Lessons In Li-Ion Safety

If you came here from an internet search because your battery just blew up and you don’t know how to put out the fire, then use a regular fire extinguisher if it’s plugged in to an outlet, or a fire extinguisher or water if it is not plugged in. Get out if there is a lot of smoke. For everyone else, keep reading.

I recently developed a product that used three 18650 cells. This battery pack had its own overvoltage, undervoltage, and overcurrent protection circuitry. On top of that my design incorporated a PTC fuse, and on top of that I had a current sensing circuit monitored by the microcontroller that controlled the board. When it comes to Li-Ion batteries, you don’t want to mess around. They pack a lot of energy, and if something goes wrong, they can experience thermal runaway, which is another word for blowing up and spreading fire and toxic gasses all over. So how do you take care of them, and what do you do when things go poorly?

Continue reading “Lessons In Li-Ion Safety”

3D Printing Batteries

We’ve all gotten pretty adept at 3D printing keychains and enclosures. Some people can even 3D print circuit boards to an extent. But the real goal is a Star Trek-style replicator that just pushes out finished products. Printing different components would be a key technology and unless you want to supply external power, one of those components better be a battery or other power source like a solar cell. A recent paper entitled Additive Manufacturing of Batteries explores this technology. The paper is behind a paywall, but you can probably find a copy if you are persistent.

Some of the techniques are pretty exotic. For example, holographic lithography can produce high-performance lithium-ion batteries. However, some of the processes didn’t sound much different than some of the more common printing techniques employed by desktop printers, although with more exotic materials. For example, some batteries can be made with inkjet printing and even fused deposition printing. Continue reading “3D Printing Batteries”

Protect Your Batteries Before You Wreck Your Batteries

[Jan] is solving a problem many of us have had, deeply discharging our project’s batteries and potentially damaging the cells.

His board can handle batteries from 6 to 34 volts and supports both LiPo or Lion batteries. The board can be flexible about its cut-off voltage. It also has a feature we really like; the user can set a delay before it shuts off the battery: useful in cases where a heavy peak current draw causes the battery to operate at a lower-than-threshold voltage for a few seconds. Once the board is shut down it takes a manual reset to allow power to be drawn again.

His latest iteration of the board is an impressive 1 sq. inch in size! This can fit in just about any project and it’s even flexible in the choice of battery connector. Next time we have a high current draw project with expensive batteries or maybe a monitoring device that’s expected to run a long time we may throw one of these boards in there just to be safe.

Better Battery Management Through Chemistry

The lead-acid rechargeable battery is a not-quite-modern marvel. Super reliable and easy to use, charging it is just a matter of applying a fixed voltage to it and waiting a while; eventually the battery is charged and stays topped off, and that’s it. Their ease is countered by their size, weight, energy density, and toxic materials.

The lithium battery is the new hotness, but their high energy density means a pretty small package that can get very angry and dangerous when mishandled. Academics have been searching for safer batteries, better charge management systems, and longer lasting battery formulations that can be recharged thousands of times, and a recent publication is generating a lot of excitement about it.

Consider the requirements for a battery cell in an electric car:

  • High energy density (Lots of power stored in a small size)
  • Quick charge ability
  • High discharge ability
  • MANY recharge cycles
  • Low self-discharge
  • Safe

Lithium ion batteries are the best option we have right now, but there are a variety of Li-ion chemistries, and depending on the expected use and balancing and charging, different chemistries can be optimized for different performance characteristics. There’s no perfect battery yet, and conflicting requirements mean that the battery market will likely always have some options.

Continue reading “Better Battery Management Through Chemistry”

Fail Of The Week: Taking Apart A Tesla Battery

It takes a lot of energy to push a car-sized object a few hundred miles. Either a few gallons of gasoline or several thousand lithium batteries will get the job done. That’s certainly a lot of batteries, and a lot more potential to be unlocked for their use than hurling chunks of metal around on wheels. If you have an idea for how to better use those batteries for something else, that’s certainly an option, although it’s not always quite as easy as it seems.

