The Def Guide to: Batteries

Posted on Jan 25, 2024 by Samara Husbands

The Definition Guide to: Batteries

Essential but often overlooked, batteries work behind the scenes to power our productions. We hear from distributors on the latest trends, tech and tribulations in the world of charging solutions

Definition: What are the latest technological advancements in batteries and charging solutions?

Anton-Bauer: We are living in the golden age of batteries. New technologies are being investigated as the world struggles to meet its energy needs and accelerates towards a more sustainable future. Newer, safer and significantly more sustainable chemistries are coming onto the market.

Bebob: On the one hand, we have seen a trend in recent years to make batteries smaller and more compact – which makes it easier for camera people to handle their rigs outside the studio or under extreme conditions. On the other hand, there is the trend towards more powerful batteries, enabling filmmakers to work with a great variety of modern cameras and lights.

NXTGENbps: Battery generators, or power packs, are now more accessible from a variety of manufacturers, and battery management systems have become more sophisticated, allowing for improved cell monitoring and faster charging. These advancements hold promise in reducing pollution by replacing diesel generators, minimising the carbon footprint of productions and facilitating shorter cable runs due to their nearly silent operation.

Def: Are there any emerging technologies that filmmakers should keep an eye on?

Anton-Bauer: One technology springs to mind – and that is sodium. Sodium has many similarities with lithium-iron sulphate, but it also has many advantages, including very high C rates, wide operating temperature ranges, longer cycle life and safety. Sodium is much more environmentally friendly than lithium and can be completely recycled. While the energy capacity of sodium is a bit less than lithium-iron sulphate at this moment, the advancements in this area are rapid.

NXTGENbps: Filmmakers should keep an eye on emerging technologies, which include sodium batteries, hydrogen power solutions and ongoing developments in lithium technology to enhance energy density. Additionally, expect to see batteries with built-in intelligence for optimised power usage and real-time data reporting in order to calculate CO2 offsets.

Def: Where would you say the future of battery technology within filmmaking is heading?

Hawk-Woods: In recent years, one of the main focuses has been to make everything smaller, lighter and more portable. Whether it is testing out different types of cells or configuring the internals, making batteries smaller without losing runtime or power has been sought-after by the end user.

NXTGENbps: Usage and monitoring data will become essential for managing and specifying power needs. In turn, this will drive greater efficiency in power usage and transform the ways of working within the industry.

Anton-Bauer: Sodium-based batteries will begin to dominate the market. Who wouldn’t want a more environmentally friendly, longer-lasting battery with higher continuous output?

Def: What are some of the biggest customer considerations when it comes to buying batteries for filmmaking?

Bebob: Customers should aim for high quality and durability to secure their investments. Product and transport safety is another issue – watch out for the appropriate certifications! We will also see a rising interest in sustainable solutions, such as re-cellable batteries.

Many people are also looking for the cheapest solutions. This is understandable, but they should be aware that high quality, high safety and real sustainability aren’t cheap.

Anton-Bauer: You would hope it is quality, life cycle, durability and safety features – unfortunately, it is normally price. Return on investment should always be a key consideration. In the long run, buying a quality battery is good for both the wallet and the environment.

NXTGENbps: Capacity stands out as a significant concern. Often, customers over-specify their battery requirements due to their familiarity with diesel power. Educating customers about the nuances and differences between diesel and battery capacity is crucial. Portability is also essential for crews who frequently move batteries around sets, sometimes on uneven ground, in pursuit of capturing shots at various locations.

Def: Are there any common pain points that filmmakers consistently encounter with existing battery technologies?

NXTGENbps: One significant challenge is the lack of knowledge and understanding regarding the advantages of battery technologies. Some crews may be afraid of change and adopting new workflows. This can be overcome through education, training and hands-on experience.

Anton-Bauer: As accessories are added to the camera set-up, they also add to the power draw. It’s important to ensure the battery’s continuous output current can power the complete set-up. Exceeding the overall current draw can cause the battery to fail, shutting down the camera and causing a loss of production time.

Def: What are the main regulatory considerations filmmakers need to be aware of?

Bebob: Most airlines do not accept batteries that are higher than 100Wh within hand luggage.

Anton-Bauer: We have heard many times how batteries are being refused, as the staff hear the phrase ‘lithium battery’, even though you’re allowed 20 spare batteries under 100Wh. Knowing your batteries’ chemistry will also come in handy, as some are not classified as ‘dangerous goods’. This means you can transport the battery without any restrictions, which can save a lot of time and money.

Def: How do filmmakers ensure the safety of batteries on-set, especially when working in challenging conditions?

Hawk-Woods: Even though manufacturers try to produce robust products, they can still be damaged. Batteries should not be thrown or dropped, and if there is damage, they should be checked by a professional before being used.

Batteries that are UN-certified go through rigorous testing to ensure they are safe. That said, people still need to regularly check on their batteries. Runtime especially will vary considerably if they are being used in extremely hot or cold environments.

Once filming finishes, make sure that the batteries are stored properly. With lithium-ion batteries, it’s advised to store them about halfway charged and in a cool, dry place. We advise that any lithium-ion battery should be charged every three to six months.

Anton-Bauer: Safety concerns are rising, as a small percentage of cheaply constructed batteries in the market continue to malfunction, causing fires and accidents. It’s important for filmmakers to research battery manufacturers before making a purchase to ensure safety protocols have been built into the power solution.  

Def: How can batteries and battery manufacturers contribute to sustainable efforts such as recycling?

Hawk-Woods: In the world of lithium-ion batteries, it’s crucial for companies to get the best-quality cells from suppliers who respect both human rights and the environment. This approach ensures that batteries last as long as possible. 

Anton-Bauer: In product design, this can be approached by using recyclable outer casings or having a re-cellable battery. We also believe manufacturers should minimise their carbon footprint.

Manufacturers can also explore more environmentally friendly chemistries such as sodium. Sodium is a more sustainable solution than rare-earth materials such as lithium or cobalt.

Bebob: All vendors should aim to reduce their CO2 footprint within their supply chains and their production processes. There’s also a lot that can be done by using plastic-free packaging, reducing and recycling waste and by educating employees and partners.

NXTGENbps: Manufacturers can play a vital role in sustainable efforts. Using second-life cells for certain solutions and ensuring ethical and sustainable sourcing of parts is critical. Additionally, recycling and repurposing cells and components at the end of a battery’s life are vital steps towards establishing
a circular economy.

This guide was first published in the January 2024 issue of Definition.

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