A vanadium based flow battery made with 3D printed parts

A Vanadium Redox Flow Battery You Can Build

Vanadium flow batteries are an interesting project, with the materials easily obtainable by the DIY hacker. To that effect [Cayrex2] over on YouTube presents their take on a small, self-contained flow battery created with off the shelf parts and a few 3D prints. The video (embedded below) is part 5 of the series, detailing the final construction, charging and discharging processes. The first four parts of the series are part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

The concept of a flow battery is this: rather than storing energy as a chemical change on the electrodes of a cell or in some localised chemical change in an electrolyte layer, flow batteries store energy due to the chemical changediagram of a vanadium flow battery of a pair of electrolytes. These are held externally to the cell and connected with a pair of pumps. The capacity of a flow battery depends not upon the electrodes but instead the volume and concentration of the electrolyte, which means, for stationary installations, to increase storage, you need a bigger pair of tanks. There are even 4 MWh containerised flow batteries installed in various locations where the storage of renewable-derived energy needs a buffer to smooth out the power flow. The neat thing about vanadium flow batteries is centred around the versatility of vanadium itself. It can exist in four stable oxidation states so that a flow battery can utilise it for both sides of the reaction cell.

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Learning About Capacitors By Rolling Your Own Electrolytics

Ever wonder what’s inside an electrolytic capacitor? Many of us don’t, having had at least a partial glimpse inside after failure of the cap due to old age or crossed polarity. The rest of us will have to rely on this behind-the-scenes demo to find out what’s inside those little aluminum cans.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s more aluminum, at least for the electrolytics [Denki Otaku] rolled himself at the Nippon Chemi-Con R&D labs. Interestingly, both the anode and cathode start as identical strips of aluminum foil preprocessed with proprietary solutions to remove any oils and existing oxide layers. The strips then undergo electrolytic acid etching to create pits to greatly increase their surface area. The anode strips then get anodized in a solution of ammonium adipate, an organic acid that creates a thin aluminum oxide layer on the strip. It’s this oxide layer that actually acts as the dielectric in electrolytic capacitors, not the paper separator between the anode and cathode strips.

Winding the foils together with the paper separator is pretty straightforward, but there are some neat tricks even at the non-production level demonstrated here. Attachment of lead wires to the foil is through a punch and crimp operation, and winding the paper-foil sandwich is actually quite fussy, at least when done manually. No details are given on the composition of the electrolyte other than it contains a solvent and an organic acid. [Denki] took this as an invitation to bring along his own electrolyte: a bottle of Coke. The little jelly rolls get impregnated with electrolyte under vacuum, put into aluminum cans, crimped closed, and covered with a heat-shrink sleeve. Under test, [Denki]’s hand-rolled caps performed very well. Even the Coke-filled caps more or less hit the spec on capacitance; sadly, their ESR was way out of whack compared to the conventional electrolyte.

There are plenty more details in the video below, although you’ll have to pardon the AI voiceover as it tries to decide how to say words like “anode” and “dielectric”; it’s a small price to pay for such an interesting video. It’s a much-appreciated look at an area of the industry that few of us get to see in detail.

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The Voltaic Pile: Building The First Battery

In the technologically-underpinned modern world, most of us interact with a battery of some sort every day. Whether that’s the starter battery in a car, the lithium battery in a phone, or even just the coin cell battery in a wrist watch, batteries underpin a lot of what makes society possible now. Not so in the early 1800s when chemists and physicists were first building and experimenting with batteries. And those batteries were enormous, non-rechargable, and fairly fragile to boot. Not something suited for powering much of anything, but if you want to explore what it would have been like to use one of these devices, follow along with [Christopher]’s build of a voltaic pile. Continue reading “The Voltaic Pile: Building The First Battery”

Wire ECM built from an Ender 3

Simple Mods Turn 3D Printer Into Electrochemical Metal Cutter

We’re not aware of any authoritative metrics on such things, but it’s safe to say that the Ender 3 is among the most hackable commercial 3D printers. There’s just something about the machine that lends itself to hacks, most of which are obviously aimed at making it better at 3D printing. Some, though, are aimed in a totally different direction.

