Disposable Vape Batteries Turned USB Power Bank

It’s another one of those fun quirks about our increasingly cyberpunk world — instead of cigarette butts littering our streets, you’re more likely to find disposable vaporizers that have run out of juice. Unfortunately, while the relatively harmless paper remnants of a cig would eventually just fall apart when exposed to the elements, these futuristic caltrops are not only potentially explosive thanks to their internal lithium-ion battery but aren’t going anywhere without some human intervention.

So do the environment and your parts bin a favor: pick them up and salvage their internal cells. As [N-Ender_3] shows with this build, it’s cheap and easy to turn the remnants of a few vapes into a useful USB power bank. In this case, the enclosure is 3D printed, which makes it particularly form-fitting, but you could just as easily pack the cells into something else if you’re not a fan of extruded plastic.

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This Open Hardware Li-Ion Charger Skips The TP4056

There’s a good chance that if you build something which includes the ability to top up a lithium-ion battery, it’s going to involve the incredibly common TP4056 charger IC. Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. It’s a decent enough chip, and there are countless pre-made modules out there that make it extremely easy to implement. But if the chip shortage has taught us anything, it’s that alternatives are always good.

So we’d suggest bookmarking this opensource hardware Li-Ion battery charger design from [Shahar Sery]. The circuit uses the BQ24060 from Texas Instruments, which other than the support for LiFePO4 batteries, doesn’t seem to offer anything too new or exciting compared to the standard TP4056. But that’s not the point — this design is simply offered as a potential alternative to the TP4056, not necessarily an upgrade.

[Shahar] has implemented the design as a 33 mm X 10 mm two-layer PCB, with everything but the input and output connectors mounted to the topside. That would make this board ideal for attaching to your latest project with a dab of hot glue or double-sided tape, as there are no components on the bottom to get pulled off when you inevitably have to do some rework.

The board takes 5 VDC as the input, and charges a single 3.7 V cell (such as an 18650) at up to 1 Amp. Or at least, it can if you add a heatsink or fan — otherwise, the notes seem to indicate that ~0.7 A is about as high as you can go before tripping the thermal protection mode.

Like the boilerplate TP4056 we covered recently, this might seem like little more than a physical manifestation of the typical application circuit from the chip’s datasheet. But we still think there’s value in showing how the information from the datasheet translates into the real-world, especially when it’s released under an open license like this.

PSU charging an externally connected supercapacitor bank that's powering the phone. There's a current clamp on one of the wires to measure charging current, and a multimeter measuring the charging voltage.

Just How Fast Could You Charge An IPhone?

An iPhone 8, now a relatively cheap model, can charge its battery fully in two hours’ time. There’s hardly ever a need for faster charging, but it’s fair to ask – how much faster could it really go? [Scotty Allen] from [Strange Parts], back after a hiatus, is back to stretching the limits of what a regular iPhone can do, and decides to start off with an exploration of battery technologies.

What people commonly encounter is that charging speed depends on the charger involved, but even one hundred chargers in parallel won’t speed up this iPhone’s charging rate, so what’s up? First off, the phone’s charger chip and the battery’s BMS will both limit charging current, so for experiment purposes, those had to be bypassed. First attempt was using a hefty DC power supply with the original cell, and, unsatisfied with the lack of fire and still relatively slow charging, [Scotty] decides to up the ante.
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A flat LiIon battery shown attached inside the gun safe, wired to the original control board

Gun Safe Made Safer With Lithium Battery Upgrade

A proper gun safe should be difficult to open, but critically, allow instant access by the authorized party.[Dr. Gerg] got a SnapSafe and discovered that, while it was quite easy to use, it would also lock the owner out easily whenever the batteries would run out. Meant to be used with four AAA batteries and no way to recharge them externally, this could leave you royally screwed in the exact kind of situation where you need the gun safe to open. This, of course, meant that the AAA batteries had to go.

Having torn a few laptop batteries apart previously, [Dr. Gerg] had a small collection of Li-ion cells on hand – cylindrical and pouch cells alike. Swapping the AAA battery holder for one of these was no problem voltage-wise, and testing showed it working without a hitch! However, replacing one non-chargeable battery with another one wasn’t a viable way forward, so he also added charging using an Adafruit LiPo charger board. One 3D printed OpenSCAD-designed bracket later, he fit the board inside the safe’s frame – and then pulled out a USB cable for charging, turning the battery into a backup option and essentially creating an UPS for this safe. Nowadays, the safe sits constantly plugged into a wall socket, and [Dr. Gerg] estimates it should last for a few weeks even in case of USB power loss.

