Improving More Leaf Design Flaws

[Daniel] was recently featured here for his work in improving the default charging mode for the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle when using the emergency/trickle charger included with the car. His work made it possible to reduce the amount of incoming power from the car, if the charging plug looked like it might not be able to handle the full 1.2 kW -3 kW that these cars draw when charging. Thanks to that work, he was able to create another upgrade for these entry-level EVs, this time addressing a major Leaf design flaw that is known as Rapidgate.

The problem that these cars have is that they still have passive thermal management for their batteries, unlike most of their competitors now. This was fine in the early ’10s when this car was one of the first all-electric cars to market, but now its design age is catching up with it. On long trips at highway speed with many rapid charges in a row the batteries can overheat easily. When this happens, the car’s charging controller will not allow the car to rapid charge any more and severely limits the charge rate even at the rapid charging stations. [Daniel] was able to tweak the charging software in order to limit the rapid charging by default, reducing it from 45 kW to 35 kW and saving a significant amount of heat during charging than is otherwise possible.

While we’d like to see Nissan actually address the design issues with their car designs while making these straighforward software changes (or at least giving Leaf owners the options that improve charging experiences) we are at least happy that there are now other electric vehicles in the market that have at least addressed the battery thermal management issues that are common with all EVs. If you do own a Leaf though, be sure to check out [Daniel]’s original project related to charging these cars.

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Rapid Charging Supercapacitors

Battery technology is the talk of the town right now, as it’s the main bottleneck holding up progress on many facets of renewable energy. There are other technologies available for energy storage, though, and while they might seem like drop-in replacements for batteries they can have some peculiar behaviors. Supercapacitors, for example, have a completely different set of requirements for charging compared to batteries, and behave in peculiar ways compared to batteries.

This project from [sciencedude1990] shows off some of the quirks of supercapacitors by showing one method of rapidly charging one. One of the most critical differences between batteries and supercapacitors is that supercapacitors’ charge state can be easily related to voltage, and they will discharge effectively all the way to zero volts without damage. This behavior has to be accounted for in the charging circuit. The charging circuit here uses an ATtiny13A and a MP18021 half-bridge gate driver to charge the capacitor, and also is programmed in a way that allows for three steps for charging the capacitor. This helps mitigate the its peculiar behavior compared to a battery, and also allows the 450 farad capacitor to charge from 0.7V to 2.8V in about three minutes.

If you haven’t used a supercapacitor like this in place of a lithium battery, it’s definitely worth trying out in some situations. Capacitors tolerate temperature extremes better than batteries, and provided you have good DC regulation can often provide power more reliably than batteries in some situations. You can also combine supercapacitors with batteries to get the benefits of both types of energy storage devices.

Adding Luxury Charging Features To An Entry-Level EV

The Nissan Leaf is the best-selling electric car of all time so far, thanks largely to it being one of the first mass produced all-electric EVs. While getting into the market early was great for Nissan, they haven’t made a lot of upgrades that other EV manufacturers have made and are starting to lose customers as a result. One of those upgrades is charge limiting, which allows different charging rates to be set from within the car. With some CAN bus tinkering, though, this feature can be added to the Leaf.

Limiting the charging rate is useful when charging at unfamiliar or old power outlets which might not handle the default charge rate. In Europe, which has a 240V electrical distribution system, Leafs will draw around 3 kW from a wall outlet which is quite a bit of power. If the outlet looks like it won’t support that much power flow, it’s handy (and more safe) to be able to reduce that charge rate even if it might take longer to fully charge the vehicle. [Daniel ร–ster]’s modification requires the user to set the charge rate by manipulating the climate control, since the Leaf doesn’t have a comprehensive user interface.

The core of this project is performed over the CAN bus, which is a common communications scheme that is often used in vehicles and is well-documented and easy to take advantage of. Luckily, [Daniel] has made the code available on his GitHub page, so if you’re thinking about trading in a Leaf for something else because of its lack of features it may be time to reconsider.

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Solar Panel Keeps Car Battery Topped Off Through OBD-II Port

Up until the 1980s or so, a mechanic could check for shorts in a car’s electrical system by looking for sparks while removing the battery terminal with everything turned off in the car. That stopped being possible when cars started getting always-on devices, and as [Kerry Wong] learned, these phantom loads can leave one stranded with a dead battery at the airport after returning from a long trip.

