Open Source DC UPS Keeps The Low-Voltage Gear Going

We all like to keep our network gear running during a power outage — trouble is, your standard consumer-grade uninterruptible power supply (UPS) tends to be overkill for routers and such. Their outlet strips built quickly get crowded with wall-warts, and why bother converting from DC to AC only to convert back again?

This common conundrum is the inspiration for [Walker]’s DC UPS design, which has some interesting features. First off, the design is open source, which of course invites tinkering and repurposing. The UPS is built for a 12 volt supply and load, but that obviously can be changed to suit your needs. The battery bank is a 4S3P design using 18650 cells, and that could be customized as well. There’s an ideal diode controller that prevents DC from back-feeding into the supply when the lights go out, and a really interesting synchronous buck-boost converter in place of the power management chip you’d normally see in a UPS. The converter chip takes a PWM signal from an RP2040; there’s also an ESP32 onboard for web server and UI duties as well as an STM32 to run the BMS. The video below discusses the design and shows a little of the build.

We’ve seen a spate of DC UPS designs lately, some more elaborate than others. This one has quite a few interesting chips that most of us don’t normally deal with, and it’s nice to see how they’re used in a practical design.

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LiPo Replacement Keeps Portable Scanner In The Action

If there’s anything people hate more than being locked into a printer manufacturer’s replacement cartridges, it’s proprietary batteries. Cordless power tools are the obvious example in this space, but there are other devices that insist on crappy battery packs that are expensive to replace when they eventually die.

One such device is the Uniden Bearcat BC296D portable scanner that [Robert Guildig] found for a song at a thrift store, which he recently gave a custom LiPo battery upgrade. It came equipped with a nickel-cadmium battery pack, which even under the best of circumstances has a very limited battery life. Using regular AA batteries wasn’t an option, but luckily the space vacated by the OEM battery pack left a lot of room for mods. Those include a small module with BMS functions and a DC-DC converter, a 2,400 mAh 4.2 V LiPo pillow pack, and a new barrel connector for charging. With the BMS set for six volts and connected right to the old battery pack socket, the scanner can now run for seven hours on a one-hour charge. As a bonus, the LiPo pack should last a few times longer than the NiCd packs, and be pretty cheap to replace when it finally goes too. There’s a video after the hop with all the details.

If you’re looking at a similar battery replacement project, you might want to check out [Arya]’s guide to everything you need to know about lithium-ion circuitry.

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Fail Of The Week: Car Starter Motors Aren’t The Best Fit For EBikes

A lot of what real engineering is all about is designing to the limits of your materials, with a healthy margin for error. On the other hand, seat-of-the-pants engineering often takes the opposite tack — working with the materials you have and finding their limits after the fact. While the former is more rigorous and better suited to anything where life and limb are on the line, there’s something to be said for the flexibility that informal engineering offers.

[Austin Blake]’s latest eBike is a case study in informal engineering. [Austin] started out wondering if a starter motor from a car engine would make a decent electric bike motor. Our first instinct before watching the video below was to answer that question with a resounding “No!” Yes, starter motors seem like a natural for the job, delivering high torque in a compact package. But starting a car engine is the very definition of a low-duty-cycle application, since it should only take a second or two of cranking to get an engine started. Pressing a motor designed for such a task into continuous duty seems like, well, a non-starter.

And to be fair, [Austin] fully acknowledges this from the start. He even retrofits the motor, wisely replacing the shaft bushings with proper bearings in an attempt to get a better duty cycle. And it works, at least for a while — with the motor, a homebrew battery, and an ESC mounted to a bike frame, the bike was actually pretty peppy. But bearings aren’t the only thing limiting a starter motor to intermittent duty operation. The short drive really heated up the motor, and even with a few ventilation holes knocked in the motor housing, it eventually released the Magic Smoke. The video has all the gory details.

As always, we like to stress that “Fail of the Week” is not necessarily a badge of shame. We appreciate it whenever someone shows us the way not to go, as [Austin] did here. And let’s keep in mind that he’s had success with this approach before, albeit with a much, much bigger starter motor.

