DIY Phone Charger Born From Cyclone Disaster

As convenient as cell phones are, sometimes these power-hungry devices let us down right at the worst time. We’re talking about battery life and how short it is in modern cell phones. Sure that’s totally inconvenient sometimes but it could be way worse. For example: during a natural disaster. A cyclone hit [Ganesh’s] home city and the entire area had lost power for 10 days. He couldn’t plug in his phone to charge it even if he wanted to. After realizing how dependent we are on the electrical grid, he did something about and built a phone charger out of parts he had kicking around.

The charger is quite simple. The user cranks on a DC motor and the output power goes into a LM2596-based step-down voltage regulator. The output of the regulator is then connected to a female USB connector so that any USB cord can be plugged in. As long as the motor is cranked fast enough to put out at least 8vdc, a steady stream of 5v will be available at the USB connector. Max current output of the system has been measured at 550mA.

[Ganesh] admits this isn’t a practical every-day charger but in a pinch it will certainly do the trick. It is even possible to build a makeshift charger out of a cordless drill.

46 thoughts on “DIY Phone Charger Born From Cyclone Disaster

  1. Very nice for quick and dirty hack! Might be worthwhile to add a gear to get more cranking speed, and a large capacitor on the input side so that it’s more tolerant to slowing down and occasionally taking a quick break.

    1. Better yet just use a cordless drill to turn the motor shaft. As long as you charge the drill at your neighbors house you will have an endless source of free energy. Of course he’d need to charge his drill at the other neighbors house… we’re gonna need a bigger neighborhood.

      1. It would make more sense to just connect the charged battery directly to the voltage regulator.

        On the flip side, there are many videos on Youtube showing how to use a cordless drill as a cellphone charger. Basically you remove the battery, attach wires to the terminals where the battery connects inside the drill, add a voltage regulator and USB cable to charge your phone. Hold down the drill button (rubber band) and place a bit of bent metal in the chuck to act as the hand crank.

  2. the first thing i would buy in a place that has these problems after a stormshelter would be a small gas generator
    a few cans of gas and a set of deep cycle batteries
    in our world having power is as inportant as having fire in the stone age

    1. I worked in the telecom industry for 17 years. Most every tower or site has some form of backup power good for at least 5 days. Many do have generators, running on LPG with fairly large tanks.

      1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/04/wireless-cell-service-sandy_n_2072287.html
        >After Hurricane Katrina knocked out communications along the Gulf Coast, federal regulators proposed that wireless companies have backup power at all cell towers.

        >But the wireless industry sued to block the requirement, saying it would be a financial burden and regulators didn’t have authority to impose it. An appeals court later sided with the industry. After Hurricane Katrina knocked out communications along the Gulf Coast, federal regulators proposed that wireless companies have backup power at all cell towers.

        >Most cell towers — but not all — have backup battery power, ranging from several hours to a few days, according to Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for the CTIA. After Hurricane Sandy, the carriers relied on generators to keep the cell sites running, but expressed concern about fuel shortages.

  3. The last time our area had a widespread outage, the cell towers in my neighborhood lasted about half an hour before dying. I don’t think I’ll be building one of these, even though I can admire the hack.

      1. Here in finland most of them only have a battery but they last surprisingly long. Every here and there there might be a generator one but they usually have other communication gear as well.

      2. The generator may be there (or not, I don’t know), but is it fueled, lubricated, tested, able to start automatically, and ready to go? Do the companies who maintain those cell towers have the economic incentive to make sure, via regular testing, that the systems will work over an extended period without mains power? When you signed that contract for cell service, did it have any provisions requiring the company to provide service during long power outages?

        The fact that the cell towers in my area lasted a half hour after the lights went out clearly means that someone gave some thought to providing some form of backup power. I’m guessing it was from batteries, and they probably were installed years ago, with no maintenance, so they didn’t last as long as they would have when new. Maybe the thought was that the batteries would last long enough for someone to go visit the site and fire up a generator manually? I don’t know.

        I live in the San Francisco Bay area. We have the blessing and curse of a reliable electric grid. A blessing because it almost always works. A curse because we rarely have the opportunity to test our ability to get by without it. We are prone to earthquakes, which could cause power outages and widespread destruction with no warning, so it’s kind of important to not become too reliant on grid power.

  4. Why charging a cell phone when the eletric grid is down, and there are no eletricity for mobile phone systems? Antennas, etc etc…

    UPS..

    If you talk about charging a ham radio or a flashlight it might be usefull. Plus, to charge a phone would be way easier to just plug the the cell phone charger to a car battery…, every car has a lighter right, and everybody has a lighter to cell phone adapter right..

    A usefull hack for this situations for me is a bicyle adapted to recharge car batteries… that gives you and produce way more power, and if you don’t want to spend time/energy a solar panel or a wind rotor.

    1. Smartphone has uses even without the cell signal.
      Also – cell towers have backup batteries. Here they are supposed to last 48 hours or so, if I remember the standard correctly. (considering the general attitude – they would not, but that is another story).

  5. He needs about 6 hours of cranking to fully charge the phone battery but OK, at least he can squeeze some juice into his phone, enough for checking messages and making few calls. This is one nice survival hack.
    But I prefer preparedness, so I collect “empty” laptop batteries, you can get them for next to nothing from the shops that also repair computers. Average bad batery has 6×18650 cells with each capable of delivering about 800-1500mAh (out of original 2600mAh they can deliver when they’re new). You keep few dozens of those cheap cells along with powerbanks that accepts 18650 (or even AA) cells and you are ready for situations like this.

  6. Now what we need is for someone to miniaturize it so it’s another everyday carry item. Then when the battery on one of your devices starts running low, crank it up. It’s green energy that does not depend on the weather and another way to fight the obesity trend.

    1. I’d hardly call human power “green energy”. Humans are generally filthy, polluting, inefficient sources of power.

      Plus, as said, they exist already. (And are generally shit)

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