Testing Lithium Ceramic Batteries (LCBs)

Affordable solid-state batteries large enough for cell phones and drones have been promised for a long time but seem to always be a few years away from production. In this case, Taiwan based Prologium sent [GreatScott] samples of their Lithium Ceramic batteries (LCBs) to test, and even though they’re not yet commercial products, who are we to refuse a peek at what they’ve been up to? They sent him two types, flexible ones (FLCBs) and higher capacity stiff ones (PLCBs).

Flexible lithium ceramic batteryThe FLCBs were rated at 100 mAh and just 2 C, both small values but still useful for wearables, especially given their flexibility. Doing some destructive testing, he managed to keep an LED lit while flexing the battery and cutting away at it with tin snips.

Switching to the thicker 7.31 Wh PLCB, he measured and weighed it to get an energy density of 258 Wh/L and a specific energy of 118 Wh/kg, only about 2/3rds and 1/2 that of his LiPo and lithium-ion batteries. Repeating the destructive tests with these ones, the LED turned off and smoke appeared while cutting and hammering a nail through, likely due to the shorts caused by the electrically conductive tin snips and nail. But once the snips and nail were moved away, the smoke stopped and the LED lit up again. Overcharging and short-circuiting the batteries both caused the solder connecting the wires to them to melt but nothing else happened. Rapidly discharging through a resistor only resulted in a gradual voltage drop. Clearly, these batteries are much safer than their LiPo and lithium ion counterparts. That safety and their flexibility seem to be their current main selling points should they become available for us hackers. Check out his tests in the video below.

Meanwhile, we’ll have to be content with the occasional tantalizing report from the labs such as this one from MIT of a long battery life and another from one of the co-inventors of the lithium-ion battery which uses a glass electrolyte.

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Non-Newtonian Batteries

Batteries placed in harm’s way need to be protected. A battery placed where a breakdown could endanger a life needs to be protected. Lithium-ion batteries on the bottoms of electric cars are subject to accidental damage and they are bathed in flame-retardant epoxy inside a metal sled. Phone batteries are hidden behind something that will shatter or snap before the battery suffers and warrant inspection. Hoverboard batteries are placed behind cheap plastic, and we have all seen how well that works. Batteries contain chemicals with a high density of energy, so the less exploding they do, the better.

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have added a new ingredient to batteries that makes them armored but from the inside. The ingredient is silica spheres so fine it is safe to call it powder. The effect of this dust is that the electrolyte in every battery will harden like cornstarch/water then go right back to being a liquid. This non-Newtonian fluid works on the principal principle of shear-thickening which, in this case, says that the suspension will become harder as shear force is applied. So, batteries get rock hard when struck, then go back to being batteries when it is safe.

Non-Newtonian fluids are much fun, but we’re also happy to see them put to use. The same principle works in special speed bumps to allow safe drivers to continue driving but jolts speeders. Micromachines can swim in non-Newtonian fluids better than water in some cases.

Power Steering Pump Repurposed for Great Speed

Electric bikes are getting a lot of attention lately. Pretty much anyone can buy a kit online and get a perfectly street legal ride with plenty of range. But if you don’t want to take the kit route, and you’d rather take a tack that will get you noticed more around these parts, take some notes from [Jule553648]’s recent build that definitely isn’t using any parts from a kit.

The motor from the build is an electric power steering pump from a junkyard car. This gets mounted on a one-off rear bike rack and drives the rear tire with help from some gears from a pocket bike gearbox from eBay. A lot of the parts in this build were designed and built using CAD and a machine shop, and the parts for the battery and the power controller were sourced via China to save on cost.

The whole build has a homemade vibe that we find irresistible. The bike can go 35 km/h on level ground without breaking a sweat and has about 40 km of range which is nothing to scoff at. It might even be street legal depending on the wattage of the motor and whether or not you live in Europe (where throttles are generally not allowed on electric bikes). If you’re lacking a machine shop, though, we featured a very well-built kit ebike a while back that you could use as a model to get your feet wet.

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The Quick-Build PowerWall

Elon Musk isn’t just the greatest human being — he’s also a great inventor. He’s invented the reusable rocket, the electric car, and so much more. While those are fantastic achievements, Elon’s greatest invention is probably the PowerWall. The idea of a PowerWall is simple and has been around for years: just get a bunch of batteries and build a giant UPS for your house. Elon brought it to the forefront, though, and DIYers around the world are building their own. Thanks, Elon.

