The State Of Play In Solid State Batteries

Electric vehicles are slowly but surely snatching market share from their combustion-engined forbearers. However, range and charging speed remain major sticking points for customers, and are a prime selling point for any modern EV. Battery technology is front and center when it comes to improving these numbers.

Solid-state batteries could mark a step-change in performance in these areas, and the race to get them to market is starting to heat up. Let’s take a look at the current state of play.

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Desktop Performance In A Custom Mac Laptop

Most of us either own or have used a laptop at some point. For traveling, as a student, or even for browsing Hackaday on the couch in front of the TV, they are pretty much indispensable. They do tend to have a sharp performance reduction compared to a desktop though thanks to the thermal and battery limitations of a portable form factor. [Scott Yu-Jan] wanted to solve that in his own life by building a custom Mac laptop with none of these downsides.

Noticing that a modern iPad Mini has exactly the same width of his Mac Mini, [Scott] set about combining the two devices into a single unit that he could assemble when traveling. A 3D printed case with a traditional laptop clamshell design takes care of physically combining these two devices, and a USB-C cable between the two takes care of combining them in software thanks to Apple’s Duet program. While this has better performance than a Macbook Pro it might actually have some perks, since Apple continues to refuse to make a laptop with a touchscreen.

There are some downsides, of course. The price is higher than a comparable Macbook Pro for the iPad and Mac together, plus it doesn’t include a keyboard or mouse. It also has no battery, so it needs to be plugged in. In the follow-up video linked below, though, [Scott] notes that for him this still made sense as he uses the Mac and iPad individually already, and only works remotely at places that have power outlets readily available. For the average person, though, we might recommend something different if you really need an esoteric laptop-like machine.

Thanks to [Varun] for originally sending in this tip!

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Careful Cuts Lets Logger Last A Year On A Coin Cell

Coin cells are great for backup power for things like real-time clocks, or even for powering incredibly small mechanical devices like watches. But for something like a data logger, running on a standard microcontroller, most people would reach for a lithium cell of some sort. Not so with this build, though, which squeezes every joule of energy from a coin cell in order to run a data logger for a full year.

Won’t be needing that anymore.

Most of the design and engineering required to improve the efficiency of the data logger involve standard practices for low-power devices such as shutting off unnecessary components and putting the device to sleep when not actively running, but this build goes far beyond that. The Vcc pin on the RTC was clipped which disables some of its internal logic but still keeps its basic functionality intact.

All of the voltage regulators were removed or disabled in favor of custom circuitry that doesn’t waste as much energy. The status and power LEDs were removed where possible, and the entire data logger is equipped with custom energy-efficient code as well.

If you’re starting a low-power project, even one that isn’t a datalogger, it’s worth checking out this build to see just how far you can go if you’re willing to hack at a PCB with cutting tools and a soldering iron. As to why this data logger needed such a low power requirement, it turns out it’s part of a kit being used in classrooms and using a coin cell brought the price of the entire unit down tremendously. Even if you have lithium cells on hand, though, it’s still worthwhile to check out the low power modes of your microcontroller.

Thanks to [Adrian] for the tip!

When Battery Rebuilds Go Wrong: Understanding BMSs, Spot Welders, And Safety

Batteries are amazing. Batteries are horrible. Batteries are a necessary evil in today’s world of portable everything. If you’re reading this sentence, even if it’s not on a mobile device, somewhere there is a battery involved. They’re that ubiquitous. There’s another thing batteries are: Expensive! And at $350 each for a specialized battery, [Linus] of Linus Tech Tips decided to take battery repair into his own hands.

Rather than do a quick how-to video about putting new cells in an old enclosure, [Linus] does a deep dive into the equipment, skills, and safety measures needed when dealing with Lithium Ion cells. And if you watch the video through, you’ll even get to see those safety measures put to good use!

The real meat of the video comes toward the end however, with its explanation of the different Battery Management Systems (BMS), and a discussion of the difficulty of doing battery repair correctly and safely. Lastly, the video covers something a bit more sinister: Batteries that are made to resist being repaired with new cells; DRM for batteries, so to speak.

Overall we found the video informative, and we hope you do too. You might also enjoy this peek into the chemistry behind your favorite battery types.

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Mining And Refining: Lithium, Powering The Future With Brine

Many years ago, I read an article about the new hotness: lithium batteries. The author opened with what he no doubt thought was a clever pop culture reference by saying that the mere mention of lithium would “strike fear in the hearts of Klingons.” It was a weak reference to the fictional “dilithium crystals” of Star Trek fame, and even then I found it a bit cheesy, but I guess he had to lead with something.

Decades later, a deeper understanding of the lore makes it clear that a Klingon’s only fear is death with dishonor, but there is a species here on earth that lives in dread of lithium: CEOs of electric vehicle manufacturing concerns. For them, it’s not the presence of lithium that strikes fear, but the relative absence of it; while it’s the 25th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, and gigatons are dissolved into the oceans of the world, lithium is very reactive and thus tends to be diffuse, making it difficult to obtain concentrated in the quantities their businesses depend on.

As the electric vehicle and renewable energy markets continue to grow, the need for lithium to manufacture batteries will grow with it, potentially to the point where demand outstrips the mining industry’s production capability. To understand how that imbalance may be possible, we’ll take a look at how lithium is currently mined, as well as examine some new mining techniques that may help fill the coming lithium gap.

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Supersized Power Bank Built From An EV Battery

Perhaps one day in the future when our portable electronics are powered by inexhaustible dilithium crystals, we’ll look back fondly on the 2020s when we carried around power banks to revive our flagging tech. Oh how we laughed as we reached for those handy plastic bricks only to find them drained already of juice, we’ll say. [Handy Geng] won’t be joining us though, because he’s made the ultimate power bank, a 27,000 AH leviathan that uses an electric car battery for storage and supplies mains power through a brace of sockets on its end.

The vehicle battery is mounted on a wheeled trolley along with what appears to be either the in-car charging unit or a mains inverter. The whole thing is styled to look like a huge version of a pocket power bank, with a curved sheet metal shell and white hardboard end panels. The demonstration pushes the comedy further, as after charging a huge pile of phones he replenishes an electric scooter before settling sown by a chilly-looking river for a spot of fishing — along with his washing machine, TV, and electric hotpot for a spot of cooking. We appreciate the joke, and as we know him of old we’re looking forward to more.

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Longer Range EVs Are On The Horizon

When electric cars first started hitting the mainstream just over a decade ago, most criticism focused on the limited range available and the long recharge times required. Since then, automakers have been chipping away, improving efficiency here and adding capacity there, slowly pushing the numbers up year after year.

Models are now on the market offering in excess of 400 miles between charges, but lurking on the horizon are cars with ever-greater range. The technology stands at a tipping point where a electric car will easily be able to go further on a charge than the average driver can reasonably drive in a day. Let’s explore what’s just around the corner.

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