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.

Graphene Batteries Appear, Results Questionable

If you listen to the zeitgeist, graphene is the next big thing. It’s the end of the oil industry, the solution to global warming, will feed and clothe millions, cure disease, is the foundation of a space elevator that will allow humanity to venture forth into the galaxy. Graphene makes you more attractive, feel younger, and allows you to win friends and influence people. Needless to say, there’s a little bit of hype surrounding graphene.

With hype comes marketing, and with marketing comes products making dubious claims. The latest of which is graphene batteries from HobbyKing. According to the literature, these lithium polymer battery packs for RC planes and quadcopters, ‘utilize carbon in the battery structure to form a single layer of graphene… The graphene particles for a highly dense compound allowing electrons to flow with less resistance compared to traditional Lipoly battery technologies” These batteries also come packaged in black shrink tubing and have a black battery connector, making them look much cooler than their non-graphene equivalent. That alone will add at least 5mph to the top speed of any RC airplane.

For the last several years, one of the most interesting potential applications for graphene is energy storage. Graphene ultracapacitors are on the horizon, promising incredible charge densities and fast recharge times. Hopefully, in a decade or two, we might see electric cars powered not by traditional lithium batteries, but graphene supercapacitors. They’ll be able to recharge in minutes and drive further, allowing the world to transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy. World peace commences about two weeks after that happens.

No one expected graphene batteries to show up now, though, and especially not from a company whose biggest market is selling parts to people who build their own quadcopters. How do these batteries hold up? According to the first independent review, it’s a good battery, but the graphene is mostly on the label.

[rampman] on the RCgroups forums did a few tests on the first production runs of the battery, and they’re actually quite good. You can pull a lot of amps out of them, they last through a lot of charging cycles, and the packaging – important for something that will be in a crash – is very good. Are these batteries actually using graphene in their chemistry? That’s the unanswered question, isn’t it?

To be fair, the graphene batteries shipped out to reviewers before HobbyKing’s official launch do perform remarkably well. In the interest of fairness, though, these are most certainly not stock ‘graphene’ battery packs. The reviewers probably aren’t shills, but these battery packs are the best HobbyKing can produce, and not necessarily representative of what we can buy.

It’s also doubtful these batteries use a significant amount of graphene in their construction. According to the available research, graphene increases the power and energy density of batteries. The new graphene batteries store about as much energy as the nano-tech batteries that have been around for years, but weigh significantly more. This might be due to the different construction of the battery pack itself, but the graphene battery should be lighter and smaller, not 20 grams heavier and 5 mm thicker.

In the RC world, HobbyKing is known as being ‘good enough’. It’s not the best stuff you can get, but it is cheap. It’s the Wal-Mart of the RC world, and Wal-Mart isn’t introducing bleeding edge technologies that will purportedly save the planet. Is there real graphene in these batteries? We await an in-depth teardown, preferably with an electron microscope, with baited breath.

The Mystery of the Boiled Batteries

While debugging a strange battery failure in a manufacturing process, [Josh] discovered a new (to us) LiPo battery failure mode.

Different battery chemistries react differently to temperature. We’ve used lithium exclusively in high-altitude ballooning, for instance, because of their decent performance when cold. Lithium batteries generally don’t like high temperatures, on the other hand, but besides the risk of bursting into flames, we had no idea that heat could kill them. When the battery’s voltage is already low, though, it turns out it can.

[Josh]’s process required molding plastic with the battery inside, and this meant heating the batteries up. After the fact, he noticed an unreasonably high failure rate in the batteries, and decided to test them out. He put the batteries, each in a different initial charge, into a plastic bag and tortured them all with ice and fire. (OK, boiling water.)

When the batteries got hot, their voltage sagged a little bit, but they recovered afterwards. And while the voltage sagged a little bit more for the batteries with lower initial charge, that’s nothing compared to the complete failure of the battery that entered the hot water with under 1V on it — see they yellow line in the graphs.


