Speaking on the final day of the North Carolina Biomedical Association’s annual conference, Jeff Smith of Interstate All Battery Center stressed the importance of full life-cycle management of medical batteries. The complete battery life cycle, Smith explained, includes sourcing, logistics, education, maintenance, and recycling.

Battery management is least challenging, he noted, with primary batteries such as alkaline, zinc-air, and lithium types, which cannot be recharged. More complicated—and more commonly encountered by biomeds—are secondary types of batteries, which can be charged multiple times. Examples of secondary types include nickel cadmium, nickel-metal hydride, lithium ion, and lead acid batteries.

The sourcing of batteries is “most confused,” Smith said, when lead acid batteries are involved. “Ninety percent of the problems people have understanding batteries involve this type,” he noted. A key point to understand, he said, is the difference between standby and deep-cycle types. The first is rarely used and can be recharged 30 to 50 times, while deep-cycle batteries are designed “to do a lot of work, rather than a short burst once in a while,” and can be recharged 100 to 150 times. Smith emphasized that it is important to get the right kind of lead-acid battery for the type of work involved. He showed four similar batteries that were actually all designed for different applications.

When it comes to maintenance, Smith said, most of the common testing tools found in a biomed shop “will not tell you the state of health of a battery.” He added that there is a tool made by Cadex that, “while tedious to use,” can analyze several different types of batteries simultaneously. It can also fix memory effect problems, and connect to a PC to produce reports.

Hospitals are sometimes too ready to replace used batteries with new ones, Smith suggested. By rebuilding batteries, he said, they could reap significant savings. As an example, he cited how “a $200 lithium battery can be rebuilt for about half that cost.” Many hospitals replace UPS units too soon, he added, noting that they can be repaired very inexpensively. Other types of batteries that can be rebuilt cost-effectively, he said, include those used in power tools, Arjo beds, Datascope/Mindray monitors, and Sigma-Spectrum infusion pumps.

When it comes time to recycle batteries, Smith said, “there is a chain of custody that is very important with that hazardous waste.” He recommended using suppliers like Interstate for recycling, which “recycled 53 million pounds of lead last year.” Recycling via experts is cost-effective, he added, and helps ensure safety.

With respect to safety, Smith added that it is important to “make sure that [battery] terminals are protected when they go into the waste stream so you don’t have a shorting condition.” Batteries “appear to be boring,” he said, “but they can also be dangerous.”

The NCBA conference was held September 3–5 in Concord, NC.