Battery powered smoke machines, do they exist?

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Battery powered smoke machines, do they exist?

Battery powered smoke machines, do they exist?

Battery Powered Fog Machines and DJ Equipment

The upsurge in battery powered tools and other rechargeable equipment has created the belief that everything should be available in ‘cable-free’ form,  so much so in fact that a wired device is now often viewed as cumbersome and undesirable.

This is understandable though, as it can be extremely handy to not need mains extension leads all over the place, and have total freedom of movement or placement.

We offer a variety of battery powered lighting systems suitable for DJ work and the events market for exactly this reason, with popular units like the latest weatherproof BeamZ BBP44 wireless uplighter being a real game changer, offering the best design and functionality at an amazing price point for a battery powered system.

The argument for rechargeable battery power is definitely strong, with the versatility provided by any of our battery effects lighting range for example making them instant favourites for mobile performers and rental purposes due to their ease of use and convenience.

A battery powered smoke machine with fog either side.A battery powered smoke machine with fog either side.

So why no battery powered smoke machines?

Well, we will get to that in a minute, but firstly a bit on battery tech to help things make sense!

With the conversion of effects lighting from high wattage incandescent lamps to the low current draw of LED technology, the power required to run an effects lighting unit has dropped significantly in the last few years, with the efficiency of LEDs both in operating current and heat loss meaning battery power became a design option for the first time.

The evolution of battery technology has played a huge role in this too, for both consumer electronics and professional equipment. 

Just a few years ago you would have been using single-use Alkaline batteries (AA/C-cell /D-cell) to power anything that was ‘portable’, from torches and power tools to boombox radios and cordless home telephones just to name a few examples.  

With all the limitations of current capacity and the short life-span, coupled with both the constant waste produced and the need to buy new batteries regularly it was far from an ideal solution.

Thankfully this wasn't an issue for long though with the introduction of Ni-Cad battery packs in the late 90s which allowed for recharging and a single pack taking the place of multiple cells.

Ni-Cad solved the portability problem without question, being found in everything from power tools to mobility scooters, and even though it had its limitations with recharge cycles and power fade over time,  it was pretty much the only choice for a decade until the advent of the mobile phone ushered in the lithium-ion battery revolution that we now rely on so much in our daily lives.

Lithium-ion is what you will find in our portable PA systems and any of our battery powered lighting units, as its long working life, low current charging and high capacity output is the ideal partner for the low power consumption of modern LEDs. They can be recharged many hundreds of times without loss, are lightweight,  reasonable cost, and can be made to suit specific shapes.

So….why no battery powered smoke machines?!

A row of blue lithium-ion batteriesA row of blue lithium-ion batteries

Smoke machines provide an issue that isn't a problem for LED lighting fixtures, and that is high current draw both in idle and during smoke production.

This is a major problem with regards to battery power for two reasons which are the available current - amp hours (Ah) and the physical size of the battery as that capacity increases.

In layman's terms, a smoke machine requires a lot of power to work. 

This rules out lithium-ion batteries, as their cost vs capacity increases significantly once they go above around 5Ah, so you then have to look at heavy-duty gel or paste type lead acid batteries instead.

For example, the large paste type battery used in most golf carts or mobility scooters is 12v and 22Ah. With a few ohms law calculations for say a 1500W smoke machine running at 12v DC, you are looking at 125Ah current draw.

On a single 22Ah battery you are looking at 8 minutes of use.

That calculation doesn't even take into account the fact that a battery's Ah rating decreases the faster its discharged, so in reality you are looking at more like 5 minutes of full power use from a battery that weighs 6kg and takes several hours to recharge.

So you can see why this is a problem. You basically end up with the only viable battery fog machine being the lowest output power you can get away with, coupled to the largest amount of batteries possible, which is fine if you're happy to carry a 300W smoke machine thats the size of a small suitcase and weighs 20kg, and only produces smoke for 20 minutes.

But they do exist no?

There are several battery operated fog machines on the market for stage work and events.

A great example would be the Antari FT20X, which is a 600W machine with a large battery compartment which it sits on top of like a cradle. To confirm all the points made above about the caveats of battery smoke machines, this particular system can give you 11 minutes of output and costs £800!

If you compare that to a standard 600W smoke machine such as this BeamZ Rage 600 which offers no time limitations on use provided it has fluid, and is under £50, you can see why they aren't exactly in demand for doing the local pub disco.

There are other types of portable smoke generators available on the market too, which are basically modified vape smoking units that use a battery to heat a replaceable coil to vapourize the fluid. These small smoke systems are primarily used for photography work and actually came into existence through the cosplay and film prop communities.

Though useful and fun, they cannot be considered for DJ or stage work due to the obvious limit of output.

How do battery powered smoke machines work?

For smoke and fog machines, the operation remains identical to any mains powered smoke machine in that a water and glycol mixed fluid is pulled from a reservoir using a small pump, which passes through a heat exchanger and turns from a liquid into a vapour, which then exits through a tapered nozzle.

The difference obviously is the power source, going from 240v AC mains to a portable DC supply, which will either be battery only, or offer the option of mains or battery operation via an onboard inverter. 

Smoke machines are usually advertised with their wattage rating as the main selling point, which is actually the heat exchangers' power requirements when at operating temperature.

It's basically a case of the larger the heater, the more smoke it can produce, with a 500W smoke machine being the lowest power you really would go for decent coverage. With fog machines, it's usually a case of bigger is better.

For ‘domestic’ use smoke machines (ie, everything other than huge commercial stage foggers) the smoke fluid used is now all water based rather than traditional oil formulas.

It's much cheaper and cleaner, is non-toxic and completely biodegradable. It also has the huge benefit of not leaving a greasy film on everything it settles on, something oil based machines like to do.

The vegetable based glycol additive in smoke fluid (similar to vape liquid) is there to stop the water from just turning to steam in the heating process, and also to provide the density and slow dispersion characteristics that are desirable for clubs and events work.

A crowd of people at a music event using smoke machines and stage lighting.A crowd of people at a music event using smoke machines and stage lighting.

So is a battery powered smoke machine a good idea?

Well no, not particularly...

Hugely limited in output power and performance compared to mains powered machine, extremely short running times, heavy, and very expensive. It's the reason why you simply don't see them offered by more companies, as it's just not a product that's easy to market.

The huge range of standard mains powered smoke machines available today, with many great little units in the sub £100 bracket, just makes the most sense for 99% of users. To more than quadruple the cost of a medium priced fog machine and at the same time introduce serious limits to its useability is a hard sell in anyone's book.

The few benefits of battery powered fog machines simply do not outway the long list of negatives, and for the average mobile DJ, club or bar, stage show or events organiser, the inconvenience of a mains cable or extension leads versus the performance and always available smoke production is one that most will happily endure.

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