When you read about hacking gun safes, it’s usually because of their poor security, with even biometric models occasionally falling victim to prying fingers. There’s talk about moving the locking features into the guns themselves, but we remain skeptical. “Powering an electronically locked box with internal batteries” is a fun problem, and just recently, we’ve seen it solved in a different way in this intricate voice-activated lockbox.

Screenshot from the video in question, showing 12:54 of the video, demonstrating how the electrons are being exchanged when circuit is completed

Li-ion Battery Low-Level Intricacies Explained Excellently

There’s a lot of magic in Lithium-ion batteries that we typically take for granted and don’t dig deeper into. Why is the typical full charge voltage 4.2 V and not the more convenient 5 V, why is CC/CV charging needed, and what’s up with all the fires? [The Limiting Factor] released a video that explains the low-level workings of Lithium-ion batteries in a very accessible way – specifically going into ion and electron ion exchange happening between the anode and the cathode, during both the charge and the discharge cycle. The video’s great illustrative power comes from an impressively sized investment of animation, script-writing and narration work – [The Limiting Factor] describes the effort as “16 months of animation design”, and this is no typical “whiteboard sketch” explainer video.

This is 16 minutes of pay-full-attention learning material that will have you glued to your screen, and the only reason it doesn’t explain every single thing about Lithium-ion batteries is because it’s that extensive of a topic, it would require a video series when done in a professional format like this. Instead, this is an excellent intro to help you build a core of solid understanding when it comes to Li-ion battery internals, elaborating on everything that’s relevant to the level being explored – be it the SEI layer and the organic additives, or the nitty-gritty of the ion and electron exchange specifics. We can’t help but hope that more videos like this one are coming soon (or as soon as they realistically can), expanding our understanding of all the other levels of a Li-ion battery cell.

Last video from [The Limiting Factor] was an 1-hour banger breaking down all the decisions made in a Tesla Battery Day presentation in similarly impressive level of detail, and we appreciate them making a general-purpose insight video – lately, it’s become clear we need to go more in-depth on such topics. This year, we’ve covered a great comparison between supercapacitors and batteries and suitable applications for each one of those, as well as explained the automakers’ reluctance to make their own battery cells. In 2020, we did a breakdown of alternate battery chemistries that aim to replace Li-ion in some of its important applications, so if this topic catches your attention, check those articles out, too!

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Tesla’s New Tabless Batteries Unlock New Levels Of Performance

Telsa are one of the world’s biggest purchasers of batteries through their partnerships with manufacturers like Panasonic, LG and CATL. Their endless hunger for more cells is unlikely to be satiated anytime soon, as demand for electric cars and power storage continues to rise.

As announced at their Battery Day keynote, Tesla has been working hard on a broad spectrum of projects to take battery technology to the next level in order to reach their goal of 3 TWh annual production by 2030. One of the most interesting aspects of this was the announcement of Tesla’s new tabless 4680 battery, which will be manufactured by the company itself. Let’s take a look at what makes the 4680 so exciting, and why going tabless is such a big deal. Continue reading “Tesla’s New Tabless Batteries Unlock New Levels Of Performance”

Building A USB-C Charger For Canon NB-4L Batteries

One of the most appealing aspects of USB-C is that it promises to be a unified power delivery system. You’ll no longer need to have a separate power cords for for your phone, camera, and laptop; physically they’ll all use USB-C connectors, and the circuitry in the charger will know how much juice to send down the line for each gadget. But in reality, we’ve all got at least a few pieces of older equipment that we’re not about to toss in the trash just because it doesn’t support the latest USB spec.

Note the relocated status LEDs.

Case in point, the old Canon camera that [Purkkaviritys] modified to take infrared pictures. Instead of abandoning it, he decided to make a custom USB-C charger for its NB-4L batteries. Since they’re just single cell 3.7 V lithium-ions, all he had to do was wire them up to the ubiquitous TP4056 charger module and design a 3D printed case to hold everything together.

He did go the extra mile and replace the SMD charging indicator LEDs on the PCB with 5 mm LEDs embedded into the 3D printed enclosure, though you could certainly skip this step if you were in a hurry. We imagine if you print the enclosure in a light enough color, you should be able to see the original LEDs glowing through the plastic.

This project is yet another example of how incredibly useful the TP4056 module really is. If there’s even a chance you might want to build a rechargeable gadget in the near future, you should have a few of these cheap boards ready to go in the parts bin.