Energy Monitor Optically Couples to Smart Meter

Hackers love to monitor things. Whether it’s the outside temperature or the energy used to take a shower, building a sensor and displaying a real-time graph of the data is hacker heaven. But the most interesting graphs comes from monitoring overall power use, and that’s where this optically coupled smart-meter monitor comes in.

[Michel]’s meter reader is pretty straightforward. His smart wattmeter is equipped with an IR LED that pips for every watt-hour consumed, so optical coupling was a natural approach. The pulse itself is only 10 ms wide, so he built a pulse stretcher to condition the pulse for a PIC microcontroller. The PIC also reads the outside temperature with a DS18B20 and feeds everything to the central power monitor, with an LCD display and a classic Simpson meter to display current power usage. The central monitor sends the power and temperature data to Thingspeak, along with data from [Michel]’s wood-stove monitor and a yet-to-be-implemented water heater monitor.

[Michel] is building out an impressive suite of energy and environmental monitors for his Quebec base of operations. We’re looking forward to seeing how he monitors that water heater, and to see what other ideas he comes up with.

Continue reading “Energy Monitor Optically Couples to Smart Meter”

Are Powdered Metal Fuels Just a Flash in the Pan?

It’s no secret that fossil fuels are quickly becoming extinct. As technology charges ever forward, they are disappearing faster and faster. Many of our current dependencies on fossil fuels are associated with high-energy applications like transportation. Since it’s unlikely that global transportation will ever be in decline for any reason other than fuel shortage itself, it’s imperative that we find something that can replicate the high energy density of fossil fuels. Either that, or go back to the drawing board and change the entire scope of global transportation.

Energy, especially solar and wind, cannot be created all over the world. Traditionally, energy is created in situ and shipped to other places that need it. The proposed solutions for zero-carbon energy carriers—batteries and hydrogen—all have their weaknesses. Batteries are a fairly safe option, but their energy density is pretty poor. Hydrogen’s energy density is higher, but its flammability makes it dangerously volatile to store and transport.

Recently, a group of researchers at McGill University in Canada released a paper exploring the use of metal powders as our zero-carbon fuel of the future. Although metal powders could potentially be used as primary energy sources, the transitory solution they propose is to use them as secondary sources powered by wind and solar primaries.

Continue reading “Are Powdered Metal Fuels Just a Flash in the Pan?”

ESP8266 Based Irrigation Controller

If you just want to prevent your garden from slowly turning into a desert, have a look at the available off-the-shelf home automation solutions, pick one, lean back and let moisture monitoring and automated irrigation take over. If you want to get into electronics, learn PCB design and experience the personal victory that comes with all that, do what [Patrick] did, and build your own ESP8266 based irrigation controller. It’s also a lot of fun!

[Patrick] already had a strong software background and maintains his own open source home automation system, so building his own physical hardware to extend its functionality was a logical step. In particular, [Patrick] wanted to add four wirelessly controlled valves to the system.

Continue reading “ESP8266 Based Irrigation Controller”

Think Globally, Build Locally With These Open-Source Recycling Machines

Walk on almost any beach or look on the side of most roads and you’ll see the bottles, bags, and cast-off scraps of a polymeric alphabet soup – HDPE, PET, ABS, PP, PS. Municipal recycling programs might help, but what would really solve the problem would be decentralized recycling, and these open-source plastics recycling machines might just jump-start that effort.

We looked at [Precious Plastic] two years back, and their open-source plans for small-scale plastic recycling machines have come a long way since then. They currently include a shredder, a compression molder, an injection molder, and a filament extruder. The plans specify some parts that need to be custom fabricated, like the shredder’s laser-cut stainless steel teeth, but most can be harvested from a scrapyard. As you can see from the videos after the break, metal and electrical fabrication skills are assumed, but the builds are well within the reach of most hackers. Plans for more machines are in the works, and there’s plenty of room to expand and improve upon the designs.

