Homebrew Battery Discharger

Rechargable batteries are great – they save money and hassle when using portable devices. It’s pretty common to want to recharge a battery, but less common to intentionally discharge one. Regardless, [Pawel Spychalski] is working on a device to do just that – in a controlled fashion, of course.

[Pawel] himself notes that the device isn’t something the average person would necessarily need, but it does have its applications. There are times when working with various battery chemistries that it is desired to have them held at a certain state of charge. Also, such devices can be used to measure the capacity of batteries by timing how long they take to discharge when placed under a given load.

The build is one that takes advantage of the available parts of the modern hacker’s junkbox. An Arduino is used with an N-channel MOSFET to switch a resistive load. That load consists of load resistors designed for automotive use, to allow cars originally designed for filament bulbs to use LED indicator lights without the flash frequency speeding up. The resistors are 10 ohms and rated at 50 W, so they’re just about right for ganging up to discharge small LiPo batteries in a short period of time.

[Pawel] has tested the basic concept, and has things working. Next on the agenda is to find a way to get rid of the excess heat, as the current design has the resistors reaching temperatures of 158 °F (70 °C) in just a few minutes. Use some of that power to drive a fan?

Perhaps you’re working with lead acid batteries, though – in which chase, you might want to consider blasting away the sulphates?

Perf Board Pyrotechnics Courtesy Of A High-Voltage Supply

You may have asked yourself at one time or another, “Self, what happens when you pass 100 thousand volts through a printed circuit board?” It’s a good question, and [styropyro] put together this fascinating bit of destructive testing to find out.

Luckily, [styropyro] is well-positioned to explore the high-voltage realm. His YouTube stock-in-trade is lasers, ranging from a ridiculously overpowered diode-laser bazooka to a bottle-busting ruby laser. The latter requires high voltage, of course, and his Frankenstein’s lab yielded the necessary components for this destructive diversion. A chopper drives dual automotive ignition coils to step the voltage up to a respectable 100 kV. The arcs across an air gap are impressive enough, but when applied to a big piece of copper-clad protoboard, the light show is amazing. The arcs take a seemingly different path across the board for each discharge, lighting up the path with an eerie blue glow accompanied by a menacing buzz. Each discharge path may be random, but they all are composed of long stretches across the rows and columns of copper pads that never take the more direct diagonal path. [styropyro]’s explanation of the math governing this behavior is feasible, but really we just liked looking at the pretty and dangerous display. Now if only the board had been populated with components…

No, there’s not much of a hack here, but it’s cool nonetheless. And it’s probably a well-earned distraction from his more serious stuff, like his recent thorough debunking of the “Chinese laser rifle” that was all over the news a while back.

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What Does ESD Do To My Circuit And How Can I Protect Against It?

[Kevin Darrah] is risking the nerves on his index finger to learn about ESD protection. Armed with a white pair of socks, a microfiber couch, and a nylon carpet, like a wizard from a book he summons electricity from his very hands (after a shuffle around the house). His energy focused on a sacrificial 2N7000 small signal MOSFET.

So what happens to a circuit when you shock it? Does it instantly die in a dramatic movie fashion: smoke billowing towards the roof, sirens in the distance? [Kevin] set up a simple circuit to show the truth. It’s got a button, a MOSFET, an LED, and some vitamins. When you press the button the light turns off.

He shuffles a bit, and with a mini thunderclap, electrocutes the MOSFET. After the discharge the MOSFET doesn’t turn the light off all the way. A shocking development.

So how does one protect against these dark energies out to destroy a circuit. Energies that can seemingly be summoned by anyone with a Walmart gift card? How does someone clamp down on this evil?

[Kevin] shows us how two diodes and a resistor can be used to shunt the high voltage from the electrostatic discharge away from the sensitive components. He also experimentally verifies and elucidates on the purpose of each. The resistor does nothing by itself, it’s there to protect the diodes. The diodes are there to protect the MOSFET.

In the end he had a circuit that could withstand the most vigorous shuffling, cotton socks against nylon carpeting, across his floor. It could withstand the mighty electric charge that only a grown man jumping on his couch can summon. Powerful magics indeed. Video after the break.

