Harvesting Rechargeable Batteries From Single-Use Devices

The price of lithium batteries has plummeted in recent years as various manufacturers scale up production and other construction and process improvements are found. This is a good thing if you’re an EV manufacturer, but can be problematic if you’re managing something like a landfill and find that the price has fallen so low that rechargeable lithium batteries are showing up in the waste stream in single-use devices. Unlike alkaline batteries, these batteries can explode if not handled properly, meaning that steps to make sure they’re disposed of properly are much more important. [Becky] found these batteries in single-use disposable vape pens and so set about putting them to better use rather than simply throwing them away.

While she doesn’t use the devices herself, she was able to source a bunch of used ones locally from various buy-nothing groups. Disassembling the small vape pens is fairly straightforward, but care needed to be taken to avoid contacting some of the chemical residue inside of the devices. After cleaning the batteries, most of the rest of the device is discarded. The batteries are small but capable and made of various lithium chemistries, which means that most need support from a charging circuit before being used in any other projects. Some of the larger units do have charging circuitry, though, but often it’s little more than a few transistors which means that it might be best for peace-of-mind to deploy a trusted charging solution anyway.

While we have seen projects repurposing 18650 cells from various battery packs like power tools and older laptops, it’s not too far of a leap to find out that the same theory can be applied to these smaller cells. The only truly surprising thing is that these batteries are included in single-use devices at all, and perhaps also that there are few or no regulations limiting the sale of devices with lithium batteries that are clearly intended to be thrown away when they really should be getting recycled.

63 thoughts on “Harvesting Rechargeable Batteries From Single-Use Devices

    1. Not sure if cheaper, but for the vapes you need pretty decent currents, so that’s probably why are used li-ion batteries instead of single use…

      What surprise me more is, that the used vapes are not taken back in shop, when you buy a new (for recycling). Instead people are throwring it everywhere…
      I have at home bag of used vapes from a friend (who collected it also from other friends).

      1. I have nearly 200 of these I have collected in less than a mile radius from where I live when I’m out walking my dog. A further similar amount are found crushed by cars. These things are squarely aimed at the youth market. With little to know details on correct disposal. What do they care anyway otherwise i wouldn’t be finding them just discarded in the street! The world is f@#ked

          1. Bravo. We aren’t allowed to choose a healthier habit because people aren’t able to keep their kids from using it? Why can’t we up the penalties for selling to kids. Or make it so, when a cop sees a kid smoking one, he asks for id and it gets thrown out if he doesn’t have it. I never understood the whole, it’s illegal to buy cigarettes as a minor but not illegal to smoke them. Although i was happy to abuse it as a child.

    2. As I walk around my neighborhood for exercise, I’ve found like 10 of these vapes w/ batteries left on the side of the road. So I’ve collected them…one of which can’t seem to turn off as the LED still glows green when you push the bottom button. Anyways, I guess the best is to recycle them but I’d like to find a DYI repurpose for them too. Let me know ideas!💡

      1. I was also thinking about some DIY project e.g. for cosplay.
        But is much easier to buy just the vaporizer for few bucks which you can easily fill and blow it by some tiny compressor.

    3. It’s actually us federal regulation

      Long story short the prefilled disposable vapes are regulated differently (and by that I mean not regulated at all basically) than the refillable type, allowing them to still use flavors where refillable or replaceable pod style vapes are not.

      1. No source, but it makes sense. They use standard Li cells but only need to be recharged a few times before the vape runs dry.

        It’s actually a good use for the lower quality batteries, outside of the recycling issue mentioned here.

    1. I doubt that that many tiny round(!) Li pouch cells would be produced for proper use in proper products only to fail testing.
      As in: With that many throw away vapes being produced – where are these QC-fail cells in that form factor supposed to come from if they’re not specifically build for vape pens?

      1. The ones I usually find are 18450 or 18350, basically a short version of the common 18650.

        I’ve seen the same cells in products like torches & toys; I’ve no doubt QC fails & recycled cells wind up in vapes (because it happens everywhere else) but the vapes biz is so large now that’d be only a small part of it.

    2. That’s a fairly reasonable view on it. Anything in manufacturing has a production yield where quality binning happens. especially in the battery space.

      another possibility: these could even be reclaimed cells

    3. Yeah, I doubt they are very good as rechargeable cells. But on the other hand it seems many devices that are meant to be rechargeable are also sold with cells that have maybe 50 cycles lifespan.

  1. What it boils down to for those manufacturers of throw-away vapes is money. They can either set up the infrastructure to collect used vapes, a production line for disassembly for those vapes, and testing of the salvaged LiIon cells which probably has to include at least one full charge-discharge-charge cycle, or they can just slap in a shiny new cell and call it a disposable. Guess what is cheaper for them.

