Microbatteries On The Grid

Not everybody has $6500 to toss into a Tesla Powerwall (and that’s a low estimate), but if you want the benefits of battery storage for your house, [Matt]’s modular “microbattery” storage system might be right up your alley. With a build-as-you-go model, virtually any battery can be placed on the grid in order to start storing power from a small solar installation or other power source.

The system works how any other battery installation would work. When demand is high, a series of microinverters turn on and deliver power to the grid. When demand is low, the batteries get charged. The major difference between this setup and a consumer-grade system is that this system is highly modular and each module is networked together to improve the efficiency of the overall system. Its all tied together with a Raspberry Pi that manages the entire setup.

While all of the software is available to set this up, it should go without saying that working with mains power is dangerous, besides the fact that you’ll need inverters capable of matching phase angle with the grid, a meter that handles reverse power flow, a power company that is willing to take the power, and a number of building code statutes to appease. If you don’t have all that together, you might want to go off-grid instead.

Solar Panel Keeps Car Battery Topped Off Through OBD-II Port

Up until the 1980s or so, a mechanic could check for shorts in a car’s electrical system by looking for sparks while removing the battery terminal with everything turned off in the car. That stopped being possible when cars started getting always-on devices, and as [Kerry Wong] learned, these phantom loads can leave one stranded with a dead battery at the airport after returning from a long trip.

[Kerry]’s solution is simple: a solar trickle charger. Such devices are readily available commercially, of course, and generally consist of a small photovoltaic array that sits on the dashboard and a plug for the lighter socket. But as [Kerry] points out in the video below, most newer model cars no longer have lighter sockets that are wired to work without the ignition being on. So he chose to connect his solar panel directly to the OBD-II port, the spec for which calls for an always-on, fused circuit connected directly to the positive terminal of the vehicle battery. He had to hack together an adapter for the panel’s lighter plug, the insides of which are more than a little scary, and for good measure, he added a Schottky diode to prevent battery discharge through the panel. Even the weak winter sun provides 150 mA or so of trickle charge, and [Kerry] can rest assured his ride will be ready at the end of his trip.

We used to seeing [Kerry] tear down test gear and analyze unusual devices, along with the odd post mortem on nearly catastrophic failures. We’re glad nothing burst into flames with this one.

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Lighting Up A Tiny Train Needs Tiny Tools

A tiny toy train that [voidnill] illuminated with a small LED strip fragment demonstrates several challenges that come with both modifying existing products, and working with small things in general. One is that it is hard in general to work around existing design choices and materials when modifying something. The second is that problems are magnified with everything is so small.

[voidnill]’s plentiful photos illustrate everything from drilling out small rivets and tapping the holes for screws to installing a tiny switch, LED strip, and button cells as a power supply. When things are so small, some of the usual solutions don’t apply. For example, cyanoacrylate glue may seem like a good idea for mounting small plastic parts, but CA glue easily wicks into components like the tiny power switch and gums up the insides, rendering it useless.

[voidnill] uses lots of careful cutting and patience to get everything done, and demonstrates the importance of quality tools. The LED strip fragment is driven by three small button cells, and while tape does a serviceable job as a battery holder, [voidnill] believes a 3D printed custom frame for the cells would really do the trick.

The kind of work that goes into making or modifying small things really puts into perspective the amount of effort behind projects like this coffee table with an N-gauge model railway inside it.

Fun-Size Tesla Might Be The World’s Smallest

We get all kinds of tips about “the world’s something-est” widget, which normally end up attracting the debunkers in droves. So normally, we shy away from making superlative claims about a project, no matter how they bill themselves. But we’re comfortable that this is the world’s smallest Tesla, at least if we have to stretch the definition of Tesla a bit.

This clown-car version of the Tesla Model S that [Austin] built is based around a Radio Flyer replica of the electric sedan. The $600 battery-powered original doesn’t deliver exactly the same neck-snapping acceleration of its full-size cousin, so he stripped off the nicely detailed plastic body and put that onto a heavily modified go-cart chassis. The tiny wheelbase left little in the way of legroom, but with the seat mounted far enough back into the wheelie-inducing zone, it was possible for [Austin] to squeeze in. He chose to pay homage to Tesla’s battery pack design and built 16 modules with fourteen 18650 cells in each, a still-substantial battery for such a small vehicle. Hydraulic brakes were also added, a wise decision since the 4800 Watt BLDC is a little snappier than the stock motor, to say the least. The video below shows the build, as well as a dangerous test ride where the speed read 72 at one point; we’re not sure if that’s MPH or km/h, but either way, it’s terrifying. The drifts were pretty sick too.

It seems [Austin] has the need for speed, and for drifting.  We’ve seen his water-cooled electric drift trike before, as well as his ridiculously overpowered crazy cart.

Continue reading “Fun-Size Tesla Might Be The World’s Smallest”

Cheap Strain Relief By Casting Hot Glue In A 3D Print

[Daniel Roibert] found a way to add cheap strain relief to JST-XH connectors, better known to hobby aircraft folks as the charging and balance connectors on lithium-polymer battery packs. His solution is to cast them in hot glue, with the help of 3D printed molds. His project provides molds fitted for connectors with anywhere from two to eight conductors, so just pick the appropriate one and get printing. [Daniel] says to print the mold pieces in PETG, so that they can hold up to the temperature of melted glue.

