Power Generation Modules Mix and Match Wind, Water, and Hand Cranks

What’s great about the Power Generation Modules project headed by [Cole B] is the focus on usability and modularity. The project is a system for powering and charging small devices using any number and combination of generator modules: wind turbine, hand-crank, and water turbine so far. Power management and storage is handled by a separate unit that acts as a battery bank to store the output from up to six generators at once. There’s also a separate LED lamp module, designed to be capable of being powered directly from any of the generator modules if needed.

Testing the water turbine module

The hand crank is straightforward in concept, but key to usability was selecting a DC gearmotor with a gear ratio that made cranking by hand both comfortable and sustainable; too weak of a crank and it’s awkward, too hard and it’s tiring. The wind turbine has three compact vanes that turn a central shaft, but testing showed the brushless motor it uses as a generator isn’t a good match for the design; the wind turbine won’t turn well in regular wind conditions. The water turbine prototype showed great success; it consists of an epoxy-glazed, 5 inch diameter 3D printed propeller housed in a section of PVC pipe. The propeller drives a brushless motor which [Cole B] says easily outputs between eight to ten volts when testing in a small stream.

The team has plans for other generators such as solar, but this is a great start to an array of modules that can be used to power and charge small devices while off the grid. We’re happy to see them as a finalist for The Hackaday Prize; they were selected as one of the twenty projects to receive $1000 cash each in the Power Harvesting Challenge. The Human-Computer Interface Challenge is currently underway which seeks innovative ideas about how humans and computers can interface with one another, and twenty of those finalists will also receive $1000 each and be in the running for the Grand Prize of $50,000.

Lily Power Pods Make the Seebeck Effect Look Good

Small proof of concept generating just under one volt in cloudy conditions.

The Seebeck effect (part of the broader thermoelectric effect) is how a difference in temperature can be directly converted into a voltage, and it is the operating principle behind things like thermocouples and Peltier junctions. Harnessing this effect in an effort to wrangle a useful electrical current out of the environment has led to some interesting ideas, like the Lily Power Pods by [Josh Starnes].

What’s interesting about this particular design is that the artistic angle crosses over with functionality. Electrically speaking, the pods have one side of the thermoelectric generator heated by the sun while the other is cooled by being submerged in water, and the temperature differential creates a measurable voltage. [Josh] designed the pods to resemble flowers, with foil petals that help direct sunlight towards the blackened “hot side” of the thermoelectric generator while water takes care of the cool side.

Are foil petals the best way to gather and direct sunlight? They are not, but the idea is to have the pods look like something other than the floating hunks of machinery that they are. Since the pods must float in water and be exposed to sunlight, they will as a result have high visibility. [Josh] seems to feel that it’s important that they not be an eyesore. After all, a less efficient generator that doesn’t overstay its welcome still generates more power than one that has figuratively been handed its hat and told to move along.

PTPM Energy Scavenger Aims for Maintenance-Free Sensor Nodes

[Mile]’s PTPM Energy Scavenger takes the scavenging idea seriously and is designed to gather not only solar power but also energy from temperature differentials, vibrations, and magnetic induction. The idea is to make wireless sensor nodes that can be self-powered and require minimal maintenance. There’s more to the idea than simply doing away with batteries; if the devices are rugged and don’t need maintenance, they can be installed in locations that would otherwise be impractical or awkward. [Mile] says that goal is to reduce the most costly part of any supply chain: human labor.

The prototype is working well with solar energy and supercapacitors for energy storage, but [Mile] sees potential in harvesting other sources, such as piezoelectric energy by mounting the units to active machinery. With a selectable output voltage, optional battery for longer-term storage, and a reference design complete with enclosure, the PPTM Energy Scavenger aims to provide a robust power solution for wireless sensor platforms.

Flat Pack Generators

We just wrapped up the Power Harvesting challenge in the Hackaday Prize, and with that comes some solutions to getting power in some very remote places. [Vijay]’s project is one of the best, because his project is getting power in Antarctica. This is a difficult environment: you don’t have the sun for a significant part of the year, it’s cold, and you need to actually get your equipment down to the continent. [Vijay]’s solution was to use one of Antarctica’s greatest resources — wind — in an ingenious flat pack wind turbine.

There are a few problems to harvesting wind power in a barren environment. The first idea was to take a standard, off-the-shelf motor and attach some blades, but [Vijay] found there was too much detent torque, and the motor would be too big anyway.