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Fool A Drone With A Fixed Battery

Lithium-ion and lithium-polymer rechargeable batteries have given us previously impossible heights of electronics power and miniaturization, but there’s a downside they have brought along with them. When a battery pack has to contain electronics for balancing cells, it’s very easy for a manufacturer to include extra functions such as locking down the battery. Repair a battery, replace cells, or use a third-party battery, and it won’t work. [Zolly] has this with a DJI Mavic Mini pack, and shares with us a method for bypassing it.

The pack talks to the multi-rotor with a serial line, and the hack involves interrupting that line at the opportune moment to stop it telling its host that things are amiss. Which is a good start — but we can’t help hacing some misgivings around the rest of the work. Disconnecting the balance line between the two cells and fooling the Battery Management System (BMS) with a resistive divider seems to us like a recipe of disaster, as does bypassing the protection MOSFETs with a piece of wire. It may work, and in theory the cells can be charged safely with an external balance charger, but we’re not sure we’d like to have a pack thus modified lying around the shop.

It does serve as a reminder that BMS boards can sometimes infuriatingly lock their owners out. We once encountered this with a second-generation iBook battery that came back to life after a BMS reset, but it’s still not something to go into unwarily. Read our guide to battery packs and BMS boards to know more.

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Adding A Battery To Extend Speaker Life

Perhaps the weakest point in modern electronics when it comes to user servicability is the lifecycle of the batteries included from the manufacturer. Without easily replaceable batteries, many consumer goods end up in the landfill when they’re otherwise working perfectly. If you’d like to get more out of your devices than the manufacturer intends, you might have to go to great lengths like [Théo] did with his JBL speaker.

This was a Bluetooth device produced by JBL nearly a decade ago, and while the original device boasted several hours of battery life, after so many years of service, it was lucky to get a half hour before the battery died. To replace it, [Théo] removed the original battery and extended the case to be able to hold a larger cell phone battery. He also decided to use the original battery management circuit from the speaker with the new battery after verifying the voltage and chemistry were close enough to the original.

Since the phone battery is a proprietary Samsung device, [Théo] also decided to build a version that uses standard 18650 cells instead, although he prefers the slimmer design with the phone battery for his use case.  Straightforward as this build may be, it does go a long way to demonstrate the principle that if you can’t fix your devices, you don’t really own them.

A Beginner’s Guide To Lithium Rechargeable Batteries

Batteries were once heavy, awkward things, delivering only a limp amount of current for their size and weight. Thankfully, over time, technology has improved, and in 2020, we’re blessed with capable, high-power lithium polymer batteries that can provide all the power your mobile project could possibly need. There are some considerations one must make in their use however, so read on for a primer on how to properly use LiPos in your project!

So Many Types!

With the first commercial lithium-ion battery entering the market in 1991, the (nearly) 30 years since have seen rapid development. This has led to a proliferation of different technologies and types of battery, depending on construction and materials used. In order to treat your batteries properly, it’s important to know what you’ve got, so paying attention to this is critical. Continue reading “A Beginner’s Guide To Lithium Rechargeable Batteries”

Ammo Can Battery; 50 Ah LiFePO4 Clad In Army Green

For the price of a mid-range Android phone, [Kenneth Finnegan] turned a 50 caliber ammo can into a 50 amp-hour portable power supply. The battery pack uses four 3.5 V LiFePO4 cells wired in series to achieve a nominal 12 V supply that stands in for a traditional lead-acid battery. The angel of second-hand purchases was smiling on this project as the cells were acquired on eBay in unused condition, complete with bus bars and mounting spacers. All it took to fit them in the case was to grind off the spacers’ dovetails on the outer edges.

There are many benefits to Lithium Iron Phosphate chemistry over traditional lead acid and [Kenneth] spells that out in his discussion of the battery management system at work here. While the newer technology has a much better discharge curve than lead-acid, there’s a frightening amount of power density there if these batteries were to have a catastrophic failure. That’s why there are Battery Management Systems and the one in use here is capable of monitoring all four cells individually which explains the small-gauge wires in the image above. It can balance all of the cells to make sure one doesn’t get more juice than the others, and can disconnect the system if trouble is a-brewin’. Continue reading “Ammo Can Battery; 50 Ah LiFePO4 Clad In Army Green”