discussion / Sensors  / 8 February 2019

The battery challenge - how to reduce battery waste

Hi everyone,

So much great stuff is being developed here! Currently, the use of technology in conservation has become quite normal. We are all familiar with camera traps and radio telemetry and so much more was developed since.

Most equipment requires some source of energy and in many devices we use (lithium) batteries. Thousands of them are used annually in each field site that’s monitored with camera traps alone. This means millions and millions across the globe each year. Waste management systems with recycling options do not exist everywhere, especially not in developing countries. Batteries end up in the environment and also don’t forget about the impact of mining to obtain the metals and other recourses to manufacture them.  

Although there has been development towards rechargeable batteries, the use of solar panels and other alternative sources of energy, still many batteries are being used. In regions with dense canopy cover, solar panels won’t receive an adequate amount of solar radiation. In colder climates, rechargeable batteries only have very short lifespans. For people working in mountainous areas, solar panels and other equipment are often too heavy to bring up.

Battery run camera traps and other equipment help study and protect biodiversity, but at the same time pose a great risk to what we aim to protect. We should strive to reduce this kind of waste from our conservation work!

I think this comes with various challenges:

  1. To find alternative energy sources to power camera traps and other devices that provide sufficient power, are durable, affordable, not sensitive to theft, easy to use and deploy in the field;
  2. To find ways to make rechargeable batteries last longer, also under cold conditions;
  3. To improve waste management systems to actually deal with battery waste in a more efficient way.

Given the current developments in the electric car industry and tests with power storage systems (power packs / power walls), there has to be a way to translate this to the conservation world. I’m curious to know whether some of you might have put some thought in this already. So, some questions to everyone here

  1. How many batteries are you using – giving a snapshot of the issue
  2. Ideas for solutions –  what emerging tech could help, should we be redesigning cameras or batteries?

What are your ideas, what do you know about current developments in this field, what’s next?


Best regards,

Until a more sustainable alternative to single-use batteries has been developed I would suggest that those taking such batteries to countries where there are no adequate collection facilities, take the empty batteries back to where they came from. I hope this is happening in at least some cases but it should apply universally. The same should apply to any other equipment that won't be recycled appropriately where it is initially deployed.

Hello Femke
I agree. I forgot that not all batteries are taken to less developed places by people that are travelling back frequently to were the batteries came from.

For the case you mentioned above (monitoring of snow leopards), would I be right in saying that solar panels could be used there, i.e. open views to the sky ?  I agree that taking and installing large panels in remote locations is not easily possible but I wonder whether small devices, such as the camera traps you mentioned, would need just a small panel, maybe 200x300 mm, and thus be easily carried.

It has always irked me, even at home, that there seems to be no simple solar-powered alternative to batteries (single use or rechargeable). I am thinking of a small solar panel with its own built-in rechargeable battery and a wired connection to "something battery shaped" that could be installed in the host device where normal batteries are usually placed. I had a quick look online for something like this but it looks like it still needs inventing. I add it to my to-do list...

Hi Femke,

In response to your first challenge:

1. To find alternative energy sources to power camera traps and other devices that provide sufficient power, are durable, affordable, not sensitive to theft, easy to use and deploy in the field;

Has anyone tried using WaterLily turbine to charge their camera batteries?


WaterLily can generate power either by wind or water flow and seems to be a well-tested robust piece of off-the-shelf equipment. It also looks very easy to use.

I imagine that as most camera traps have an external power port (usually a standard barrel jack) taking a 6v or 12v input, it would be possible to continuously trickle charge an external wired in battery (potentially a small easily available scooter battery).

To avoid theft the external battery would need to be buried or locked in a box and the WaterLily placed out of reach or sight of people. I can’t see the WaterLily being at any more risk of theft or damage than a solar panel might.

Although an expensive set-up it might be able to provide power for long durations even where solar cannot be relied on.

I would be interested if anyone has tried this or something similar.

Best wishes,


12V or 6V lead acid gel batteries are cheaper than AA rechargeables, do not need fancy smart chargers and can be recycled anywhere that recycles car batteries. Most camera traps have external per jacks that can be connected directly.