Comparing Making To Buying A Lithium Ion Battery Pack

At Hackaday we’re all about DIY. However, projects can have many components, and so there’s sometimes a choice between making something or buying it. In this case, [GreatScott!] wondered if it would be cheaper to make or buy a lithium-ion battery pack for his new eBike kit. To find out, he decided to make one.

After some calculations, he found he’d need thirteen 18650 cells in series but decided to double the capacity by connecting another thirteen in parallel. That gave him a 5 Ah capacity battery pack with a nominal voltage of 48.1 V and one capable of supplying a constant current of 40 A. Rather than connect them by soldering the nickel strips, he purchased a kWeld battery spot welder, adding to the cost of the build. He charged his new battery pack using his bench power supply but being concerned about uneven charging of the cells over the battery pack’s lifetime, he added a Battery Management System (BMS). The resulting battery pack powers his eBike motor just fine.

After adding up all the costs, he found it was only a tiny bit cheaper than prices for comparable battery packs on eBay, which were €24.4 per Ah (US$29.5 per Ah). The only way it would be cheaper is if he made multiple packs, spreading out the one-time cost of the battery spot welder. So that means it’s really up to your preference. See his video below to judge for yourself if you’d rather do it the DIY way. And then let us know what you’d do in the comments below.

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Assemble Your Own Modular Li-Ion Batteries

Low-voltage DC power electronics are an exciting field right now. Easy access to 18650 battery cells and an abundance of used Li-Ion cells from laptops, phones, etc. has opened the door for hackers building their own battery packs from these cheap cells. A big issue has been the actual construction of a pack that can handle your individual power needs. If you’re just assembling a pack to drive a small LED, you can probably get by with spring contacts. When you need to power an e-bike or other high power application, you need a different solution. A spot welder that costs $1000 is probably the best tool, but out of most hackers’ budget. A better solution is needed.

Vruzend v2 Battery Caps.

Enter [Micah Toll] and his Vruzend battery connectors, whose Kickstarter campaign has exceded its goal several times over. These connectors snap onto the ends of standard 18650 cells, and slot together to form a custom-sized battery pack. Threaded rods extend from each plastic cap to enable connection to a bus bar with just a single nut. The way that you connect each 18650 cell determines the battery pack’s voltage and current capability. There are a couple of versions of the connector available through the campaign, and the latest version 2.0 should allow some tremendously powerful battery pack designs. The key upgrade is that it now features corrosion-resistant, high-power nickel-plated copper busbars allowing current up to 20A continuous. A side benefit of these caps instead of welded tabs is that you can easily swap out battery cells if one fails or degrades over time. Continue reading “Assemble Your Own Modular Li-Ion Batteries”

Cross-Brand Adapter Makes for Blended Battery Family

Even though he’s a faithful DeWalt cordless tool guy, [Richard Day] admits to a wandering eye in the tool aisle, looking at the Ryobi offerings with impure thoughts. Could he stay true to his brand and stick with his huge stock of yellow tools and batteries, or would he succumb to temptation and add another set of batteries and chargers so he could have access to a few specialty lime green tools?

Luckily, we live in the future, so there’s a third way — building a cross-brand battery adapter that lets him power Ryobi tools with his DeWalt batteries. [Richard]’s solution is a pure hack, as in physically hacking battery packs and forcing them to work and play well together. Mechanically, this was pretty easy — a dead Ryobi pack from the recycling bin at Home Depot was stripped down for its case, which was glued to a Dewalt 20-v to 18-v battery adapter. The tricky part came from dealing with the battery control electronics. Luckily, the donor DeWalt line has that circuitry in the adapter, while Ryobi puts it in the battery. That meant simply transplanting the PCB from the adapter to the Ryobi battery shell would be enough. The video below shows the process and the results — Ryobi tools happily clicking away on DeWalt batteries.

While [Richard] took a somewhat brute-force approach here, we imagine 3D-printed parts might make for a more elegant solution and offer other brand permutations. After all, printing an adapter should be easier than whipping up a cordless battery pack de novo.

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Battery Management Module Hacked for Lithium-Iron Battery Bank

In a departure from his usual repair and tear down fare, [Kerry Wong] has set out on a long-term project — building a whole-house battery bank. From the first look at the project, this will be one to watch.

To be fair, [Kerry] gave us a tease at this project a few months back with his DIY spot welder for battery tabs. Since then, he appears to have made a few crucial design decisions, not least of which is battery chemistry. Most battery banks designed for an inverter with enough power to run household appliances rely on lead-acid batteries, although lithium-ion has certainly made some inroads. [Kerry] is looking to run a fairly small 1000-watt inverter, and his analysis led him to lithium-iron cells. The video below shows what happens when an eBay pack of 80 32650 LiFePo4 cells meets his spot welder. But then the problem becomes one of sourcing a battery management system that’s up to the charge and discharge specs of his 4s battery pack. We won’t spoil the surprise for you, but suffice it to say that [Kerry] really lucked out that only minimal modifications were needed for his $9 off-the-shelf BMS module.

