Better Battery Management Through Chemistry

The lead-acid rechargeable battery is a not-quite-modern marvel. Super reliable and easy to use, charging it is just a matter of applying a fixed voltage to it and waiting a while; eventually the battery is charged and stays topped off, and that’s it. Their ease is countered by their size, weight, energy density, and toxic materials.

The lithium battery is the new hotness, but their high energy density means a pretty small package that can get very angry and dangerous when mishandled. Academics have been searching for safer batteries, better charge management systems, and longer lasting battery formulations that can be recharged thousands of times, and a recent publication is generating a lot of excitement about it.

Consider the requirements for a battery cell in an electric car:

  • High energy density (Lots of power stored in a small size)
  • Quick charge ability
  • High discharge ability
  • MANY recharge cycles
  • Low self-discharge
  • Safe

Lithium ion batteries are the best option we have right now, but there are a variety of Li-ion chemistries, and depending on the expected use and balancing and charging, different chemistries can be optimized for different performance characteristics. There’s no perfect battery yet, and conflicting requirements mean that the battery market will likely always have some options.

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Teardown: Catel CTP300 Restaurant Pager

I have a problem. If I go to a swap meet , or even a particularly well stocked yard sale, I feel compelled to buy something. Especially if that something happens to be an oddball piece of electronics. While on the whole I’m a man of few vices, I simply can’t walk away from a good deal; doubly so if it has a bunch of buttons, LEDs, and antennas on it.

Table for one, by the window.

Which is exactly how I came into the possession of a Catel CPT300 restaurant paging system for just $20 a few months ago. I do not, as you may have guessed, operate a restaurant. In fact, as many of my meals take the form of military rations eaten in front of my computer, I’m about as far away from a restaurateur as is humanly possible. But I was so enamored with the rows of little plastic pagers neatly lined up in their combination charging dock and base station that I had to have it.

The man selling it swore the system worked perfectly. Even more so after he plugged it in and it didn’t do anything. But appearances can be deceiving, and his assurance that all the pagers needed was a good charge before they’d burst back to life seemed reasonable enough to me. Of course, it hardly mattered. The regular Hackaday reader at this point knows the fate of the CPT300 was to be the same whether or not it worked.

Incidentally, those cute little pagers would not burst back to life with a good charge. They may well have burst into something, but we’ll get to that in a moment. For now, let’s take a look at a gadget that most of us have used at one time or another, but few have had the opportunity to dissect.

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Replacement Batteries For The Sony Discman

Some of the first Sony Discmans included rechargeable batteries. These batteries were nickel metal hydride batteries (because of the technology of the time) and are now well past their service life. The new hotness in battery technology is lithium — it offers greater power density, lighter weight, and a multitude of ready-to-go, off the shelf cells. What if someone were to create a new battery pack for an old Sony Discman using lithium cells? That’s exactly what [sjm4306] did for their entry into this year’s Hackaday Prize.

The Discman [sjm] is working with uses a custom, Sony-branded battery based on NiMH technology with a capacity of around 500 mAH. After carefully measuring the dimensions of this battery, it was replicated in plastic with a 3D printer. This enclosure was then stuffed with a small lithium cell scavenged from a USB power bank.

The only tripping points for this build were the battery contacts. The originally battery had two contacts on the end that fit the Discman exactly; these were replicated with a small PCB wired up to the guts of the USB powerbank. The end result is a direct, drop-in replacement for the original Discman battery with a higher capacity, that’s also rechargeable via USB. It’s a fantastic project, with the entire build video available below.

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