[Kerry]’s solution is simple: a solar trickle charger. Such devices are readily available commercially, of course, and generally consist of a small photovoltaic array that sits on the dashboard and a plug for the lighter socket. But as [Kerry] points out in the video below, most newer model cars no longer have lighter sockets that are wired to work without the ignition being on. So he chose to connect his solar panel directly to the OBD-II port, the spec for which calls for an always-on, fused circuit connected directly to the positive terminal of the vehicle battery. He had to hack together an adapter for the panel’s lighter plug, the insides of which are more than a little scary, and for good measure, he added a Schottky diode to prevent battery discharge through the panel. Even the weak winter sun provides 150 mA or so of trickle charge, and [Kerry] can rest assured his ride will be ready at the end of his trip.

We used to seeing [Kerry] tear down test gear and analyze unusual devices, along with the odd post mortem on nearly catastrophic failures. We’re glad nothing burst into flames with this one.

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Wireless Charging Without So Many Chargers

[Nikola Tesla] believed he could wirelessly supply power to the world, but his calculations were off. We can, in fact, supply power wirelessly and we are getting better but far from the dreams of the historical inventor. The mainstream version is the Qi chargers which are what phones use to charge when you lay them on a base. Magnetic coupling is what allows the power to move through the air. The transmitter and receiver are two halves of an air-core transformer, so the distance between the coils exponentially reduces efficiency and don’t even think of putting two phones on a single base. Well, you could but it would not do any good. [Chris Mi] at San Diego State University is working with colleagues to introduce receivers which feature a pass-through architecture so a whole stack of devices can be powered from a single base.

Efficiency across ten loads is recorded at 83.9% which is phenomenal considering the distance between each load is 6 cm. Traditional air-gap transformers are not designed for 6 cm, much less 60 cm. The trick is to include another transmitter coil alongside the receiving coil. By doing this, the coils are never more than 6 cm apart, even when the farthest unit is a long ways from the first supply. Another advantage to this configuration is that tuned groups continue to work even when a load changes in the system. For this reason, putting ten chargeables on a single system is a big deal because they don’t need to be retuned when one finishes charging.

We would love to see more of this convenient charging and hope that it catches on.

Via IEEE Spectrum.

You Should Not Try These Taser NERF Darts

For most of us, a good part of our childhood involved running around someone’s backyard (or inside the house) trying to score hits with a toy NERF gun. The fun level was high and the risk of personal injury was low. Now that we’re all mostly adults, it’s probably time to take our NERF game to the next level with some risk of serious personal harm.

In an effort to help his brother get back at him for being somewhat of a bully in their youth, [Allen Pan] gifted him with an upgraded NERF gun. Specifically, one with darts that pack a punch. Each of the “Elite” darts was equipped with a 300 V capacitor packed into the interior of the dart. New tips were 3D printed with special metal tips that allow the capacitor to discharge upon impact.

Besides the danger, there’s a good bit of science involved. Parts were scavenged from a new (and surprisingly expensive) disposable camera, and a customized circuit was constructed around the barrel of the dart gun that allows the darts to charge up when they’re loaded. It’s an impressive build that would be relatively simple to reconstruct for yourself, but it’s probably not the worst thing we’ve seen done with high voltage and a few small capacitors.

Thanks to [Itay] for the tip!

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MagSafe Power Bank From Scrap

Just a few short years ago, it was possible to find scrapped lithium batteries for free, or at least for very cheap. What most people at the time didn’t realize is that a battery with multiple cells might go bad because only one cell is bad, leaving the others ready for salvaging. Now it’s not a secret anymore, but if you can manage to get your hands on some there’s a lot of options for use. [ijsf] took a step further with this hack, taking a few cells from a Panasonic battery and wrangling them into a MagSafe-capable power bank for a Mac.

The real hack wasn’t scavenging batteries, however, it was getting the MagSafe to signal the computer to use power from the battery bank to run the computer only, and not to use any of that energy for charging the computer’s internal batteries. This is achieved by disabling the center MagSafe pin, which is the computer’s communication line to the power adapter. After that, the battery bank could be programmed to behave properly (a feat in itself for lithium batteries) and the power bank was successfully put into operation.

Not only was this hack a great guide for how to repurpose cells from a “dead” battery, it’s also an unparalleled quick reference for any work that might need a MagSafe connector. Of course, if you’re going to work with these chargers, make sure that you’re using one that isn’t a cheap clone.