Forget Lithium Battery Technology, Just Boil A Potato

These researchers are taking this development so seriously we can’t help but be suspicious that, perhaps, they are all deeply embroiled in a bet to see who could get funding for and complete research in the most absurd technological advancement.

Most of us have had a science teacher desperately try to alleviate the drudgery of standardized test centric science education by dramatically putting a copper nail and a zinc nail into a potato or lemon. “Behold, we can measure a voltage with this voltmeter. If you get asked what a voltmeter is on a test, here is a definition none of you have enough experimental basis to understand,” the teacher would say as their dreams of being a true educator were crushed a little more.

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New Lithium Battery Technology Takes Guts

Researchers have built a prototype lithium-sulphur battery that — when perfected — could have up to five times the energy density of current lithium-ion devices. Researchers in the UK and China drew inspiration from intestines to overcome problems in the battery construction.

In your intestine, small hair-like structures called villi increase the surface area that your body uses to absorb nutrients from food. In the new lithium-sulphur battery, researchers used tiny zinc oxide wires to form a layer of material with a villi-like structure. These villi cover one electrode and can trap fragments of the active material when they break off, allowing them to continue participating in the electrochemical reaction that produces electricity.

Lithium-sulphur batteries aren’t new (in fact, they were used in 2008 in a solar-powered plane that broke several records), but this new technique may make them more practical. You can see a video about ordinary lithium-sulphur batteries below along with more on how this research improves the state of the art.

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A Quick History of the Battery

[Colin] tells us it all started with [Benjamin Franklin]’s battery of capacitors. It was a bunch of leyden jars hooked together in series and there wasn’t even chemistry involved yet, but the nomenclature stuck and it wasn’t long before it evolved into the word we use today.

For the word to change, things got chemical. [Alessandro Volta] introduces his voltaic pile. Once scientists latched onto the idea of a stable reaction giving a steady stream of magic pixies for them to play with, it wasn’t long before the great minds were turning their attention to improving this new technology.

In the classic game of one-upmanship loved by technical people all over, we quickly skip forward to the modern era. An era where no man is unburdened with the full weight of constant communication. It’s all thanks to a technology that’s theoretically unchanged from that first pile. Video after the break.

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Engage Tinfoil Hat: Samsung Note 7 Battery Theory

For the most part I believe things are as they seem. But every once in a while I begin to look at notable technology happenings from a different angle. What if things are not like they seem? This is conspiracy theory territory, and I want to be very clear about this: what follows is completely fictitious and not based on fact. At least, I haven’t tried to base it on facts surrounding the current events. But perhaps you can. What if there’s more to the battery fires in Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 phones?

I have a plausible theory, won’t you don your tinfoil hat and follow me down this rabbit hole?

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Li-Ion Tech Staring Into the Abyss with Note 7 Failure

Unless you’ve been living under a high voltage transformer, you’ve heard about the potential for Samsung’s latest phone, the Note7, to turn into a little pocket grenade without warning. With over 2.5 million devices in existence, it’s creating quite a headache for the company and its consumers.

They quickly tied the problem to faulty Li-ion batteries and started replacing them, while issuing a firmware update to stop charging at 60 percent capacity. But after 5 of the replacement phones caught fire, Samsung killed the Note7 completely. There is now a Total Recall on all Note7 phones and they are no longer for sale.  If you have one, you are to turn it off immediately. And don’t even think about strapping it into a VR headset — Oculus no longer supports it. If needed, Samsung will even send you a fireproof box and safety gloves to return it.

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Every airline has been broadcasting warnings not to power on or charge a Note 7 on a plane. Image Source: CNET

It should be noted that the problem only affects 0.01% of the phones out there, so they’re not exactly going to set the world on fire. However, it has generated yet another discussion about the safety of Li-ion battery technology.

It was just a few months ago we all heard about those hoverboards that would catch fire. Those questionably-engineered (and poorly-named) toys used Li-ion batteries as well, and they were the source of the fire problem. In the wake of this you would think all companies manufacturing products with Li-ion batteries in them would be extra careful. And Samsung is no upstart in the electronics industry — this should be a solved problem for them.

Why has this happened? What is the deal with Li-ion batteries? Join me after the break to answer these questions.

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Homebrew Powerwall Sitting at 20kWh

Every now and then a hacker gets started on a project and forgets to stop. That’s the impression we get from [HBPowerwall]’s channel anyway. He’s working on adding a huge number of 18650 Lithium cells to his home’s power grid and posting about his adventures along the way. This week he gave us a look at the balancing process he uses to get all of these cells to work well together. Last month he gave a great overview of the installed system.

His channel starts off innocently enough. It’s all riding small motor bikes around and having a regular good time.  Then he experiments a bit with the light stuff, like a few solar panels on the roof.  However, it seems like one day he was watching a news brief about the Powerwall (Tesla’s whole-home battery storage system) and was like, “hey, I can do that.”

After some initial work with the new substance it wasn’t long before he was begging, borrowing, and haggling for every used 18650 lithium battery cell the local universe in Brisbane, Australia could sell him. There are a ton of videos documenting his madness, but he’s all the way up to a partly off-grid house with a 20kWh battery bank, for which he has expansion plans.

There’s a lot of marketing flim flam and general technical pitfalls in the process of generating your own non-grid electricity. But for hackers in sunny areas who want to dump those rays into local storage this is an interesting blueprint to start with.

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Scratch-Built EV From Hoverboards

Electric vehicles are everywhere now. Even though battery technology hasn’t had the breakthrough that we need to get everyone out driving an electric car, the price for batteries has dropped enough that almost anything else is possible. The hoverboard was proof of this: an inexpensive electric vehicle of sorts that anyone who was anyone in 2015 had. Taking his cue from there, [Harris] used off-the-shelf parts normally used for hoverboards to build his own battery-powered trike.

The trike is homemade from the ground up, too. The H-frame was bolted together using steel and lots and lots of bolts. Propulsion comes from a set of hub motors that are integrated into the wheels like a hoverboard or electric bicycle would have. Commonly available plug-and-play lithium batteries make up the power unit and are notably small. In fact, the entire build looks like little more than a frame and a seat, thanks to the inconspicuous batteries and hub motors.

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