Of course, while the idea of building your own PowerWall is simple, the devil is in the details. How are you going to buy all those batteries? How are you going to connect them together? How do you connect it to your fuse box? It’s a systems integration nightmare, made even more difficult by the fact that lithium cells can catch fire if you do something wrong. [jehugarcia] is building his own PowerWall, and he might have hit upon an interesting solution. He’s built a modular system to store and charge hundreds of 18650 cells. It looks great, and this might be the answer to anyone wanting to build their own PowerWall.

Aside from acquiring hundreds of 18650 cells, the biggest problem in building a PowerWall is simply connecting all the cells together. This can be done with 3D printed battery holders, solder, and bus bars, with a few people experimenting with spot welding wires directly onto the cells. This project might be a better solution: it uses standard plastic battery holders easily acquired from your favorite Chinese retailer and a PCB to turn cells into a battery.

The design of this battery module consists of a PCB with sufficiently wide traces, an XT60 power connector, and a few headers for the balance connector of a charger. This is a seven cell setup, and in contrast to the hundreds of hours that go into making a PowerWall the old fashioned way, these modules can be assembled pretty quickly.

Testing of these modules revealed no explosions, and everything worked as intended. There was a problem, though: when drawing a high load, the terminals of these cheap battery connectors got up to 150°. That makes these modules unsuitable for high load applications like an e-bike, but it should be okay if you’re putting hundreds of these modules together to power your house. It might be a good idea to invest in some cooling, though.
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Electric Bike From The Ground Up

Electric vehicles are getting more traction these days, but this trend is rolling towards us in more ways than just passenger vehicles. More and more bikes are being electrified too, since the cost of batteries has come down and people realize that they can get around town easily without having to pay the exorbitant price to own, fuel, and maintain a car. Of course there are turnkey ebikes, but those don’t interest us much around here. This ebike from [Andy] is a master class in how to build your own ebike.

Due to some health issues, [Andy] needed a little bit of assistance from an electric motor on his bike, but found out that the one he wanted wouldn’t fit his current bike quite right. He bought a frame from eBay with the right dimensions and assembled the bike from scratch. Not only that, but when it was time to put the battery together he sourced individual 18650 cells and built a custom battery for the bike. His build goes into great detail on how to do all of these things, so even if you need a lithium battery for another project this build might be worth a read.

If you’ve never been on an electric bike before, they’re a lot of fun to ride. They’re also extremely economical, and a good project too if you’re looking for an excuse to go buy a kit and get to work. You can get creative with the drivetrain too if you’d like to do something out of the box, such as this bike that was powered by AA batteries and a supercapacitor.

PTPM Energy Scavenger Aims for Maintenance-Free Sensor Nodes

[Mile]’s PTPM Energy Scavenger takes the scavenging idea seriously and is designed to gather not only solar power but also energy from temperature differentials, vibrations, and magnetic induction. The idea is to make wireless sensor nodes that can be self-powered and require minimal maintenance. There’s more to the idea than simply doing away with batteries; if the devices are rugged and don’t need maintenance, they can be installed in locations that would otherwise be impractical or awkward. [Mile] says that goal is to reduce the most costly part of any supply chain: human labor.

The prototype is working well with solar energy and supercapacitors for energy storage, but [Mile] sees potential in harvesting other sources, such as piezoelectric energy by mounting the units to active machinery. With a selectable output voltage, optional battery for longer-term storage, and a reference design complete with enclosure, the PPTM Energy Scavenger aims to provide a robust power solution for wireless sensor platforms.

Amiga Repairs Put One Tough Little Machine Back in Service

Returning a piece of retro hardware to factory condition is generally a labor of love for the restorationist. A repair, on the other hand, is more about getting a piece of equipment back into service. But the line between repair and restoration is sometimes a fine one, with the goals of one bleeding over into the other, like in this effort to save an otherwise like-new Amiga 2000 with a leaky backup battery.

Having previously effected emergency repairs to staunch the flow of electrolyte from the old batteries and prevent further damage, [Retromat] entered the restoration phase of the project. The creeping ooze claimed several caps and the CPU socket as it spread across the PCB, but the main damage was to the solder resist film itself. In the video below you can clearly see flaky, bubbly areas in the mask where the schmoo did its damage.

Using a fiberglass eraser, some isopropyl alcohol, and far more patience than we have, [Retromat] was able to remove the damaged resist to reveal the true extent of the damage below. Thankfully, most of the traces were still intact; only a pair of lines under the CPU socket peeled off as he was removing it. After replacing them with fine pieces of wire, replacing the corroded caps and socket, and adding a coin-cell battery holder to replace the old battery, the exposed traces were coated with a varnish to protect them and the machine was almost as good as new.

Amigas were great machines in their day and launched more than one business. They’ve proved their staying power too, some even in mission-critical roles.

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