The 3D models aren’t particularly intuitive to look at, but an instructional video makes everything clear. First coat the inside surfaces of the mold with a release agent (something like silicone oil should do the trick) and then a small amount of hot glue goes in the bottom. Next the connector is laid down on top of the glue, more glue is applied, and the top of the mold is pressed in. The small hole in the top isn’t for filling with glue, it’s to let excess escape as the mold is closed. After things cool completely, just pop apart the mold (little cutouts for a screwdriver tip make this easy) and trim any excess. That’s all there is to it.

One last thing: among the downloads you may notice one additional model. That one is provided in split parts, so that one can make a mold of an arbitrary width just by stretching the middle parts as needed, then merging them together. After all, sometimes the STL file is just not quite right and if sharing CAD files is not an option for whatever reason, providing STLs that can be more easily tweaked is a welcome courtesy. You can watch a short video showing how the whole thing works, below.

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The Quest To Find A Second Life For Electric Vehicle Batteries

Rechargeable lithium chemistry battery cells found their mass market foothold in the field of personal electronics. The technology has since matured enough to be scaled up (in both physical size and production volume) to electric cars, making long range EVs far more economical than what was possible using earlier batteries. Would the new economics also make battery reuse a profitable business? Eric Lundgren is one of those willing to make a run at it, and [Gizmodo] took a look at his latest venture.

This man is a serial entrepreneur, though his previous business idea was not successful as it involved “reusing” trademarks that were not his to use. Fortunately this new business BigBattery appears to be on far more solid legal footing, disassembling battery packs from retired electric vehicles and repacking cells for other purposes. Typically EV batteries are deemed “worn out” when their capacity drops below a certain percentage (70% is a common bar) but that reduced capacity could still be useful outside of an EV. And when battery packs are retired due to problems elsewhere in the car, or just suffering from a few bad cells, it’s possible to extract units in far better shape.

We’ve been interested in how to make the best use of rechargeable lithium batteries. Ranging from tech notes helping battery reuse, to a comparison of different types, to looking at how their end-of-life recycling will be different from lead-acid batteries. Not to mention countless project wins and fails in between. A recurring theme is the volatility of mistreated or misbehaving batteries. Seeing a number of EV battery packs stacked on pallets and shelves, presumably filled with cells of undetermined quality, fills us with unease. Like the rest of California, Chatsworth is under earthquake risk, and the town was uncomfortably close to some wildfires in 2019. Eric is quick to give assurance that employees are given regular safety training and the facility conforms to all applicable workplace safety rules. But did those rules consider warehouses packed full of high capacity lithium battery cells of unknown quality? We expect that, like the business itself, standards for safety will evolve.

Concerns on safety aside, a successful business here would mean electric vehicles have indeed given battery reuse a profitable economy of scale that tiny little cell phone and laptop batteries could not reach. We are optimistic that Eric and other like-minded people pursuing similar goals can evolve this concept into a bright spot in our otherwise woeful state of e-waste handling.

Choosing The Right Battery For Your Electric Vehicle Build

Many a hacker has looked at their scooter, bike, or skateboard, and decided that it would be even better if only it had a motor on it. Setting out to electrify one’s personal transport can be an exciting and productive journey, and one that promises to teach many lessons about mechanical and electronic engineering. Fundamentally, the key to any build is the battery, which has the utmost say in terms of your vehicle’s performance and range. To help out, we’ve prepared a useful guide on selecting the right battery for your needs.

One Chemistry To Rule Them All

Batteries come in all shapes and sizes, and a variety of different chemistries that all have their own unique properties and applications. When it comes to small electric vehicles, it’s desirable to have a battery with a low weight, compact size, plenty of current delivery for quick acceleration, and high capacity for long range.

30 years ago, options were limited to lead acid, nickel cadmium, and nickel metal hydride batteries. These were heavy, with low current output, poor capacity, and incredibly slow charge times. Thankfully, lithium polymer batteries have come along in the meantime and are more capable across the board. Offering huge discharge rates, fast charging, light weight and high capacity, they’re undeniably the ultimate choice for a high performance electric vehicle. They’re also wildly popular, and thus cheap, too!

There are some hangups, however. It’s important to keep all the cells in a pack at the same voltage in order to avoid cells back-charging each other. This can cause damage to the pack, or even explosions or fire. Maintaining the battery voltages to avoid this is called “balancing”. It can be handled in various ways, depending on the exact style of battery you’re using, as we’ll cover later.

Additionally, lithium batteries do not like being over-discharged. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea not to let your batteries drop below 3.0 V per cell. Failure to keep this in check can lead to ruining a pack, hurting its maximum capacity and ability to deliver current.

There are thankfully ways around these issues, and which ones you use depends on the battery you choose for your application. Continue reading “Choosing The Right Battery For Your Electric Vehicle Build”