Weird Energy Storage Solutions Could Help The Grid Go Renewable

We’re all familiar with batteries. Whether we’re talking about disposable AAs in the TV remote, or giant facilities full of rechargeable cells to store power for the grid, they’re a part of our daily lives and well understood.

However, new technologies for storing energy are on the horizon for grid storage purposes, and they’re very different from the regular batteries we’re used to. These technologies are key to making the most out of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power that aren’t available all the time. Let’s take a look at some of these ideas, and how they radically change what we think of as a “battery.”

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Better Air Quality Sensing With CO2

Measuring air quality, as anyone who has tried to tackle this problem can attest, is not as straightforward as it might seem. Even once the nebulous term “quality” is defined, most sensors use something as a proxy for overall air health. One common method is to use volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as this proxy but as [Larry Bank] found out, using these inside a home with a functional kitchen leads to a lot of inaccurate readings. In the search for a more reliable sensor, he built this project which uses CO2 to help gauge air quality.

Most of the reason that CO2 sensors aren’t used as air quality sensors is cost. They are much more expensive than VOC sensors, but [Larry] recently found one that was more affordable and decided to build this project around it. The prototype used an Arduino communicating over I2C to the sensor and an OLED screen, which he eventually put in a 3D printed case to carry around to sample CO2 concentration in various real-world locations. The final project uses a clever way of interfacing with the e-paper display that we featured earlier.

While CO2 concentration doesn’t tell the full story of air quality in a specific place, it does play a major role. [Larry] found concentrations as high as 3000 ppm in his home, which can cause a drop in cognitive function. He’s made some lifestyle changes as a result which he reports has had a beneficial impact. For human-occupied indoor spaces, CO2 can easily be the main contributor to poor air quality, and we’ve seen at least one other project to address this concern directly.

Ceiling Fan Adds CO2 Sensor

Ceiling fans seem to be an oft-misunderstood or overlooked household appliance. As such, they seem to have missed a lot of the IoT wave. Sure, you can get smart controllers for them to plug into your home automation system of choice, but these mostly rely on temperature sensors, simple timers, or voice commands. There’s a lot more to a ceiling fan than maintaining a comfortable temperature, as [EJ] demonstrates with this smarter ceiling fan build.

A big part of the job of a ceiling fan is to improve air circulation, which can help a room from feeling “stuffy”. This feeling is usually caused by excess CO2 as a result of respiration in an area where the air is not moving enough to exhaust this gas. Not only does [EJ]’s controller make use of a temperature monitor for controlling the fan automatically, but there is also a CO2 sensor integrated to improve this aspect of air quality when needed.

The entire build is based on a Raspberry Pi Zero, and nothing needed to be changed about the ceiling fan itself for this added functionality because it already included a radio-based remote control. With some monitoring of the signals produced by the remote, the Raspberry Pi was programmed to mimic these commands when the surrounding sensors captured a condition where [EJ] would want the fan on. There’s also a manual control button as well, so the fan control is not entirely in the hands of the computer.

For a little more detailed information about this build, there’s a separate project page which details a lot of the information about the RF waveform capturing and recreation. And, if you want to take your fan to the next level, take a look at this one which focuses on building a smartphone app to control the fan instead.

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Hackaday Links: August 28, 2022

The countdown for the first step on humanity’s return to the Moon has begun. The countdown for Artemis 1 started on Saturday morning, and if all goes well, the un-crewed Orion spacecraft atop the giant Space Launch Systems (SLS) booster will liftoff from the storied Pad 39B at Cape Canaveral on Monday, August 29, at 8:33 AM EDT (1233 GMT). The mission is slated to last for about 42 days, which seems longish considering the longest manned Apollo missions only lasted around 12 days. But, without the constraint of storing enough consumables for a crew, Artemis is free to take the scenic route to the Moon, as it were. No matter what your position is on manned space exploration, it’s hard to deny that launching a rocket as big as the SLS is something to get excited about. After all, it’s been 50 years since anything remotely as powerful as the SLS has headed to space, and it’s an event that’s expected to draw 100,000 people to watch it in person. We’ll have to stick to the NASA live stream ourselves; having seen a Space Shuttle launch in person in 1990, we can’t express how much we envy anyone who gets to experience this launch up close.
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Collaborative Effort Gets Laser Galvos Talking G-Code

