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!

A Range-Extended Electric Van

The only thing limiting the range on any electric vehicle isn’t really battery technology, but cost. Customers don’t want to pay more money for an electric car or van that does essentially the same thing as one with an internal combustion engine. This in turn limits the amount of batteries manufacturers put in their cars. However, with enough money, and thus enough batteries, electric cars can get whatever range you want as [Muxsan] shows with his Nissan e-NV200 that gets over 400 miles kilometers on a single charge.

The Nissan e-NV200 is a battery electric vehicle (also available as a badge-engineered Chevrolet van in North America) with a drivetrain from the Nissan Leaf. This means that all of the components from the Leaf basically plug-and-play in this van. [Muxsan] took an extra 45 kWh of batteries and was able to splice them in to the existing battery pack, essentially tripling the capacity of the original 24 kWh pack. Some work was needed to the CAN bus as well, and the car’s firmware needed to be upgraded to reflect the new battery pack, but a relatively simple modification otherwise, all things considered.

While watching the video [Muxsan] also notes how much empty space there is all around the van, and Nissan could have easily upgraded the battery pack at any time to allow for more range. It also took the car 10 hours on a 6 kW charger to charge completely, but that’s not unreasonable for 430 miles of range. If your high voltage DC chops are up to snuff, it’s not impossible to find old Leaf batteries for other projects, too.

Continue reading “A Range-Extended Electric Van”

That E-Cig Battery Probably Fits Into Sunglasses

This particular e-cigarette is a little bigger than a typical cigarette, with a matching battery.

E-cigarettes use electrical power to rapidly heat and vaporize a base liquid such as propylene glycol, and that power comes from a battery. These devices are functionally straightforward but it can be a messy process on the inside. Thankfully though the batteries can be salvaged once components like heating elements either gum up or burn out.

[facelesstech] decided to use the battery from an e-cig as the power source for a smart sunglasses project, which uses two RGB LED rings to put on a light show. Opening up the device it was discovered that the battery was a straightforward lithium-polymer cell, in AAAA size. If you’ve ever torn open a 9 v battery and discovered the six diminutive cylinders inside, an AAAA cell is about the same size as one of those. However, the battery from the e-cig is both rechargeable and has a nominal voltage of 3.7 volts, which can happily drive a microcontroller project. The small battery fit nicely into one arm of the glasses, and when covered with heat-shrink, was hardly noticeable. The battery charger doesn’t fit inside the glasses, but one can’t have everything.

The ability of an e-cigarette to pump out clouds of vapor has led to some interesting hacks. One such is a DIY portable fog machine, which opens all kinds of doors for costuming applications.

An All-Iron Battery Isn’t Light, But It’s Cheap

Rechargeable batteries are a technology that has been with us for well over a century, and which is undergoing a huge quantity of research into improved energy density for both mobile and alternative energy projects. But the commonly used chemistries all come with their own hazards, be they chemical contamination, fire risk, or even cost due to finite resources. A HardwareX paper from a team at the University of Idaho attempts to address some of those concerns, with an open-source rechargeable battery featuring electrode chemistry involving iron on both of its sides. This has the promise of a much cheaper construction without the poisonous heavy metal of a lead-acid cell or the expense and fire hazard of a lithium one.

A diagram of the all-iron cell.
A diagram of the all-iron cell.

The chemistry of this cell is split into two by an ion-exchange membrane, iron (II) chloride is the electrolyte on the anode side where iron is oxidised to iron 2+ ions, and Iron (III) chloride on the cathode where iron is reduced to iron hydroxide. The result is a cell with a low potential of only abut 0.6V, but at a claimed material cost of only $0.10 per kWh Wh of stored energy. The cells will never compete on storage capacity or weight, but this cost makes them attractive for fixed installations.

It’s encouraging to see open-source projects coming through from HardwareX, we noted its launch back in 2016.

Thanks [Julien] for the tip.

PackProbe Reports Laptop Battery Health

The 18650 cell has become a ubiquitous standard in the lithium battery world. From power drills to early Tesla vehicles, these compact cells power all manner of portable devices. A particularly common use is in laptop batteries, where they’re often built into a pack using the Smart Battery System. This creates a smart battery that can communicate and report on its own status. PackProbe is a software tool built to communicate with these batteries, and you might just find it comes in handy.

The code runs on the WiFi-enabled Arduino Yún by default, but can be easily modified to suit other Arduino platforms. Communicating over SMBus using the Arduino’s I2C hardware, it’s capable of working with the vast majority of laptop batteries out there which comply with the Smart Battery System. With that standard being minted in 1994, it’s spread far and wide these days.

It’s a great way to harvest not only the specifications and manufacturing details of your laptop battery pack, but also to check on the health of the battery. This can give a clear idea over whether the battery is still usable, as well as whether the cells are worth harvesting for those in the recycling business.

You’re not limited to just the Arduino, though. There’s a similar tool available for the ESP8266, too.