    1. Exactly.
      This is because we do not put a price to preserving human living conditions. But that is just a detail. growth and profits are more important !
      Not saying it is also harmful for the consumer of these products.

      Imagine we fine $1000 the people who THROW it in nature AND the manufacturer (fifty-fifty) (so it won’t say oh! I am clean, not my fault if the people are disgusting).

      1. People who toss their garbage to the roadside are rarely caught, and if they are will deny it or threaten the person who catches them. A person sociopathic in one thing will be sociopathic in many things.

      2. Your comment shows a staggering lack of empathy. I hope it was sarcasm, but it’s really unclear.

        You do understand that, even if a person smokes, they can still care about other people right?

        1. Uhh…
          Their comment was very clearly saying:
          If someone is callous enough to throw their junk from a vehicle onto the road, they are also probably the kind of person to get belligerent about being called out on that behavior.

          How did you read that as a comment about smoking in general?
          “Disgusting” was obviously referring to the behavior of throwing trash on the road…

    2. TL;DR – capitalism by design

      The above isn’t even a guess or conjecture…

      Try to imagine a corp doing even ONE of those steps without being forced to….

      1. It has nothing to do with capitalism… pretty much any other form of market the same or worse can and will also happen. Its a complete failure of the regulatory system.

        1. It’s the definition (defining aspect) of capitalism that “only money counts”.
          Maximizing of profits above anything else.

          Not having capitalism doesn’t mean it’s socialism/communism.
          At minimum it just means to have a market economy that is NOT (entirely) based on the all defining principles of capitalism (eg. private property / private ownership of the means of production / capital accumulation / operation for (purely monetary) profit).

          To be fair we usually don’t live in a purely capitalistic society (to varying degrees) but producing something (vapes) and just throwing it on the market regardless of known(!) consequences (thrown away on landfills instead of recycling) is pretty much “capitalism”.

          They could add a deposit/security/collateral to the product on their own but it would cut in their profit margins.
          Or at least put proper warning & recycling signs+symbols on the product (same caveat).
          The ones I got only have “don’t throw in household trash / residual waste bin” – nothing else. :-(
          And how many vapers have no idea what’s going on in those “magic” devices? …

          1. It’s actually humans being humans. Humans are lazy. “I have to bring this back to a location and I can get $2 off my next purchase?” *Tosses vape pen in trash*

          2. The fundamental human right is the right to life. Second only to the right to life, and derived from the right to life, is the right to provide for your own life, subject to the limitation that you do not infringe on the rights of others. The right to provide for your own life is capitalism.

          3. @Chris Maple:
            “The right to provide for your own life is capitalism.”
            I think I can get behind everything up to that point but I don’t understand that leap of logic(?) at the end there.
            There seem to be quite a few steps missing in between or your definition of capitalism is quite different I think.

          4. Never argue with someone who has his own definition of words.

            This is directed at those responding to limroh.

            ‘Only money counts’…He’s telling you right on the first line that he’s indoctrinated, thoughtlessly repeating derp.

            Bet he uses ‘late stage capitalism’ a lot in discussions. Invites you to ‘come see the violence inherent in the system’. Never read ‘Wealth of Nations’, denies Marx ever wrote ‘On the Jewish Problem’.

        2. > Its a complete failure of the regulatory system.

          Not to mention a complete failure of those littering humans in proving that they’re more than just the next animal.

  2. I’ve been doing this too. The cells in the ECigs of the type here are a bit over 1400mAH according to the tester I’ve used.
    See http://www.sadarc.org/xenforo/upload/index.php?threads/make-a-battery-bank-for-almost-0.362/ if you want to see my results.
    There are quite a few more for me to do as yet. A friend uses them and is sending me her ’empty’ ones. Also, a number have just been picked up after being tossed away. I’ve even have a couple that have been flattened a bit by being dropped on the road. The batteries still work after being run over. Not a recommended thing to do though!

    It does seem a real waste to have a rechargeable battery, Aluminium case, custom Silicone Rubber parts etc. in a single use device that could be so easily made reusable.

    1. Curious on the Elfbar brand specifically.
      I have been saving my vapes for this very reason, especially considering it includes the type C charger and the inline circuitry is simple enough to replace with an actual switch.

      Tested the output against a standard LED as part of a print project, which will save me money.
      I still have a plan with an additional salvage and LED for a different cosplay print project.

      1. So, I have an idea I’ve been looking for some online resources to help me. Basically. I want to take my Korg packet guitar tuner, that runs on triple a, am use the charging board, battery, and usb c port to make it rechargeable. This seems very doable, but I want to make sure I know 100% what do to do. Any help would be appreciated!

  3. “The price of lithium batteries has plummeted in recent years as various manufacturers scale up production and other construction and process improvements are found. ”


    “Unlike alkaline batteries, these batteries can explode if not handled properly, meaning that steps to make sure they’re disposed of properly are much more important.”

    Any landfill fires?