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“Who Is John Galt?” Finally Answered

For those who haven’t read [Ayn Rand’s] philosophical tome Atlas Shrugged, there’s a pretty cool piece of engineering stuffed in between the 100-page-long monologues. Although fictional, a character manages to harness atmospheric static electricity and convert it into kinetic energy and (spoilers!) revolutionize the world. Harnessing atmospheric static electricity isn’t just something for fanciful works of fiction, though. It’s a real-world phenomenon and it’s actually possible to build this motor.

who-is-john-galt-thumbAs [Richard Feynman] showed, there is an exploitable electrical potential gradient in the atmosphere. By suspending a tall wire in the air, it is possible to obtain voltages in the tens of thousands of volts. In this particular demonstration, a hexacopter is used to suspend a wire with a set of needles on the end. The needles help facilitate the flow of electrons into the atmosphere, driving a current that spins the corona motor at the bottom of the wire.

There’s not much torque or power generated, but the proof of concept is very interesting to see. Of course, the higher you can go the more voltage is available to you, so maybe future devices such as this could exploit atmospheric electricity to go beyond a demonstration and do useful work. We’ve actually featured the motor that was used in this demonstration before, though, so if you’re curious as to how a corona motor works you should head over there.

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A Description Of Maddening Battery Terminology

Once again, [Afroman] is here for you, this time breaking down electrolyte and the terminology behind batteries.

Volts and Amps are easy mode, but what about Amp hours? They’re not coulombs per second hours, because that wouldn’t make any sense. An Amp hour is a completely different unit podcast, where a 1Ah battery can supply one amp for one hour, or two amps for 30 minutes, or 500 mA for two hours.

Okay, what if you take two batteries and put them in series? That would double the voltage, but have the same Ah rating as a single cell. Does this mean there is the same amount of energy in two batteries as what is found in a single cell? No, so we need a new unit: the Watt hour. That’s Volts times Amp hours, or more incorrectly, one joule per second hour.

Now it’s a question of the number of cells in a battery. What’s the terminology for the number of cells? S. If there are three cells in a battery, that battery has a 3S rating. You would think that C would be the best letter of the alphabet to use for this metric, but C is entirely different. Nothing here makes any sense at all.

What is C? That’s related to the number of amps a battery can discharge safely. If a 20C battery can discharge 2200mAh, it can deliver a maximum current of 44 A, with 20C times 2.2Ah being 44A.

So there you go. A complete description of something you can’t use logic and inference to reason through. Video below.

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Fubarino Contest: Battery Capacity Tester

fubarino-contest-battery-capacity-tester

Here’s a project that we sadly let slip through the cracks a couple of years ago. Luckily [Brian] dusted it off and added an Easter Egg to the firmware in order to include it in the Fubarino Contest. The device is a rechargeable battery capacity tester. It discharges NiMH or NiCad batteries through a load resistor at about 1 Watt. [Brian] includes a discussion in his write-up about the hardware’s inability to work with 14500 Li-Ion cells. He includes enough info for you to figure out how to make changes to the circuit if you want to enable this option.

There is a MOSFET for switching each of the three battery positions. The ATmega168 takes readings from the cells once per second. It displays status information on a Nokia 5510 cellphone screen. This is where he chose to inject the Hackaday URL. When a cell’s discharge is complete, the image above scrolls onto the screen and remains there for a short time. See for yourself after the break.

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LiPo Battery Tester For Solar Vehicle Battery Array

If you’re building solar vehicles at a competitive level you’ve got to know exactly how the storage batteries will perform. To that end [Matthew] built a Lithium Polymer battery tester for use by the McMaster University Solar Car Project. It worked well, but could only test one battery at a time. He just finished up a second version, which can test battery specifications on up to eight units at once. It saves a lot of time, but still takes fifteen hours to test just one set of the units used by the vehicle.

The most important aspect being measured is the discharge curve. Sure, there’s a datasheet that includes this information, but how can be sure that what you received will perform at spec? Each of the eight channels can be disconnected from the system using a relay. This is just one of the safety features which watch for things like over-voltage and over-current conditions. Remember, Lithium batteries can heat up fast if there’s a problem. Data is sampled on a 12-bit ADC and can be pushed to a computer via USB for graphing.