As proof of that, check out this Ender 3 modified for electrochemical machining. ECM is a machining process that uses electrolysis to remove metal from a workpiece. It’s somewhat related to electric discharge machining, but isn’t anywhere near as energetic. [Cooper Zurad] has been exploring ECM with his Ender, which he lightly modified by replacing the extruder with a hypodermic needle electrode. The electrode is connected to a small pump that circulates electrolyte from a bath on the build platform, while a power supply connects to the needle and the workpiece. As the tool traces over the workpiece, material is electrolytically removed.

The video below is a refinement of the basic ECM process, which [Cooper] dubs “wire ECM.” The tool is modified so that electrolyte flows down the outside of the needle, which allows it to enter the workpiece from the edge. Initial results are encouraging; the machine was able to cut through 6 mm thick stainless steel neatly and quickly. There does appear to be a bit of “flare” to the cut near the bottom of thicker stock, which we’d imagine might be mitigated with a faster electrolyte flow rate.

If you want to build your own Ender ECM, [Cooper] has graciously made the plans available for download, which is great since we’d love to see wire ECM take off. We’ve covered ECM before, but more for simpler etching jobs. Being able to silently and cleanly cut steel on the desktop would be a game-changer.

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Battery Of The Future, Now Buildable Yourself

In theory, batteries and capacitors are fairly simple. One stores energy chemically and the other stores energy in an electric field. In practice though, building an energy storage device that has a practical amount of energy density is delicate, complex work. But if you have access to a few chemical compounds it’s actually not too difficult to produce useful batteries and electrolytic capacitors with the use of ionic liquids.

Ionic liquids are conductive liquids with a few other important qualities. Almost all of the ones shown can be built with relatively common compounds, and most of the products have advantageous physical qualities, making them stable and relatively safe for use. With some equipment found in a chemistry lab it’s possible to produce a wide variety of these liquids without too much hassle (although one method outlined uses an inert gas chamber), and from there batteries and capacitors can be built by allowing the ionic liquids to be absorbed into the device.

The video below shows the production of several of these devices and then illustrates their effects by running a small LED light. While they’re probably not going to be used to create DIY electric cars anytime soon, the production and improvement of atypical energy storage devices will be the key to a large part of the energy needs of society now and into the future, especially aluminum batteries like these.

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Machining Without Machines

It’s a luxury to be able to access a modern machine shop, complete with its array of lathes, mills, and presses. These tools are expensive though, and take up a lot of space, so if you want to be able to machine hard or thick metals without an incredible amount of overhead you’ll need a different solution. Luckily you can bypass the machines in some situations and use electricity to do the machining directly.

This project makes use of a process known as electrochemical machining and works on the principle that electricity passed through an electrolyte solution will erode the metal that it comes in contact with. With a well-designed setup, this can be used to precisely machine metal in various ways. For [bob]’s use this was pretty straightforward, since he needed to enlarge an existing hole in a piece of plate steel, so he forced electrolyte through this hole while applying around half an amp of current in order to make this precise “cut” in the metal, avoiding the use of an expensive drill press.

There are some downsides to the use of this process as [bob] notes in his build, namely that any piece of the working material that comes in contact with the electrolyte will be eroded to some extent. This can be mitigated with good design but can easily become impractical. It’s still a good way to avoid the expense of some expensive machining equipment, though, and similar processes can be used for other types of machine work as well.

Top Off A Dry Electrolytic

Making a capacitor is pretty easy. Just get two conductors close together. The bigger area you can get and the closer you can get them, the bigger the capacitor you can make. [BigClive] found some fake capacitors that were supposed to be very high value, but weren’t. Taking them apart revealed the capacitors didn’t have the electrolyte inside that gives these units both their name and their high values. What did he do? Mixed up some electrolyte and filled them back up to see what would happen. You can see the video below.

Electrolytic capacitors have a secret weapon to get the two electrodes as close as possible to each other. The electrolyte forms a very thin insulating layer on one electrode and the capacitance is between the conductive fluid and that electrode — not between the two electrodes. This allows for a very narrow gap between the conductors and explains why a small electrolytic can have a much greater capacitance than most other technologies in similar form factors.

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