SV Seeker Is Recycling Batteries

SV Seeker is a home-made boat currently being built by [Doug Jackson] just north of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s a bit different than what you might imagine as a typical DIY boat, though. You see, Seeker is a 75 ft steel boat, intended to work as a research vessel. Doug and his crew proudly refer to Seeker as “The boat the internet built”, and he’s our kind of people. We’ve covered them before, the first time way back in 2013. Doug’s Youtube channel does double duty, both teaching the rest of us all the skills he’s learned while building, and also serving as the eventual user and repair manual for the boat.

Building such a big project, and none of it contracted out, has presented its own challenges. Today’s topic is batteries. Even with a diesel power plant, and a couple generators on board, a boat like this has to have a battery bank for daily operations. They have a reverse osmosis water maker to make fresh water, 120 and 240 volt power, and several other systems that all run off their battery bank. The first iteration of the design was to re-use a set of Edison batteries, AKA nickel-iron batteries. Those didn’t work out, so they’ve decided to bite the bullet and go with Lithium-ion. Just buying a pre-built kit is anathema to their maker ethos, not to mention the project’s minuscule budget, so they’re improvising. The idea is to collect a boatload of old 18650 cells, found commonly in the battery packs for laptops and cordless tools. When those packs die, it’s commonly just a single cell that has gone bad, meaning that an enterprising hacker can harvest the good cells for another project.

I anticipate seeing a video on the making of the big battery bank in another couple months, but until then think about sending some old lithium-ion packs their way. Better hurry though, because Seeker is scheduled to launch from the Tulsa Port of Catoosa on August 21st. If you have a battery or five to donate the effort, mail them to:
42Fab LLC
941 West I35 Frontage Road Ste. 116 #540​
Edmond, OK 73034

Include a return address, and you even get a keychain made from the steel offcuts sent back to you.


38 thoughts on “SV Seeker Is Recycling Batteries

  1. By no means an expert on the topic, but of the few 18650 packs I’ve dissected with at least one dead cell, virtually all other cells were close to trash also. As far as I’m concerned, used battery packs are either an immediate, or an impending, source of frustration and disappointment. Still, there are plenty of such solicitations, so perhaps there is something in it?

    1. It depends on how they were charged (and discharge). If the charge system was designed to charge each individual cell by the correct amount then in theory they would all be for the recycling bin in and around the same day. But some people design battery systems with very long lengths of cells in series. The ones at the ends will typically fail first because they need to carry the full current for all the cells in the middle (when charging and discharging). And the ones in the middle effectively have resisters on either side of them reducing their maximum current drain under full load, which should make them last longer. Historical temperature profile and discharge characteristics would also effect useful lifetime of each cell in a long pile.

      So you can, and should in theory only be able to, get packs that are only useful for recycling. But sometimes you get lucky and poor design decisions by others can provide cells that have only burned though half or less of their useful lifetime.

    2. Depends on battery, if you find one that was used for a long time in a laptop you’ll probably have all bad cells as they went through hundreds of cycles. But if you found battery that was left unused for a long time (in a laptop or out of it) usually only the first parallel block of cells is bad as electronics are powered from them, and the rest ones that are in series are good. So if you have 2P3S battery two cells can be bad but other 4 can be in quite good condition. Use decent charger to charge them, if they get hot while charging with 1A per cell discard them, they’re bad. If they charge nicely then discharge them with 1A per cell and measure capacity. I keep ones with 1500mAh or more, and discard ones that are lower than that and ones that get warmer while charging or discharging.

    3. > virtually all other cells were close to trash also
      That’s why it’s a good idea to run your cells through a tester, so you know good from bad, and where they are on their capacity decline. You can even group cells of similar cap together, to maximize their usable life.

        1. Some chargers are capable of testing cells as well. The one I have cost about 20$, has 4 channels and is capable of measuring the mAh put into the cell during charging, the mAh extracted during discharge (= the real capacity) and internal resistance as well. This should give you a good idea of the health of the cell.

      1. It’s the pain in the arse, plastic is ultrasonically welded so it’s next to impossible to disassemble battery without breaking it. Then if you manage to do that you have to replace cells and fit them inside battery, it’s usually very tight fit with custom made nickel strips that have to be spot welded. And then when you re-assemble battery you have problem because BMC in battery declared battery bad so laptop won’t use it even after you replace cells. Then you have to re-program BMC to make battery good again. And if you’re lucky fuse on the BMC is not blown. It’s definitely possible, but time and money investment is usually higher than price of new 3rd party good quality battery.

      2. Apart from the reasons outlined by Night, so many have made a business of _manufacturing_ replacement laptop batteries that _rebuilding_ doesn’t make sense in most of the cases. Sure, there are some obscure models that no Chinese company bothered to make injection moulds for, but if they didn’t see possible profits… well, good luck!

    4. You forgot that we live in the throw away, buy the new shiny one world.
      People throw away perfectly functioning devices. Corporates periodically change all of their equipment and dump the “old” ones in a landfill.

    1. They have some videos about that. There’s a river running through Tulsa, and the Port of Catoosa is just a couple miles away. They have talked to a company that moves oversized loads, and are building the trailer around the boat.

      1. And the Port of Catoosa is on a river that is both deep enough for this ocean going ship as well as connecting either to the ocean or other rivers that are deep enough.

  2. Ah yes. Good old SV Seeker. Built by a guy that faked a life threating head injury and strung his fans along for a week with posts from his girlfriend about how he was clinging to life. People set up a go-fund-me for his medical bills, and all that jazz. Days later, all for it to be a “iT wAs A sOcIaL eXpErImEnT!” with zero apology after. No thanks. Besides, the way he has that boat set up, despite it being a sailboat, it’s going to be running a generator 99% of the time since everything on it is hydraulic – both steering and sail handling IIRC.

    1. actually the generator would only required for charging the battery bank
      the hydraulics can all be run directly off the battery bank and probably only need the equivalent power output of 2 12V car batteries
      i know this from working on a carnival. there was a train ride whose trailer was part of the ride
      it used hydraulics to lift its weight off the tire so pins could be removed for them to slide up/down then lower the trailers main body to the ground during setup then the ride was unpacked and set up with everything going in reverse for teardown and it was powered by 2 12V car batteries for the whole process and i know it was car batteries because 1 time they were dead and a pickup truck was used to charge them with jumper cables
      so that genny is likely only for charging the battery bank

      1. Boats (especially sail boats) need constant steering, and sail trim. It’s not a “set it up and leave it” type of thing. Also because of the slow speed, traveling long distances takes days, weeks or even a month.

        1. Even if its all hydraulic as you state and in use often a bank of batteries should last a very long time as the energy needed to shift sail/rudder is bugger all in the grand scheme of things and hydraulics are pretty efficient. Should let you run the generator at its peak efficiency to recharge, perhaps for as little as a few hours every day/week (depending on too many factors to really give a good timescale) – but it certainly shouldn’t be 99% of the time, get a nice efficient (which implies much bigger than needed for such small loads) generator and it can charge the batteries in short time frame.

  3. I kinda lost interest in his channel when he started referring to people who didn’t send money or come help as “bilge rats who are along for the ride but don’t really do anything”….. just seemed kinda unfriendly and somewhat entitled.

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