and dispose of them without poisoning yourself or any other living things… Put the guts back in and reseal / refill with the acid. Go to step 1. (If you end up back here again, it’s just dead and “let it go”…)

    4) For a suphated battery, there’s more hope. Lots of folks have magic incantations, some of which work. VERY long charging at high enough volts to get some current flow sometimes works. The Pulse Charger is better as it avoids overheating from way too much current once it does start to take a bit of charge. There are chemicals that supposedly remove the sulphate but I’ve only tried one and it didn’t do much (and I’ve forgotten which one it was…). Supposedly some Calcium Salts can help. For this you get to do your own R&D as I’m not good at it. My mechanic is, so maybe he will have a pointer to “magic goo”. I’ve seen him recover several “dead” batteries.

    5) All this has been assuming a regular “acid water in a bucket” flooded type battery. There’s also batteries that are “saturated mat” (AGM):
    While those are better, they are harder to “recover” as you can’t do things like pour out the acid or hose it out. Also, they will be less happy with things like strong over charging. Still, you might be able to recover sulphated ones with prolonged charger time. Just be more careful about overcharge current.

    6) Finally, recognize that a Lead Acid battery is 1860’s technology. Not exactly hard to make one. It’s basically just a bucket with two sets of lead sheets in it filled with acid. (Sometimes glass mats are between the plates, sometimes nothing). If you can get a lot of lead cheep you can make them pretty easily. Do realize you need a good respirator on if pouring molten lead to make sheets as it is a neurotoxin and does make lead vapor even if only a little. Also spatter can give you nice scars, so full welders gloves, apron, boots, face shield, etc. are a good idea. Here’s a Hard Core battery rebuild:
    which, IMHO, isn’t worth the trouble… but gives the idea. Here’s what I’d likely do instead, it just uses lead roofing material and acid:
    and is aimed at off grid big storage, not mobile batteries.

  47. E.M.Smith says:

    These folks basically have you clean the battery, top up the water, and then put it on a pulse charger:
    They use a commercial one, but have a link to a DIY one:

    It is amusing as they make a “motor” to create pulses. I’d think it would be easier to just make a chopper circuit, but then again I’ve been doing electronics since vacuum tubes were the big deal…

    There do seem to be a lot of folks claiming that pulses of power are the way to go. It’s a new idea to me, so maybe someone else had more insight on that…

  48. E.M.Smith says:

    Interesting… looks like there’s a big market in “gizmos” that claim to recover batteries. Several from the UK. I guess it’s more of a thing there? Or I’m just getting a non-random sample:

    This looks like a really good paper on recovering sulphated batteries. It covers some of the thermal and chemical issues involved. I especially like their use of distilled water and stating that lead sulfate dissolved better into water than acid… shows they are thinking chemistry.


    3.2. Heavy Sulfation

    Replace the old electrolyte with distilled, deionized or demineralized water, let stand for one hour, apply a constant current at four amps at 13.8 VDC until there is no additional rise in specific gravity, remove the electrolyte, wash the sediment out, replace with fresh electrolyte (battery acid), and recharge. If the specific gravity exceeds 1.300, then remove the new electrolyte, wash the sediment out, and start over from the beginning with distilled water. You might have to increase the voltage in order to break down the hard lead sulfate crystals. If the battery gets above 125° F (51.7° C) then stop charging and allow the battery to cool down before continuing. Cycle (discharge to 50% and recharge) the battery a couple of times and test capacity. The sulfate crystals are more soluble in water than in electrolyte. As these crystals are dissolved, the sulfate is converted back into sulfuric acid and the specific gravity rises. This procedure will only work with some batteries.

    3.3. Desulfators

    Use a desulfator also known as a pulse charger. A list of some of the desulfator or pulse charger manufacturers is available on the Battery References Links List. Despite manufacturer’s claims, some battery experts feel that desulfators and pulse chargers do not work any better at removing permanent sulfation than do constant voltage chargers.

    Personally, I’d not pitch out the dilute sulfuric acid you created from the distilled water and old battery, but use it to ‘top up’ batteries. You can also just let it evaporate to get higher concentrations. Why throw away the sulfuric acid the battery needs to work? But that’s me, I guess. More willing to adjust the concentration…

  49. p.g.sharrow says:

    Saving, evaporating and decanting the acid and wash sounds like a good move to me. I have several poly process tanks that I can use for that Looks like I need to set up a battery shop under that panel roof. 8-). Been over 50 years since the last time I did that….pg

  50. jim2 says:

    Lead does not react with sodium hydroxide, but the lead sulfate does. I haven’t tried it, but if I did, I would empty the battery, then rinse with DI water. Then make some dilute NaOH solution. Add it very slowly to the battery at first to see what happens. Then fill the battery. This should dissolve the sulfate, leaving the lead intact. Repeat as necessary. This might eliminate the need for the pulse power supply.

    Then empty, rinse with DI water a few times, then refill with acid.

  51. jim2 says:

    Using sodium hydroxide will result in a loss of lead. I believe the pulse method preserves lead.

  52. Steve C says:

    Another factor affecting battery repairability is the construction of the plates. Most modern lead-acid batteries have “plates” manufactured in fine patterns, into which more metal is then forced as a paste, to increase the surface area exposed to the acid and so maximise capacity. Once these plates start to fall apart due to misuse or neglect (forming the “gunk” you can wash out), the plate area, and thus the usefulness of the battery, will decrease rapidly. They’re not immortal, unless you have a pretty sophisticated facility to re-manufacture them.

  53. The True Nolan says:

    @p.g. Here is a good link to info about the use of fork lift (or pallet jack) batteries for off grid.

    One more small item, just as an anecdote to make you go HA!

    Years back I got a bunch of used 6V sealed lead acid batteries, very much like these:

    I had an odd bit of lighting equipment that needed 4VDC. When I looked closely at the plastic case of the 6V battery, I could see slight marks in the plastic indicating where the three individual cells were located, so… I got a carpenters saw and cut off the last cell, just sawed it off and threw it away. That also exposed the lead electrical trace which connected the middle cell to the last, so I screwed in a wood screw to connect a wire, and had a working 4 volt battery.

    Probably never going to use that trick again, but you never know…

  54. philjourdan says:

    @Ossqss- Don’t Ask? Seriously, if you are going to do In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, you are going to get asks!

    But not from me. I am enjoying the song that even the classic radio stations do not play. At least not the long version,

  55. philjourdan says:

    BTW Ossqss – Name another Iron Butterfly song that made any impression. Just one! ;-)

  56. E.M.Smith says:

    Interesting… Looking at their voltage, the “full load” volts of the panels is 4 x 14.175 VDC. Meaning that they ought to nicely cruise up to the 14.4 of a fully charged set of 4 x “12” VDC batteries then slowly rise to float charge them a bit higher. Highly sulphated and resistant batteries would get enough volts across them (as they approached open circuit volts) to force a trickle charge.


    You might consider just hooking up sets of 4 batteries in series to one panel. Come back each day and test volts across each battery, moving the best ones to one pile (for charging normally) and grouping the lesser lights together for longer float / trickle charging. Ought to be able to do that before you even bother with the Rest Of System and “Battery rebuild” station.

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