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Building a good working capacity NI Fe Battery.


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Thread starter #1
I've been watching 'how to' videos on the Internet and reading up on the old Edison type Nickel Iron batteries. There are loads of claims that they are superior to many of the modern types of rechargeable batteries.
The problem is I am rather skeptical simply because what they claim Vs what I am seeing for actual performance numbers and cost don't come close to adding up so far.

One video shows a homemade 1 quart canning jar NI Fe battery that runs an LED for 12 minutes. Sorry but a good watch battery can do better than that! :(

The design has been proven to be very durable and very reliable but I have yet to find any real numbers that relate the simple physical size of a 12 volt (10 cell) NI Fe battery to a common 12 volt lead acid battery on any amp hours comparisons or discharge rate comparisons.

I once had and probably still do have an actual Edison NI Fe battery some place so I will be trying to find it (if its still around) to see what I can learn (if anything) from it.

So does anyone have any real practical working experience or knowledge about this type of battery and how it really relates to other types of batteries?
Especially on the realistic size VS capacity ratios.
I have heard of Iron alkaline batteries being used for off grid power systems due to their high cycle counts and large capacity. But they have terrible internal discharge rates, so must be hooked to a PV or other array to keep them charged.

Never heard of NiFe batteries before. And now I've contributed nothing to this post. :p


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Thread starter #4
Well I have done some more reading up and research on the Ni Fe Battery designs and specs.

The more honest comparisons say they the modern designs do have a higher energy per mass and higher energy per unit of volume than typical lead acid batteries.
The down side is they dont have all that high of current capacity in reference to their amp hour ratings. 3C seems to be the common number. Plus they are rather slow discharging and recharging as well.

They are apparently very simple to build though and quite safe to work around in comparison to any other battery.
The iron anode can apparently be just mild steel sheet plus is cheap and easy to prepare.
The electrolyte is basic KOH (potassium hydroxide) which also is cheap and very common as one type of drain cleaner.
The nickel cathode is also just a simple easy to prepare sheet but unfortunately its also very expensive to purchase at this time. That seems to be the down fall to mass production.

For slow drain and recharge and extreme working conditions they are apparently a superior battery but for high energy applications they dont have all that great of abilities.
For off grid power or possible limited range electric vehicle applications they may have a more favorable potential being that they have superior life expectancy and a naturally safer design to them. Plus the maintenance aspects are very simple.


Well-Known Member
G'day Tcmtech,
I have a bank of 10 nickle iron batteries in my shed which I got over 5 years ago, today they run my cnc and provide a 24/7 FM radio in my shed. I have them setup for 16 volts and it doesnt matter how much I discharge them. I have taken them down to 2 volts before and no damage at all. Fair enough these batteries came out of a military base and were free off a mate as 1 had tipped over and he thought they were stuffed. Although not a true Edison cell these batteries will last as when they finally do die down a good washout using battery water and a new alkaline solution will get hem back to near new.

If you make your own publish it on here and the RE projects forum will take a new twist mate.

Cheers Bryan
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Well-Known Member
Is the nickel electrode eroded in use? If not you could just use nickel plated steel for the nickel electrode. And nickel is probably the easiest metal to electroplate yourself too.


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Thread starter #7
I was pondering on that same idea of electroplating my own nickel cathodes being it is easy to do. I am not that familiar with electroplating as of yet and dont know which metal would make the best substrate material.
From what I have read the actual plates dont get dissolved or break down to any real degree so I would think that by electroplating a good thick layer over the right material should work.

Any of you chemistry or electroplating guys got any good info to share relating to all of this?

The reason I brought up this whole homemade Ni Fe battery thing was partly because my brother and I build weird stuff for hobbies and side income.
He has a homemade CNC machine that could easily cut out the acrylic or Plexiglas I would need for making tightly stacked cells which would yield a fairly high power density from them for their given volume.
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I would think at least one electrode would have to break down. How else are you going to produce the power?

Anyone know the chemical reaction in a NiFe battery?
Mr RB nickle is the easiest metal to electroplate? Where did you hear that? Nickle is one of the more difficult types of plating to get right. Zinc. Copper, Tin, even many precious metals are easier than Nickle in many ways because it tends to deposit with very high stresses and crack/flake off.
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Well-Known Member
Who said nickle was hard to plate, the link below supplies kits for electroplating at home with plenty of samples nickle plated on show. The cost isn't huge to get going so guys time to start getting into the knitty-gritty of this nickle-iron DIY battery as I'm keen as mustard to give it a shot. The electroless method looks the easiest to do by far, so now the internal plates are the next thing to find out how to make.

Tcmtech if my wife has a go at me at under going yet another project on RE I'll blame you mate.

Cheers Bryan

Jane Kits : electro: nickel plating kits, zinc plating kits, copper plating kits, gold plating kits


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Thread starter #11
I've been reading up a bit on the nickel electroplating as well. It seems to me its just like anything else. Proper preparation and procedure are what makes or breaks it.

I think I may have to order some nickel electroplating stuff this winter and see what I can learn as well.