Everyone should know by now that we love to follow up on projects when they make progress. It’s great to be able to celebrate accomplishments and see how a project has changed over time. But it’s especially great to highlight a project that not only progresses, but also gives back a little to the community.

That’s what we’re seeing with [Les Wright]’s continuing work with a second-hand laser engraver. It was only a few weeks ago that we featured his initial experiments with the eBay find, a powerful CO2 laser originally used for industrial marking applications. It originally looked like [Les] was going to have to settle for a nice teardown and harvesting a few parts, but the eleven-year-old tube and the marking head’s galvanometers actually turned out to be working just fine.

The current work, which is also featured in the video below, mainly concerns those galvos, specifically getting them working with G-code to turn the unit into a bit of an ad hoc laser engraver. Luckily, he stumbled upon the OPAL Open Galvo project on GitHub, which can turn G-code into the XY2-100 protocol used by his laser. While [Les] has nothing but praise for the software side of OPAL, he saw a hardware hole he could fill, and contributed his design for a PCB that hosts the Teensy the code runs on as well as the buffer and line driver needed to run the galvos and laser. The video shows the whole thing in use with simple designs on wood and acrylic, as well as interesting results on glass.

Of course, these were only tests — we’re sure [Les] would address the obvious safety concerns in a more complete engraver. But for now, we’ll just applaud the collaboration shown here and wait for more updates.

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Carbon Sequestration As A Service Doesn’t Quite Add Up

Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. While most attempts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions focus on reducing the amount of CO2 output, there are other alternatives. Carbon capture and sequestration has been an active area of research for quite some time. Being able to take carbon dioxide straight out of the air and store it in a stable manner would allow us to reduce levels in the atmosphere and could make a big difference when it comes to climate change.

A recent project by a company called Climeworks is claiming to be doing just that, and are running it as a subscription service. The company has just opened up its latest plant in Iceland, and hopes to literally suck greenhouses gases out of the air. Today, we’ll examine whether or not this technology is a viable tool in the fight against climate change.

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A weld bead laid down with homemade CO2

Cooking Up A Batch Of Homebrew Welding Gas

You know the feeling — you’re making good progress on a weekend project, you’re really in the groove, things are going right. Right up until you run out of That One Thing™ that you can’t do without, the only store that sells it is closed, and you get a sudden case of whiplash as your progress hits a virtual brick wall.

Of course, every challenge holds the opportunity to hack your way around it, which is how [Lucas] ended up building this carbon dioxide generator. The “IG” in MIG welding stands for the “inert gas” that floods the weld pool and keeps the melted metal — the “M” in MIG — from rapidly oxidizing and ruining the weld. Welders often use either straight CO2 or a mix of CO2 and argon as a MIG shielding gas, which they normally get from a commercial gas supplier, generally on non-weekend days.

[Lucas] turned to grade-school chemistry for his CO2 generator, using the vigorous reaction of baking soda and vinegar to produce the gas. Version one was sketchy as all get-out; the second iteration still had some sketch factor thanks to the use of ABS pipe, but the inclusion of a relief valve should prevent the worst from happening. After some fiddling with how to get the reagents together in a controlled fashion, [Lucas] was able to generate enough CO2 to put down a decent bead — a short one, to be sure, but the video below shows that it worked.

Could this be scaled up to something for practical use? Probably not. But it’s cool to see what’s possible, and something to file away for a rainy day. And maybe [Lucas] can use this method to produce CO2 for his homemade laser tube. But again, probably not.

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