The solution to this problem was to wind his own motor that didn’t have the problems of off-the-shelf brushless motors. The design that [Vijay] settled on is a dual axial flux generator, or a motor with a fixed stator with magnets and two rotors loaded up with copper windings. Think of it as a flattened, inverted version of the motor on your drone.

One interesting aspect of this design is that it takes up significantly less space than a traditional motor, while still being able to output about 100 Watts with the wind blowing. Add in some gearing to get the speed of the rotor right, and you have a simple wind generator that can be set up in minutes and carried anywhere. It’s a great project, and we’re glad to see this make it into the finals of The Hackaday Prize.

Out Of Batteries For Your Torch? Just Use A Mini Nitro Engine

We can certainly relate to an incomplete project sowing the seed for a better one, and that’s just what happened in [JohnnyQ90]’s latest video. He initially set out to create an air compressor powered by a nitro engine, and partially succeeded – air was compressed, but not nearly enough to be useful.

Instead, he changed tack and decided to use the 1 cc engine to make a small electric generator. [JohnnyQ90] is, of course, no stranger to the nitro engine, having previously brought us the micro chainsaw conversion, and nitro powered rotary tool. This time round, the build is a conceptually simple task: connect an engine to a DC motor and you’re done. But physically implementing it in an elegant way is a different story, and this is always where [JohnnyQ90] shines; we never get tired of watching him produce precision parts on the lathe. A fuel tank is made from a modified Zippo can and, courtesy of a CNC milled fan and 3D printed shroud, the motor air cools itself.

Towards the end of the video, [JohnnyQ90] plays with the throttle a little, causing the bulb connected to the generator to brighten accordingly. It might be fun to control the throttle with a servo and try to regulate the voltage on the output under different load conditions.

We love novel ways of creating electricity; previously we’ve written about how to generate power from a coke can, as well as this 120 W thermoelectric generator (TEG) setup.

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Lightning Generator from Electric Lighter

Generating high voltages isn’t too hard. A decent transformer will easily get you into the 100s of kilovolts, provided you’re a power company and have access to millions of dollars and a substation to put it. If you want to go above that then things start getting difficult, and most tend to look in other places for high voltages such as voltage multipliers.

These devices use nothing but capacitors and diodes, as [Jay] from [Plasma Channel] shows us how to build a small desktop version of a voltage multiplier that can produce almost 70 kV. That’s enough to throw a substantial spark, powered by nothing but a rechargable battery found in an electric lighter. They can also be cheaper than transformers to a point, since they require less insulation and less copper and iron. The voltage multiplier works in stages, with each stage boosting the voltage to a critical level above the stage before it similar to a Marx generator.

Similar designs are used by laboratories to simulate lightning strikes, and can generate millions of volts. They’re a cost-effective way of generating huge voltage pulses and studying everything from the effects of lightning on various equipment to generating X-rays in fusion power tests. We’ve even seen them in use in lasers.

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Supercapacitors In A Servo: The “Forever” Flashlight

The principle is well understood: use a motor in reverse and you get a generator. Using this bit of knowledge back in 2001 is what kick-started [Ted Yapo]’s Hackaday Prize entry. At the time, [Ted] was searching for a small flashlight for astronomy, but didn’t like dealing with dead batteries. He quickly cobbled together a makeshift solution out of some supercapacitors and a servo-as-a-generator, hacked for continuous rotation.

A testament to the supercapacitors, 17 years later it’s still going strong – leading [Ted] to document the project and also improve it. The original circuit was as simple as a servo, protection diode, some supercapacitors, and a LED with accompanying resistor; but now greater things are afoot.

A DC-DC boost converter enables constant power through the LED, regardless of the capacitor voltage. This is achieved by connecting the feedback pin of an MCP1624 switcher to an INA199 current-shunt monitor. The MCP1624 kicks in at 0.65V and stays active down to 0.35V. This is all possible due to the supercapacitors, which happily keep increasing current as voltage drops – all the way to 0.35V. Batteries are less ideal in this situation, as their internal resistance increases as voltage drops, as well as increasing with age.

When testing the new design, [Ted] found that the gears on his servos kept stripping when he was using them to charge capacitors. Though at first he attributed it to the fact that the gears were plastic, he realized that his original prototype from 2001 had been plastic as well. Eventually, he discovered the cause: modern supercapacitors are too good! The ones he’d been using in 2001 were significantly less advanced and had a much higher ESR, limiting the charging current. The only solution is to use metal gear servos

Want to read more about boost converter design? We have the pros and cons of microcontrollers for boost converters, or this neat Nixie driver for USB power.