Tcmtech if my wife has a go at me at under going yet another project on RE I'll blame you mate.
Blame away! ;)
But tell her you can either play with educational stuff at home or go out with the guys and get stupid drunk. See which one seems like a better idea to her. :D


Well-Known Member
Nickel is an easy one. It sticks to metals that copper won't (like iron and steel) so in my opinion that makes it "easy" to plate. Especially in context, since we were talking about plating electrodes for a battery which would have iron electrodes, you could just plate half of them with nickel.
I'm sorry Mr RB, but where did you read or were taught this? I worked at a metal plating plant for 10 years, we did Zinc, Copper, Nickle (both electroless and electrolytic) we did Tin many years ago as well, of all of them Nickle is the worst.

Copper will plate onto almost anything, it'll even plate onto plastics if they're etched and go through a special metalizing dip that makes the surface conductive enough to get the copper a base to hold onto, once it's on there you can put anything on it, all plated plastics have a copper base even the chrome ones which are actually copper/nickle/chromium multipart plates.
Actually copper is so easy that when we ran a lot of brass work on the zinc line enough copper would dissolve in the acid cleaning bath that over time it would immersion plate copper onto steel parts ran subsequently, we had to dump the acid bath and rinses after every very large brass run or it screwed up the Zinc plating after the acid clean because an immersion copper has a lot of impurities.

We often had to copper strike steel parts that went into the Nickle bath, even the electroless one because the porosity of the raw steel substrate doesn't leave much for the deposited layer to grab on to, hence the stress problems, as the Nickle plate gets thicker and the deposit cures it develops absolutely incredible internal stress and is prone to micro cracks (not visible) which destroy corrosion resistance, and sharp edges always flaked, even on a well controlled bath.

There have been some pretty cool advancements in Nickle baths for industrial uses with proprietary additives but for a hobbyist it's an absolutely horrible idea.

You may be talking about something like a woods nickle strike chemistry but those are absolutly junk for developing any real useful thickness, just barely enough to cause a visual change. Any real anode material is going to need to extremely thick, not practical to plate it, cladding is an option though but very expensive, and over time you'll eventually get down to the substrate material and the battery chemistry will go right out the window, any battery made out of cladded electrodes will have a much reduced life.
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Active Member
Well, Wikipedia sez:
The half-cell reaction at the cathode:

and at the anode:

Even the low efficiency at high currents nonwithstanding, the cycle efficiency is very poor, about 65%. Plus it's got a high self-discharge rate. As such, it's not a really great choice for solar, those expensive panels needs to be much larger to charge a batt of a certain capacity due to the poor cycle efficiency.

But look up Jay Leno's Baker Electric car. Darn thing still works, 100 years later. However, IIRC they made some claims of range that may be a bit... exaggerated.

No I don't know of anyone experimenting with making nickel-iron cells, and it's kinda disappointing. They sound more amateur-buildable than other types. But nobody's tried it. I suspect that it will be necessary to obtain exceptionally thin nickel foil, which you could get from buying nickel sheet (expensive) and having it rolled in a metalshop. It may work-harden and need annealing between passes. The iron... steel has impurities which may degrade the cell over time. But pure iron's not malleable enough to get into thin sheets, or any sheet actually. I don't know where you'd even obtain pure iron sheets.


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Thread starter #15
I've been doing some more online searches for nickel sheet and so far the general appearance is 'If you have to ask for the price you cant afford it."
I thought nickel was a fairly common metal and thus not that hard to find or all that expensive.:(

So electroplating it is not easy as well?
Should have tried buying it about a year and ago tcm, the price quadrupled. I think it's back down to normal which is still much higher than most people thing.
Do a google search for metal prices, I found the follow list for scrap prices.

Zinc 1.0
Copper 3.1
Aluminium (pure) .927
Nickle 7.37
Tin 6.7

I don't know what the metric is but those will give you rough approximations.
When it was at it's worse a ways back Nickle was over 25 dollars a pound for plating quality Srounds.


Well-Known Member
I'm sorry Mr RB, but where did you read or were taught this? I worked at a metal plating plant for 10 years, we did Zinc, Copper, Nickle (both electroless and electrolytic) we did Tin many years ago as well, of all of them Nickle is the worst.
Well I can't argue with that! ;)

Sorry for contradicting you before. I had a memory of triple-plate chrome being nickel then copper then chrome, specifically because nickel was the best one to "stick" to steel, ie sticks better than copper so you nickel plate first then plate copper second.

But that was just a memory from messing about with plating many years ago, and obviously my memory of things that happened 20 years ago is less than perfect haha. :)
No worry about contradicting me, was just wondering where you were coming from =)
Mind you I wouldn't recommend plating for any person on a hobby level, because you're likley to dump stuff down the drain you shouldn't. I think I posted a pretty good common sense approach to waste treatement for even a hobbyist that might be a good idea to make sticky somewhere but that was months ago, the chemicals and ionic metals in plating solutions are really bad for the environment if not stabilized properly, and it really doesn't take THAT much to stablizie the stuff.
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Most Helpful Member
Thread starter #19
So any practical ideas on the nickel problem other than just order a few expensive sheets and see what I end up with power wise?


Well-Known Member
What's the price problem if it's only twice the price of copper? Copper sheet is not that expensive.

Maybe it's because nickel sheet is not a commonly sought after item?

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