    1. lots and lots of truck / waste transfer station / waste processing (recycling facility) fires. you can google it. i don’t know much about landfill fires.

      some of it is from bigger batteries (like rental e scooters thrown in a dumpster) but anything with a charged battery presents the risk. from model airplanes i know you can get well over 10A out of a li-po battery the size of two stacked credit cards just in regular usage, without much voltage drop. some of them can definitely do a short circuit current over 100A.

      as i understand it alkaline is relatively immune because it has too much internal resistance (its dead short current is limited, maybe at less than 10A for most batteries? it certainly falls quickly as the battery is discharged) and because when it’s physically decomposed (smashed), it doesn’t tend to create a short due to its physical design. i think merely puncturing a li-po tends to create a short.

      ymmv but in my experience, fully discharged li-po cells are not dangerous.

    2. The whole “lipos will explode for no apparent reason just by looking at them” is way overblown by media. A lipo just sitting untouched at half charge is very unlikely to do anything, it’s the situations where they are fully charged AND have an internal fault due to some past catastrophic damage like overcharge/overdischarge/overcurrent that they vent or ignite.

        1. yeah i’ve noticed that when i leave a device to deep discharge its battery, it eventually swells up some years later. devices that successfully draw 0 load when turned off don’t
          seem to cause this damage. fwiw, i smashed one of those with no drama, to make sure. i think they really are inert (ish).

          but if you take that swollen battery and put it on a charger again – yeah! a lot of things are possible! it’s like sjm4306 said, it’s when you combine a battery that was damaged by an event like overdischarge and then give it a full charge, that’s when you’ve gotta watch out.

          that’s one of the reasons so many fires happen on the charger. trauma happens to the battery but for some reason it doesn’t blow up right away — probably in part because it’s mostly empty at that time. then either when it begins charging, or after it has reached full charge, that minor fault becomes a big deal.

    1. I bought a vape pen exactly for this reason. Filled it with propylene glycol(fog machine fluid) and used a rubber glove as an air source so I don’t constantly have to blow into it. They work great for finding leaks in pneumatic systems.

  4. Clive is always talking about harvesting from vape pens, but I have never seen one on the ground.
    And in fact I only see someone vape maybe once or twice a year tops, which is significantly less than the times I see people smoke I can tell you.
    Must be a Scottish/Manx thing, all those McGregors and their trouble making :)

    1. I see people vape all the time, at least as much as smoking cigarettes. In people under 30, they almost exclusively vape. Used to be a custodian at a high school, and disposable vapes were not uncommon to find in bathroom trash cans. There was a sharp decline after Juul’s legal troubles. This is in the USA by the way.

      1. I’m in the EU, and ‘m actually really surprised I don’t see people vape more often, it seems more appealing than smoking to me, and much cheaper too, and healthier.
        Maybe they keep out of sight? I dunno. It’s of course easier to quickly hide a vaping device than a burning cigarette.

  5. The manufacturers don’t care. A recent investigation in the UK showed that most of these devices don’t meet the legal standards anyway, and contain dangerous levels of lead and nickel. They certainly don’t care about the LIPOs.

  6. Just be careful when removing them from the original device and check if their protection circuitry is part of the battery or the device electronics. A non protected cell, just like those salvaged from old laptop battery packs, can be perfectly safe if used in a device that protects it from shorts and excessive charge/discharge, but if left by itself it could become very dangerous in the event of short circuit or excessive load or overcharge. Always employ protection circuitry; Li-Ion cells are nasty things to deal with if they catch fire.

    1. Vapes (*) never have protection circuit as there’s no need for them. They’re one use devices so who care about under/over volt conditions?

      (* there are rechargeable / refillable ones, but they’re rare – look up the Juul story for a FFS moment. Protection in those is usually a bit basic anyway.)

  7. A newer BigClive video shows that some disposable vapes are being made with a smaller battery and a charging connector. Putting in a connector to charge the thing 2 or 3 times to use up the amount of vape juice in it is cheaper to manufacture than including a battery with enough power to use all the juice.

    With the rechargeable ones, the buyers know they’ll get all the juice used. The more clever users will figure out how to open the things to refill the juice.

  8. Still there is no “battery” part in the video. I’ve got myself around 100 vapes, most of them the same model, but I’m not sure how to make a big battery to use for solar power. BigClive solution has been aquired and waiting for tests by myself, but, alas, only one accumulator can be used.
    Can anyone help with this?

    1. Match them by capacity & tab weld or solder them together. Add BMS and MPPT charger (AliExpress) and you’re done.

      Millions of “DIY LiPo pack” guides out there.

  9. Ive been collecting all the ones i could get my hands on. I have like around 120 of these vapes. Cant wait to put the batteries to good use :) been thibking about making a couple sets of powerbanks for travel and selling them for cheap to friends who never got around to getting a powerbank

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