Empowering the nomads

Ryan Pohl building batteries in the boonies.
Photo: Nina Riggio | The Washington Post

Here’s an interesting story: We’ve wondered from time to time about what we’re going to do with all the batteries from these cool new toys everyone thinks will save us from ourselves. Ryan Pohl has a few ideas on that subject.

Pohl is repurposing depleted electric-car batteries to power the off-the grid wanderers who winter at Quartzsite, billed as “the RV boondocking capital of the world.”

There are no plug-ins out there, so the nomads mostly power their rigs using fossil-fueled generators. What there is is plenty of sun. And with solar panels, some used Nissan Leaf batteries, plus an assist from Pohl and his mobile workshop, these wanderers can get a little greener.

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29 Responses to “Empowering the nomads”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    Seems to be the wrong link.Try this folks.

  2. khal spencer Says:

    Another good article. If batteries are to be part of a sustainable plan, they have to be recycled. That lithium, cobalt, etc., doesn’t grow on trees.


    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Fucking batteries. They’re in everything around here, from cameras to microphones to recorders to laptops to wireless mice. We use rechargeable AAs and AAAs in our widgets, and get pretty good life out of them. When they finally croak Herself takes ’em to Sandia for recycling.

      But still, damn. Batteries everywhere. Soon every new home will come with a nucular power plant and a solar array.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Neighborhood nukes. That’s the way to go. Instead of chopping wood, it will be “be back in a minute, honey. Gotta go change the fuel rods out. Now where did I put my lead lined suit, anyway?”

    • SAO' Says:

      Fourteen bikes for sale at Costco right now. Eleven of them are electric. (The other three: 1 strider, 1 folding, 1 fat tire.) I hope the industry aint using Costco big data for their supply chain calculations.

  3. SAO' Says:

    Walk in to IKEA, Lowe’s, some Targets, there used to be recycling boxes for stuff they sell that recycling centers struggle with. Power tool batteries, CFLs, that kind of stuff. That needs to be a requirement for all businesses. Because recycling is a big joke in this country. Any WM driver will tell you, almost all of it ends up in the same pit.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Here’s an interesting recycling piece from Fanta Se, published in Outside before it got Boulderized.

      • SAO' Says:

        I see “Boulder” just as much as a verb as as a noun these days.

        We have this funny little project going on here …


        And the first comment I saw on antisocial media was, “Don’t Boulderize NOCO!”

        • Shawn Says:

          I don’t believe I read that it was being done so in the article link, but since recycling is being discussed in this thread, perhaps a thought may be given toward using re-purposed paint when creating traffic calming intersections.

          Calm of course is a relative term. If you’ve decided to imbibe in a scant portion of magic mushrooms, passing into a painted traffic intersection may be like crossing the event horizon.

    • khal spencer Says:

      Recycling gives the fiction that we are sustainable. I doubt it.

      As far as batteries and “clean” energy. I’m not that familiar with Lithium mining and refining but I do know we get most of our rare earth product from China, where environmental and workplace safety laws pretty much don’t exist. Mining this stuff is a messy industrial process and in addition, many REE mines, such as the one at Mountain Pass, California, have a lot of actinides in them so there is…..gasp….radioactivity. Which makes it the third rail of the discussion in the United States.


      But, we all want our batteries, solar panels, and wind farms. I find this country hopelessly hypocritical.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Here’s a lithium-mining piece from Streetsblog USA.

      Here’s another from High Country News.

      Both address the Thacker Pass operation in Nevada.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Thanks, O’G. Was just about to do a search. Good articles. So if we want e-Hummers and e-McMansions, we should indeed have to destroy our own nation, acidified open pit by acidified open pit. About time we stopped outsourcing the ugly side of our gluttony.

      • p Says:

        Lithium is just like plastic in that it’s cheaper to mine or produce then recycle. So, to hell with the planet, we need to make a dollar here. The world is tired of being our trash can, including for CO2. But, we keep on keeping on. And the
        pols don’t give a shit. They have no stomach for the radical action it will take to fix climate change.

        But, a little guy with grit and imagination can start a revolution. So stayed tuned.

  4. Dale Says:

    Glad the guy is extending the useful life of batteries, but I don’t want a six-pack of lithium cells under my bed.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      There’s a certain element of The Fear involved, yeah? You eyeball some of these rigs, taking note of the plywood sleeping platforms, propane canisters, and homemade electrical setups, and think, “Hm, an unmodified Subaru Forester, a Marmot bag, and a Big Agnes tent look pretty good to me.”

