Hack VersaPak battery modules to reuse laptop cells

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If you’re familiar with VersaPak tools you’ll note that while the battery pack in this image looks somewhat familiar, it’s not supposed to have a removable cell. This is [Martin Melchior’s] hack to use laptop 18650 Lithium cells with VersaPak tools.

The original NiCad packs used three cells for a total of 3.6V, so it is possible to substitute a Lithium cell in the same voltage neighorhood. The tools are pretty hard on the battery packs, drawing a lot of current in certain situations. But these cells are being harvested from dead laptop battery packs so it’s not a huge concern if their life is a bit shortened.

The hack places an 18650 battery receptacle inside of the VersaPak battery housing. There’s a bit of careful disassembly to get to this point, but it’s well illustrated in [Martin’s] project log. And of course you’ll need to use a proper Lithium battery charger from here on out.

This form factor has been popping up in a lot of hacks lately. Here’s another one that modifies the Goal Zero Bolt flashlight to use them.

Goal Zero Bolt hack lets your flashlight use non-proprietary batteries

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[Harrson] was really excited to get a deal on this Goal Zero Bolt flashlight. It’s and LED flashlight that uses Lithium batteries that are recharged via USB. That’s really handy. But when he cracked it open, like any good hacker does with new toys, he found that it won’t charge standard 18650 Lithium cells. That’s the form factor it’s using, but the proprietary cell that comes with it has both conductors at the top.

So where did [Harrson] start with the project? He called the company to ask about the setup. They were able to confirm that the proprietary cells just have a conductor which brings the bottom contact of the cell up to the top. We’d bet this is to make the flashlight itself easier to manufacture.

He got to work by scavenging a flat Kapton covered conductor from an old laptop battery. This thin strip is manufactured for connecting the cells of a battery, and it’s quite flat so it will be able to bypass the 18650 cell housing inside of the battery compartment. He made a solder connection for the strip inside the recharging compartment, leaving a tail which makes contact with the base of a standard cell.

If you’ve ever cracked open a dead laptop battery you probably found round Lithium cells. These are most commonly the 18650 variant we’ve been talking about. The battery dies when just one cell goes bad, so [Harrson] has a supplies of the good cells which he’ll be able to substitute into his flashlight as needed.

Things to do with your laptop batteries when they’re dead

[Roy] over at GeekDad had a dead laptop battery on his hands, and decided he would disassemble it to see what useful things he could do with the cells inside. He mentions in his article that even though your laptop might be convinced that its battery is toast, more often than not just one or two cells are damaged. This may not be news to all of our readers, but is worth pointing out to those who might not be aware.

With the bad cells separated from the good, [Roy] thought up a couple of different uses for his newly acquired batteries. His initial idea was to power an LED flashlight that was made to run on the 18650 cells he recovered from his laptop – not a stretch of the imagination, but definitely useful. The second use he came up with was to pair two of the cells together in order to simultaneously power an Arduino and some small Lego motors.

[Roy] lays out all of the standard caveats you would expect regarding the care and feeding of the lithium cells, and even suggests rebuilding the laptop battery as an option for the more skilled members of his audience.

Now we understand that dismantling and re-using old laptop cells is not necessarily groundbreaking, but it’s definitely something that’s worth a bit of discussion. [Roy] admits that his two ideas fall far short of the “18650 Things” his article title suggests, so how about adding a few of your own?

If you have stripped down some laptop batteries to salvage the cells, let us know what you did with them in the comments – we would be interested in hearing about it.