We think [Precious Plastic] is onto something here. Maybe a lot of small recyclers is a better approach than huge municipal efforts, which don’t seem to be doing much to help.  Decentralized recycling can create markets that large-scale manufacturing can’t be bothered to tap, especially in the developing world. After all, we’ve already seen a plastic recycling factory built from recycled parts making cool stuff in Brazil.

Continue reading “Think Globally, Build Locally With These Open-Source Recycling Machines”

Car Idle Alarm Helps You Stop Wasting Gas While Tweeting

[TVMiller] has a bone to pick with you if you let your car idle while you chat or text on your phone. He doesn’t like it, and he wants to break you of this wasteful habit – thus the idle-deterrence system he built that he seems to want on every car dashboard.

In the video below, the target of his efforts is clear – those who start the car then spend time updating Twitter or Instagram. His alarm is just an Arduino Nano that starts a timer when the car is started. Color-coded LEDs mark the time, and when the light goes red, an annoying beep starts to remind you to get on with the business of driving. The device also includes an accelerometer that resets the timer when the vehicle is in motion; the two-minute timeout should keep even the longest stop light from triggering the alarm.

[TVMiller] plans an amped-up version of the device built around an MKR1000 that will dump idle to moving ratios and other stats to the cloud. That’s a little too Big Brother for our tastes, but we can see his point about how wasteful just a few minutes of idling can be when spread over a huge population of vehicles. This hack might make a nice personal reminder to correct wasteful behavior. It could even be rolled into something that reads the acceleration and throttle position directly from the OBD port, like this Internet of Cars hack we featured a while back.

Continue reading “Car Idle Alarm Helps You Stop Wasting Gas While Tweeting”

Home Made Farnsworth Fusor

The Farnsworth Fusor is a fascinating device, a reactor that fuses hydrogen into helium by creating a plasma under a very high voltage. Although it isn’t a practical way to generate energy, it is a fascinating way to see nuclear fusion. An increasing number of home experimenters are starting to build their own fusors, and [Erik] decided he wanted to be among them. He’s put together a great build log of his progress, starting with a propane tank he bought off craigslist. He added a window, a vacuum pump and a 40KV power supply. Once he added some deuterium (electrolyzed from heavy water he bought from United Nuclear) it was ready to go. After a couple of failed runs, he got the characteristic plasma glow that shows that the reactor is working. The central globe is the plasma, while the light on the left side is a beam of electrons freed by the fusion process. So far, [Erik] has not detected the high-energy neutrons that would show that fusion is underway, but he is close.

Needless to say, this is not a casual build. [Erik] is using a 40KV power supply that would kill you in a heartbeat if your body happened to be the easiest pathway to ground, especially as the power supply is generating pulls over 9 amps to create the fusion reaction. [Erik] joins a select group of amateur fusor builders called the Plasma Club. It isn’t the first Farnsworth Fusor that we have covered, but it is one of the most impressive.

Growing Algae For Fun And Profit

Supposedly, writes [Severin], algae is a super food, can be used as biofuel, and even be made into yoga mats. So he’s built an algal reactor at Munich Maker Lab, to try to achieve a decent algal yield.

You might expect that  sourcing live algae would be as simple as scraping up a bit of green slime from a nearby pond, but that yields an uncertain mix of species. [Severin] wanted Chlorella algae for his experiment because its high fat content makes it suitable for biodiesel experiments, so had to source his culture from an aquatic shop.

The reactor takes the form of a spiral of transparent plastic tube surrounding a CFL lamp as a light source, all mounted on a lasercut wooden enclosure housing a pump. A separate glass jar forms a reservoir for the algal-rich water. He does not mention whether or not he adds any nutrient to the mix.

Left to its own devices the machine seems to work rather well, a 48 hour session yielding an impressively green algal soup. Sustained running does cause a problem though, the pipes block up with accumulated algae and the machine needs cleaning by blasting it with high pressure water and a healthy dose of nuts and bolts.

This isn’t the first algal reactor we’ve featured here on Hackaday, we had this Arduino-powered one back in 2009. But mostly the algae that have appeared here have been of the bioluminescent variety, as with this teaching project, or this night light.