There’s a million ways to kill a battery, and lithium batteries are known not to like being completely discharged, but it looks like the combination of deep discharge and heat is entirely deadly. Now you know.

Battery Basics – Choosing a Battery for Your Project

If choosing a rechargeable battery for your project intimidates you, [Afroman] has prepared a primer video that should put you at ease. In this tutorial for battery basics he not only walks you through a choice of 5 rechargeable chemistries and their respective tradeoffs, but gives a procedure that will allow you to navigate through the specs of real-world batteries for sale – something that can be the most intimidating part of the process.

You cannot learn everything about batteries in 9 minutes, but watching this should get you from zero to the important 80% of the way there. Even if your project does not give you the specs you need to begin buying, [Afroman] tells you what to measure and how to shop for it. In particular, the information he gives is framed in the context you care about, hopefully ensuring you are not waylaid by all the details that were safe to ignore. If this is not enough, [Afroman]’s prequel video on battery terminology has more detail.

Much like your high school English teacher told you, you need to know the rules before you can choose to break them. Many of battery absolute Dos or Don’ts are written for the manufacturer, who provides for the consumer, not the hacker. Hackaday has published hundreds of battery articles over the years; search our archives when you are ready for more.

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Upgrading Cordless Drill Batteries to Lithium

Cordless power tool battery replacements are expensive: you can easily spend $100 for a NiCd pack. [henal] decided to skip nickle-based cells and cut out the middleman by converting his old cordless battery packs to inexpensive hobby lithium cells. These batteries appear to be Turnigy 3S 1300mAh’s from Hobbyking, which for around $10 is a great bargain. As we’ve explained before, lithium batteries offer several advantages over NiMH and NiCd cells, but such a high energy density has drawbacks that should be feared and respected, despite some dismissive commenters. Please educate yourself if you’ve never worked with lithium cells.

[henal] gutted his dead battery packs and then proceeded to prepare the lithium replacements by soldering them to the cordless pack’s power connectors. To keep charging simple, he also branched off a deans connector from power and ground. After cutting some holes in the pack for access to the balancing connector and deans connector, [helan] went the extra mile by soldering on a DIN connector to the balancing wires, which he then securely glued to the side of the case.

We’ve featured lithium power tool replacements before, and these Turnigy packs pose the same problem: they don’t appear to have any low voltage cut-off protection. Check out some of the comments for a good solution.

LiPo internal resistance measurement tool


This is a scratch-build meter for measuring the internal resistance of Lithium Polymer cells. [Bleuer Csaba] uses the LiPo cells for RC vehicles and thet take quite a beating from the motors  they’re supplying. This means that he only gets about 100-200 cycles out of each cell. To figure out where one is in its life cycle you can measure the internal resistance where a rising resistance indicates greater age. [Bleuer] mentions that you can buy a meter to do this for you, but what fun is that?

Since he’s rolling his own tool he defined his own parameters for the readings. After experimenting with different loads driven for different test periods he was able to extrapolate an equation that estimates the resistance measurement. As you can see in the clip after the break, this happens very fast. All he has to do is connect the cell and press one button. The measurements are made and various data points are displayed on the quartet of 7-segment displays.

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LiPo battery tester for solar vehicle battery array

If you’re building solar vehicles at a competitive level you’ve got to know exactly how the storage batteries will perform. To that end [Matthew] built a Lithium Polymer battery tester for use by the McMaster University Solar Car Project. It worked well, but could only test one battery at a time. He just finished up a second version, which can test battery specifications on up to eight units at once. It saves a lot of time, but still takes fifteen hours to test just one set of the units used by the vehicle.

The most important aspect being measured is the discharge curve. Sure, there’s a datasheet that includes this information, but how can be sure that what you received will perform at spec? Each of the eight channels can be disconnected from the system using a relay. This is just one of the safety features which watch for things like over-voltage and over-current conditions. Remember, Lithium batteries can heat up fast if there’s a problem. Data is sampled on a 12-bit ADC and can be pushed to a computer via USB for graphing.