# Single Part Boost Converter Challenge (Completed)

[Josh] posed an interesting challenge. Create a boost converter that can light a blue LED using a nearly dead battery and one part. Well, we were skeptical until we saw he wasn’t counting an ATtiny processor as a part. You can see a video of the challenge, below.

The challenge has already been solved, so if you view the link, you might want to avoid the comments until you’ve had time to think about your own solution. We’ll confess, the first one we thought of was probably not workable for reasons [Josh] explains. The final answer neatly fits the criteria of a hack.

# The Science Behind Boost Converters

[Ludic Science] shows us the basic principles that lie behind the humble boost converter. We all take them for granted, especially when you can make your own boost converter or buy one for only a few dollars, but sometimes it’s good to get back to basics and understand exactly how things work.

The circuit in question is probably as simple as it gets when it comes to a boost converter, and is not really a practical design. However it helps visualize what is going on, and exactly how a boost converter works, using just a few parts, a screw, enameled wire, diode, capacitor and a push button installed on a board.

The video goes on to show us the science behind a boost converter, starting with adding a battery from which the inductor stores a charge in the form of an electromagnetic field. When the button is released, the magnetic field collapses, and this causes a voltage in the circuit which is then fed through a diode and charges the capacitor a little bit. If you toggle the switch fast enough the capacitor will continue to charge, and its voltage will start to rise. This then creates a larger voltage on the output than the input voltage, depending on the value of the inductor. If you were to use this design in a real life application, of course you would use a transistor to do the switching rather than a push button, it’s so much faster and you won’t get a sore finger.

This is very basic stuff,  but the video gives us a great explanation of what is happening in the circuit and why. If you liked this article, we’re sure you’ll love Hackaday’s own [Jenny List] explain everything you need to know about inductors.

(updated thanks to [Unferium] – I made a mistake about the magnetic field collapsing when the button is pressed , When in reality it’s when the button is released that this happens. Apologies for confusion.)

# Are You Down With MPPT? (Yeah, You Know Me.)

Solar cells have gotten cheaper and cheaper, and are becoming an economically viable source of renewable energy in many parts of the world. Capturing the optimal amount of energy from a solar panel is a tricky business, however. First there are a raft of physical prerequisites to operating efficiently: the panel needs to be kept clean so the sun can reach the cells, the panel needs to point at the sun, and it’s best if they’re kept from getting too hot.

Along with these physical demands, solar panels are electrically finicky as well. In particular, the amount of power they produce is strongly dependent on the electrical load that they’re presented, and this optimal load varies depending on how much illumination the panel receives. Maximum power-point trackers (MPPT) ideally keep the panel electrically in the zone even as little fluffy clouds roam the skies or the sun sinks in the west. Using MPPT can pull 20-30% more power out of a given cell, and the techniques are eminently hacker-friendly. If you’ve never played around with solar panels before, you should. Read on to see how!

# Sculptural Nixie Clock has Shockingly Exposed Design

Single tube Nixie clocks? Been there, seen that. A single tube Nixie clock with sculptural wiring that exposes dangerous voltages? Now that’s something you don’t see every day.

[Andrew Moser]’s clock is clearly a case of aesthetic by anesthetic — he built it after surgery while under the influence of painkillers. That may explain the questionable judgment, but we won’t argue with the look. The boost converter for the Nixie lives near the base of the bent wire frame, with the ATmega 328 and DS1307 RTC supported in the midsection by the leads of attached passive components and jumper wires. A ring at the top of the frame supports the octal socket for the Nixie and a crown of driver transistors for each element.

In the video after the break, [Andrew] speaks of rebuilding this on a PCB. While we’ve seen single tube Nixie PCB clocks before, and we agree that the design needs to be safer, we wouldn’t ditch the dead bug style at all. Maybe just throw the whole thing in a glass bell jar or acrylic tube.

# Russian Hacker Multiplies Value of Boost Converter

We have a love/hate relationship with LiIon batteries. They pack all this power in such a small and light package. But for running 3.3 V devices, they’re cumbersome. They need to be stepped down a little bit when they’re fully charged at 4.2 V, but then they need to be stepped up at the end of their charge around 3.0 V.

A simple boost or buck converter can’t do both jobs, although you’d be tempted because they can be purchased for peanuts online. So [Kirich] hacked cheap boost converters into the more capable SEPIC topology, which sell for nearly 10x as much. (Google translated version here.) The bottom line? With a little desoldering, a cut trace here and an extra inductor there, and [Kirich] had a very capable circuit that would maintain a constant 3.3 V output when the input swung between 1 V and 5 V.

If SEPIC power converters are foreign to you, have a read through Maxim’s white paper on the subject. Basically, it’s a boost converter with a capacitor in the middle that lets the output voltage drop below the input voltage. An extra inductor keeps the output side of this capacitor at ground potential (on average).

If you want more detail, [Kirich] doesn’t disappoint. He tested his modifications in multiple configurations on two different models of boost converter. As you’d expect with power circuitry, layout and trace length matters, and [Kirich] took good notes. This is a great read for the frugal hacker, or anyone who’s interested in boost/buck converters.

Speaking of boost/buck circuits, we’ve got some more links for you. This video from Sparkfun’s [Pete Dokter] is worth fifteen minutes, and if you want to get your hands really dirty in the construction of such circuits, this ATtiny-based boost converter circuit is fun to play with.

Thanks [kirillre4] for the great tip!

# How a Hacker Jump Starts a Car

Here’s the Scenario: you need to get somewhere in a hurry. The problem is that your car has a dead battery and won’t turn over. The Obvious solution would be to call a friend for a jump. But is the friendless hacker out of luck in such a situation? Not if you can whip up a quick parts bin jump starter.

Clearly, [Kedar Nimbalkar]’s solution would be practical only under somewhat bizarre circumstances, so we’ll concentrate on what we can learn from it. A spare PC power supply provides the electrons – [Kedar]’s 250W supply pushes 15A at 12 volts, which is a pretty respectable amount of current. The voltage is a little anemic, though, so he pops it up to 14.2 volts with a 150W boost converter cooled with a PC fan. A dual panel meter reads out the voltage and current, but a VOM could substitute in a pinch. About the only thing you might not have on hand is a pair of  honking 10A diodes to keep current from creeping back into the boost converter. [Kedar] claims he got enough of a charge back in the battery in five minutes to start his car.

As jump-starting goes, this hack is a bit of a stretch. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a MacGyver’d jump starter, though, and you never know when the principles and hardware behind these hacks will come in handy.

# Programmable DC Backup Power Supply

The uninterruptible power supply was once a standard fixture in the small office/home office as a hedge against losing work when the electrons stop flowing from your AC outlet. Somewhat in decline as computing hardware shifts away from dedicated PCs toward tablets, phones and laptops, the UPS still has a lot of SOHO utility, and off-the-shelf AC units are easy to find. But if your needs run more to keeping the electrons flowing in one direction, then you might want to look at [Kedar Nimbalkar]’s programmable DC backup power system.

Built inside a recycled ATX power supply case, [Kedar]’s project is heavy on off-the-shelf components, like a laptop power supply for juice, a buck converter to charge the 12 volt sealed lead acid battery, and a boost converter to raise the output to 19.6 volts. An Arduino and an optoisolator are in charge of controlling the charging cycle and switching the UPS from charging the battery to using it when mains voltage drops.

If you need a DC UPS but would rather skip the battery, you could try running a Raspberry Pi with electrons stashed in a supercapacitor. Or if you’ve got an aging AC UPS, why not try beefing it up with marine batteries?

[Thanks for the tip, Morris]