Safely Creating A Li-Ion Pack From Phone Cells

[Glen], at Maker Space Newcastle Upon Tyne, is refreshingly honest. As he puts it, he’s too cheap to buy a proper battery.

He needed a 1AH battery pack to power his quadcopter controller and FPV headset, and since inadequate discharge warnings had led him to damage lithium polymer cells with these devices, he wanted his pack to use lithium-ion cells. His requirements were that the cells be as cheap, lightweight, and small as possible, so to satisfy them he turned to a stack of mobile phone cells. Nokia BL-4U cells could be had for under a pound ($1.46) including delivery, so they certainly satisfied his requirement for cheapness.

It might seem a simple procedure, to put together a battery pack, and in terms of physical wiring it certainly is. But lithium-ion cells are not simply connected together in the way dry cells are, to avoid a significant fire risk they need to have the voltage of each individual cell monitored with a special balanced charger. Thus each cell junction needs to be brought out to another connector to the charger.

[Glen]’s write-up takes the reader through all the requirements of safe lithium-ion pack construction and charging, and is a useful read for any lithium-ion newbies. If nothing else it serves as a useful reminder that mobile phone cells can be surprisingly cheap.

Lithium cells have captured our attention before here at Hackaday. Our recent Hackaday Dictionary piece provides a comprehensive primer, we’ve featured another multi-cell build, and an interesting app note from Maxim for a battery manager chip.

Nanowire Batteries Never Need Replacing

In this day and age we’re consistently surrounded with portable electronic devices. In order for them to be called “portable”, they must run on batteries. Most, if not all, use rechargeable batteries. These batteries have a finite lifespan, and will eventually need to be replaced. UCI chemist [Reginald Penner] and doctoral candidate [Mya Le Thai] have been hard at work on making rechargeable batteries that last forever.

Nanowires are great candidates for rechargeable battery technology because the wires, thousands of times thinner than a human hair, are great conductors of electricity. The problem is repeated charging and discharging makes them brittle, which causes them to eventually fail. Typically, the researchers at UCI could get 5000 to 7000 cycles in before they failed. After some trial and error, they found that if they coat a gold nanowire with an acrylic-like gel, they can get up to 200,000 charge/discharge cycles through it before failure.

We’ve seen rechargeable battery hacks before, but making a battery that never needs replacing is sure to get everyone excited.

White Oak Illuminated Bluetooth Speaker

Besides being common tools available to most hackers and makers out there, 3D printing, CNC machines, and cheap Chinese electronics have one more things in common: they were all used by [Nick] to build a bluetooth speaker system that has some interesting LED effects built into the case.

This is fresh on the heels of another hack that used similar construction methods to build a “magic” wood lamp. [Nick] takes it a step further, though. His case is precisely machined in white oak and stuffed with the latest China has to offer: a bank of lithium-ion batteries, a DC-DC converter to power the amplifier, and a Bluetooth module. After some sanding, the speakers look professional alongside the blue light features hiding behind the polycarbonate rings.

Of course you’ll want to visit the project site for all the details of how [Nick] built his speaker case. He does admit, however, that the electronics are fairly inefficient and need a little work. All in all though, it’s a very refined set of speakers that’ll look great on a bookshelf or on a beach, workshop bench, or anyplace else that you could take them.

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Lighting Fires with Lemons

We all know that you can stick copper and zinc in an acid and make a battery. And the classic demonstration of this is with a lemon. YouTuber [NorthSurvival] takes this to an extreme — starting a fire by shorting his lemon battery across some steel wool. (Video embedded below.)

Now calling this a “survival tip” is pushing it. A lot. When’s the last time you went camping with a bunch of zinc and copper nails, much less a supply of fresh lemons? It might be easier to put some matches in a waterproof canister, or just bring a lighter. But when the zombie apocalypse comes, and all the lighters are used up, the man with a lemon tree will be a millionaire.