      A Thule Tepui Foothill rooftop tent would be a nice upgrade, and a whole lot cheaper than a repurposed school bus full of explosives.

      • khal spencer Says:

        I had a big UPS on my mass spectrometers at the Univ of Hawaii. Used to change out the lead-acid cells myself, given I worked on my own cars and motorcycles. Some time after I left to come to New Mexico, the tech who took over managed to put either a screwdriver or wrench across the apparatus and left it a mess. Luckily she didn’t blow herself up or take a sulfuric acid bath.

        As they taught us in energized electrical class at a certain large Federal employer NW of Santa Fe: Batteries mean chemicals and stored energy. Handle with care.

      • Pat O’Brien Says:

        Nah, you want the Mercedes conversation van. Just hock the house, go buy one, and bring it home. Herself will thank you for doing it. Then you guys can go live down by the river in style.

      • Shawn Says:

        Yep. Exposed metal conductors, tightly packed energy, kiln dried wood and a southern desert environment. I hope a lot of folks in the vans, rvs. etc have quick evacuation plans. Giving yourself and family 10 seconds of escape would be a good idea.

        Here’s a thought. Turn old inert objects such as old refrigerators, stoves, etc. into charging enclosures that can be set outside an rv / van. Then all that is required would be a suitable 110v connector into the vehicle. The batteries, inverter, controller, etc. would be mounted securely in the fridge. Somebody with a torch and mig unit could weld up a suitable rear hitch assembly for transporting the fridge power unit (FPU).

  5. khal spencer Says:

    Flipping through that WaPo article, I wonder how much of that stuff is built to code. Seems like an awful lot of exposed conductors under that bed.

    • JG Says:

      After watching a Prius self-immolate, I know that I would not want any of that under my bed. Or, for that matter, anywhere nearby.

  6. B Lester Says:

    Khal, thanx for the IEEE site. I went down the rabbit hole there this morning and have bookmarked it. It’s easy to forget about these organizations even when you have friends that are members.

    Looking at all of the research going on in alternative fuels and energy storage is fascinating. I especially liked the gravity energy storage solutions. Keeping it simple.

  7. Herb from Michigan Says:

    At least the guy is keeping things out of the landfill albeit temporarily. And in my book, a single penny kept away from the fossil fuel weasels is good. The concerns expressed by your erudite posters are all on the level. Yet unlike many “advancements “ in technology people are already kvetching, thinking and working on solutions and alternatives. I would love to see our big corporations, foundations and our hapless government pour money into both recycling and trash abatement measures. You start offering $250K prizes to people who come up with viable solutions to environmental issues , and you’d be stunned what can come out of the brain pool we all think is irreparably damaged in America.

    • Pat Says:

      Hey bubba, what did you call me?

      The recycling problem starts with the producers of all this stuff: plastic, steel, aluminum, lithium, lead, glass, and paper to start with. They must be forced, it seems at this point in time, to start using part or all recycled material in their production. They will bitch about the cost, and where legit we will have to start paying it through higher prices or government subsidies or incentives. We still subsidize the fossil fuel industry. And, we, as a nation, continue to give preferential treatment to the oil producers in the Middle East. Seems there is some money there to use to improve recycling here. The current situation of burying the stuff in the ground is unsustainable, and the cost excuse doesn’t make it anymore. Did I just say what you said? If so, then you are a smart feller, Herb.

    • khal spencer Says:

      Hey, you callin’ me “erudite”? Dem’s fightin’ words, bubba! As soon as I take off my MAGA hat….

      On a serious note, there has long been a call for calculating a cradle to grave cost of products and of energy. Of course that is hard to do. What is the cost of a ton of CO2? Kinda depends on environmental factors rising out of the climate sensitivity factors and how that plays into climate and risk. Same for nuclear. Now, why not the same calculation for a Hummer, that new plastic toy, or all the goddamn packaging that comes on the brown truck from Amazon?

      We enjoy all the toys, keeping the lights on, and driving everywhere and meanwhile kick the ultimate costs of all that frolic down the road a ways. And of course, no government entity is gonna raise taxes to pay the true costs of throwing all that shit in a landfill/atmosphere/ocean.

      I think the best solution is nuke the whole place from orbit. Its the only way to be sure.

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