We’re looking forward to seeing where this build goes, not least because we’d like to build something similar too. For a more traditional AGM-based battery bank, check out this nicely-engineered solar-charged system.

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Li-Ion Tech Staring Into the Abyss with Note 7 Failure

Unless you’ve been living under a high voltage transformer, you’ve heard about the potential for Samsung’s latest phone, the Note7, to turn into a little pocket grenade without warning. With over 2.5 million devices in existence, it’s creating quite a headache for the company and its consumers.

They quickly tied the problem to faulty Li-ion batteries and started replacing them, while issuing a firmware update to stop charging at 60 percent capacity. But after 5 of the replacement phones caught fire, Samsung killed the Note7 completely. There is now a Total Recall on all Note7 phones and they are no longer for sale.  If you have one, you are to turn it off immediately. And don’t even think about strapping it into a VR headset — Oculus no longer supports it. If needed, Samsung will even send you a fireproof box and safety gloves to return it.

note_01
Every airline has been broadcasting warnings not to power on or charge a Note 7 on a plane. Image Source: CNET

It should be noted that the problem only affects 0.01% of the phones out there, so they’re not exactly going to set the world on fire. However, it has generated yet another discussion about the safety of Li-ion battery technology.

It was just a few months ago we all heard about those hoverboards that would catch fire. Those questionably-engineered (and poorly-named) toys used Li-ion batteries as well, and they were the source of the fire problem. In the wake of this you would think all companies manufacturing products with Li-ion batteries in them would be extra careful. And Samsung is no upstart in the electronics industry — this should be a solved problem for them.

Why has this happened? What is the deal with Li-ion batteries? Join me after the break to answer these questions.

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Reverse Engineering A Nissan Leaf Battery Pack

Batteries wear out. If you are an electric vehicle enthusiast, it’s a certainty that at some time in your not-too-distant future there will be a point at which your vehicle’s batteries have reached the end of their lives and will need to be replaced. If you have bought a new electric vehicle the chances are that you will be signed up to a leasing deal with the manufacturer which will take care of this replacement, but if you have an older vehicle this is likely to be an expensive moment.

Fortunately there is a tempting solution. As an increasing number of electric vehicles from large manufacturers appear on our roads, a corresponding number of them have become available on the scrap market from accident damage. It is thus not impossible to secure a fairly new lithium-ion battery pack from a modern electric car, and for a significantly lower price than you would pay for new cells. As always though, there is a snag. Such packs are designed only for the cars they came with, and have proprietary connectors and protocols with which they communicate with their host vehicle. Fitting them to another car is thus not a task for the faint hearted.

Hackaday reader [Wolf] has an electric truck, a Solectria E10. It has a set of elderly lead-acid batteries and would benefit hugely from an upgrade to lithium-ion. He secured a battery pack from a 2013 Nissan Leaf electric car, and he set about reverse engineering its battery management system (BMS). The Solectria will use a different battery configuration from the Leaf, so while he would like to use the Leaf’s BMS, he has had to reverse engineer its protocols so that he can replace its Nissan microcontroller with one of his own.

His description of the reverse engineering process is lengthy and detailed, and with its many photos and videos is well worth a read. He employs some clever techniques, such as making his own hardware simulation of a Li-ion cell so that he can supply the BMS known values that he can then sniff from the serial data stream.

We’ve covered quite a few EV batteries here at Hackaday. Quite recently we even covered another truck conversion using Leaf batteries, and last year we featured a Leaf battery teardown. We’ve not restricted ourselves to Nissan though, for example here’s a similar process with a Tesla Model S pack.

Safely Creating A Li-Ion Pack From Phone Cells

[Glen], at Maker Space Newcastle Upon Tyne, is refreshingly honest. As he puts it, he’s too cheap to buy a proper battery.

He needed a 1AH battery pack to power his quadcopter controller and FPV headset, and since inadequate discharge warnings had led him to damage lithium polymer cells with these devices, he wanted his pack to use lithium-ion cells. His requirements were that the cells be as cheap, lightweight, and small as possible, so to satisfy them he turned to a stack of mobile phone cells. Nokia BL-4U cells could be had for under a pound ($1.46) including delivery, so they certainly satisfied his requirement for cheapness.

It might seem a simple procedure, to put together a battery pack, and in terms of physical wiring it certainly is. But lithium-ion cells are not simply connected together in the way dry cells are, to avoid a significant fire risk they need to have the voltage of each individual cell monitored with a special balanced charger. Thus each cell junction needs to be brought out to another connector to the charger.

[Glen]’s write-up takes the reader through all the requirements of safe lithium-ion pack construction and charging, and is a useful read for any lithium-ion newbies. If nothing else it serves as a useful reminder that mobile phone cells can be surprisingly cheap.

Lithium cells have captured our attention before here at Hackaday. Our recent Hackaday Dictionary piece provides a comprehensive primer, we’ve featured another multi-cell build, and an interesting app note from Maxim for a battery manager chip.