Seriously, though, this demo made us question a few assumptions. First, when people do the potato- or lemon-battery experiment, they often use multiple lemons. Why? Hooking the pins up like [NorthSurvival] did in series seems like a no-brainer after the fact.

And the lemon seems to be putting out a fair amount of juice (Amperes, that is). We’ve got to wonder — what is the short-circuit current of a lemon battery? And why haven’t we seen specs anywhere? What kind of “science education” experiment is this anyway, without measurements?

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Moldy Rechargeable Batteries

What’s worse than coming in from the workbench for a sandwich only to discover that the bread has molded? That red bread mold–Neurospora crassa–can transform manganese into a mineral composite that may improve rechargeable batteries, according to a recent paper in Current Biology.

Researchers used the carbonized fungal biomass-mineral composite in both lithium ion cells and supercapacitors. The same team earlier showed how fungi could stabilize toxic lead and uranium. Mold, of course, is a type of fungus that grows in multi-cellular filaments. Apparently, the fungal filaments that form are ideal for electrochemical use of manganese oxide. Early tests showed batteries using the new material had excellent stability and exceeded 90% capacity after 200 discharge cycles.

The team plans to continue the use of fungus in various metallurgical contexts, including recovering scarce metal elements. This is probably good news for [Kyle]. This is quite an organic contrast to the usual news about graphene batteries.

Image: Qianwei Li and Geoffrey Michael Gadd

Arduino Nano Runs Battery Spot Welder

Soldering might look like a tempting and cheap alternative when building or repairing a battery pack, but the heat of the iron could damage the cell, and the resulting connection won’t be as good as a weld. Fortunately, though, a decent spot welder isn’t that tough to build, as [KaeptnBalu] shows us with his Arduino-controlled battery spot welder.

spot_welder_zoomWhen it comes to delivering the high currents necessary for spot welding, the Arduino Nano is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. But the need for a precisely controlled welding pulse makes the microcontroller a natural for this build, as long as the current handling is outsourced. In [KaeptnBalu]’s build, he lets an array of beefy MOSFETs on a separate PCB handle the welding current. The high-current wiring is particularly interesting – heavy gauge stranded wire is split in half, formed into a U, tinned, and each leg gets soldered to the MOSFET board. Welding tips are simply solid copper wire, and the whole thing is powered by a car battery, or maybe two if the job needs extra amps. The video below shows the high-quality welds the rig can produce.

Spot welders are a favorite on Hackaday, and we’ve seen both simple and complicated builds. This build hits the sweet spot of complexity and functionality, and having one on hand would open up a lot of battery-hacking possibilities.

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Nissan Leaf Batteries Upgrade Old Truck Conversion

[Jay]’s Chevy S-10 electric conversion needed new batteries. The conversion was originally done with a bank of lead acids underneath the truck bed. With lithium battery factories so large they can boost an entire state’s economy being built, [Jay] safely assumed that it just wasn’t worth it to spend the money to replace it with a new set of the same.

Just like unwrapping a present, from around a tree.
One brand new battery pack!

You should remember the beginnings of this story from our coverage nearly a year ago. Being the kind of clever you’d expect from someone who did their own EV conversion, he purchased a totaled (yet nearly new) Nissan Leaf with its batteries intact. It took a little extra work, but after parting out the car and salvaging the battery packs for himself he came out ahead of both a new set of replacement lead acids and an equivalent set of lithium cells.

He has just completed the first test drives with the conversion, having built 48 Leaf cells into blocks resembling the volumes the old batteries occupied. He had to add some additional battery management, but right-off-the-bat, the conversion netted him more amps and 650lbs (295kg) less weight for the same power.  Nice!

We linked to all the posts tagged leaf on [Jay]’s blog. There’s a lot going on, and the articles aren’t all linked to each other. It’s a really cool build and there are definitely tricks to learn throughout the whole process. If you have an hour to kill, [Jay] recorded the entire 26-hour process in a 66-minute video that is embedded below. It’s fun to watch him build up and mount the different modules and gives you a deep appreciation for his devotion to the project.

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