Weird & Wireless: Can batteries be left out in the cold?

Welcome again to the new series of posts on Electro-ramblings concerning the wonderful but sometimes weird world of wireless comms, written by Joel Young, CTO of Digi International
Why are we told to store batteries in the refrigerator to preserve them even though battery life seems so poor when electronics are left out in the cold?

The thing I love about batteries is that they seem so utterly unpredictable and even nonsensical - as if to defy all logic - but once you understand their true nature, they make perfect sense. The first thing we must remember is that all batteries are little chemical power generators - as such, they are subject more to the rules of chemistry than they are electromagnetics.

One of the common laws of chemistry is that reactions generally speed up when they get warm and slow down when they get cold. Such is the life of a battery.

If you want to keep all those good little electrons bottled up tight inside the battery, then keep the batteries cold. The reactions which keep the electrons flowing slow down, making that little thing we call shelf life a lot longer.

Remember, just because the battery isn't hooked up to a circuit, doesn't mean that it isn't using up some of its capacity all the time.

Of course, this doesn't explain why your cell phone battery or camera battery doesn't seem to last very long when left out in the snow. The answer here lies not in the storage, but in the usage.

If your phone or camera is turned off when you leave it on the ice in the middle of the winter AND you don't turn it on until the battery warms up, then you are golden. The problem is not with storing batteries in the cold, but rather trying to use them when they are cold.

Remember when batteries are cold and they are asked to spit out a bunch of electrons, they use up a lot of their energy just trying to push the electrons out through the cold and they waste a lot of their potential. Unfortunately, once your potential is gone, it doesn't come back.

Previous Weird & Wireless posts include:

* Weird & Wireless: GPS, and how do those satellites know where I am?

* Weird & Wireless: Do microwave ovens cause cancer?

* Weird & Wireless: Why can I use a 2.4-GHz phone and 802.11 network at the same time?

joel-young-2009-150x150.jpgJoel Young, VP of Research and Development and CTO at Digi International, has more than 22 years of experience in developing and managing data and voice communications. He joined Digi International in June 2000 and in his current role he is responsible for research and development of all of Digi's core products.

Prior to joining Digi, Joel was VP of Sales & Marketing at Transcrypt International where he was responsible for sales, marketing, and product development for all information security products. During his tenure at Transcrypt, he also served as VP of Product Development and VP of Engineering where he was responsible for engineering, research and product development for wireless communications products, cellular telephony, wireline telephony and land mobile radio, data security and specialized digital radio products.

He also served as District Manager for AT&T Business Communications Services where he was responsible for the creation and implementation of voice processing and network database strategies, including deploying new voice processing platforms into the AT&T switched network for private network and other outbound calling services.

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