In this video, [Kerry] at [EVEngineering] has acquired a Tesla Model 3 battery pack and begins to take it apart. Unlike other Tesla batteries, and even more unlike Leaf or Prius packs, the Model 3 battery is extremely difficult to work with. As a manufacturing cost savings measure, it seems that Tesla found out that gluing the individual cells together would be less expensive compared to other methods where the cells are more modular and serviceable. That means that to remove the individual cells without damaging them, several layers of glue and plastic have to be removed before you can start hammering the cells out with a PEX wedge and a hammer. This method tends to be extremely time consuming.

If you just happen to have a Model 3 battery lying around, [Kerry] notes that it is possible to reuse the cells if you have the time, but doesn’t recommend it unless you really need the energy density found in these 21700 cells. Apparently they are not easy to find outside of Model 3 packs, and either way, it seems as though using a battery from a Nissan Leaf might be a whole lot easier anyway.

Continue reading “Fail Of The Week: Taking Apart A Tesla Battery”

The Amazon Dash Button: A Retrospective

The Internet of Things will revolutionize everything! Manufacturing? Dog walking? Coffee bean refilling? Car driving? Food eating? Put a sensor in it! The marketing makes it pretty clear that there’s no part of our lives which isn’t enhanced with The Internet of Things. Why? Because with a simple sensor and a symphony of corporate hand waving about machine learning an iPhone-style revolution is just around the corner! Enter: Amazon Dash, circa 2014.

The first product in the Dash family was actually a barcode scanning wand which was freely given to Amazon Fresh customers and designed to hang in the kitchen or magnet to the fridge. When the Fresh customer ran out of milk they could scan the carton as it was being thrown away to add it to their cart for reorder. I suspect these devices were fairly expensive, and somewhat too complex to be as frequently used as Amazon wanted (thus the extremely limited launch). Amazon’s goal here was to allow potential customers to order with an absolute minimum of friction so they can buy as much as possible. Remember the “Buy now with 1-Click” button?

That original Dash Wand was eventually upgraded to include a push button activated Alexa (barcode scanner and fridge magnet intact) and is generally available. But Amazon had pinned its hopes on a new beau. Mid 2015 Amazon introduced the Dash Replenishment Service along with a product to be it’s exemplar – the Dash Button. The Dash Button was to be the 1-Click button of the physical world. The barcode-scanning Wands require the user to remember the Wand was nearby, find a barcode, scan it, then remember to go to their cart and order the product. Too many steps, too many places to get off Mr. Bezos’ Wild Ride of Commerce. The Dash Buttons were simple! Press the button, get the labeled product shipped to a preconfigured address. Each button was purchased (for $5, with a $5 coupon) with a particular brand affinity, then configured online to purchase a specific product when pressed. In the marketing materials, happy families put them on washing machines to buy Tide, or in a kitchen cabinet to buy paper towels. Pretty clever, it really is a Buy now with 1-Click button for the physical world.

There were two versions of the Dash button. Both have the same user interface and work in fundamentally the same way. They have a single button (the software can recognize a few click patterns), a single RGB LED (‘natch), and a microphone (no, it didn’t listen to you, but we’ll come back to this). They also had a WiFi radio. Version two (silently released in 2016) added Bluetooth and completely changed the electrical innards, though to no user facing effect.

In February 2019, Amazon stopped selling the Dash Buttons. Continue reading “The Amazon Dash Button: A Retrospective”

Electric Dump Truck Produces More Energy Than It Uses

Electric vehicles are everywhere now. It’s more than just Leafs, Teslas, and a wide variety of electric bikes. It’s also trains, busses, and in this case, gigantic dump trucks. This truck in particular is being put to work at a mine in Switzerland, and as a consequence of having an electric drivetrain is actually able to produce more power than it consumes. (Google Translate from Portugese)

This isn’t some impossible perpetual motion machine, either. The dump truck drives up a mountain with no load, and carries double the weight back down the mountain after getting loaded up with lime and marl to deliver to a cement plant. Since electric vehicles can recover energy through regenerative braking, rather than wasting that energy as heat in a traditional braking system, the extra weight on the way down actually delivers more energy to the batteries than the truck used on the way up the mountain.

The article claims that this is the largest electric vehicle in the world at 110 tons, and although we were not able to find anything larger except the occasional electric train, this is still an impressive feat of engineering that shows that electric vehicles have a lot more utility than novelties or simple passenger vehicles.

Thanks to [Frisco] for the tip!