Overengineering The Humble USB Power Bank

Back in the flip phone days, you could get through the whole weekend before you had to even think about plugging the thing in. But as the processing power of our mobile devices increased, so to did their energy consumption. Today you’re lucky if your phone doesn’t die before you make it home at the end of the day. To avoid the horrors of having to live without their mobile devices, many people have resorted to lugging around small “power banks” to keep their phones topped off.

That said, the “Ultimate 18650 Power Bank” created by [Kennedy Liu] is on a whole new level. Only true Road Warriors need apply for this particular piece of kit. Inside the 3D printed enclosure is…well, pretty much everything. It’s got an internal inverter to power your AC devices, a Qi wireless charging coil, an adjustable DC output, displays for all relevant voltages, and naturally plenty of USB ports to charge your gadgets. Oh, and some RGB LEDs tossed in for good measure.

[Kennedy] packed a lot of hardware into this relatively small package, and in the video after the break, shows off exactly how everything is arranged inside of this power bank. A big part of getting the whole thing together is the 3D printed frame, which includes carefully designed insets for all of the key components. So if you want to build your own version, you’ll need to get the exact same hardware he used to make sure the puzzle fits together. Luckily, he’s provided links for all the relevant components for exactly that purpose.

Now, you might be wondering about the wisdom of packing all this electronic gear into a thermoplastic enclosure. But [Kennedy] has thought about that; in addition to tacking a heatsink onto pretty much everything, he’s added fans for active cooling and a fairly robust thermal overload protection scheme. By mounting thermally controlled switches to the heatsinks of the high-output components, the system can cut power to anything getting too hot before it has a chance to melt the plastic (or worse).

Most of the DIY power banks we’ve seen in the past have been little more than a simple collection of 18650 cells, so it’s interesting to see one with so much additional functionality packed in. Admittedly some elements of the construction are, to quote the great Dave Jones, “a bit how ya doin.” But with some refinements we think it would be a very handy device to have in your arsenal.

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Cheaply Charging Cylindrical Cells

For one reason or another, a lot of us have a bunch of 18650 cells sitting around. Whether they’re for flashlights, our fancy new vape pen, remote controlled toys, or something more obscure, there is a need to charge a bunch of lithium ion cells all at once. This project, by [Daren Schwenke], is the way to do it. It’ll charge ten 18650 cells quickly using a stock ATX power supply and less than twenty bucks in Amazon Prime parts.

The idea began when [Daren] realized his desktop lithium ion charger took between 4-6 hours to fully charge two 18650 cells. With a Mountainboard project, or a big ‘ol electric skateboard waiting in the wings, [Daren] realized there had to be a better solution to charging a bunch of 18650 cells. There is, and it’s those twenty bucks at Amazon and a few 3D printed parts.

The relevant parts are just a ten-pack of 18650 cell holders (with PC pins) and a ten-pack of 5V, 1A charging modules (non-referral Amazon link, support truly independent journalism) meant to be the brains of a small USB power bank. These parts were wired up to the 5V rail of a discarded ATX power supply (free, because you can scavenge these anywhere, and everything was wrapped up with a neat little 3D printed mount.

Is this the safest way to charge lithium ion cells? No, because you can build a similar project with bailing wire. There is no reverse polarity protection, and if there’s one thing you never want to do, it’s reverse the polarity. This is, however, a very effective and very cheap solution to charging a bunch of batteries. It does what it says it’ll do, nothing more.

Monstrous USB Power Bank

At some point, cleaning out the spare parts bin — or cabinet, or garage — becomes a necessity. This is dangerous because it can induce many more project ideas and completely negate the original purpose. [Chaotic Mind], considering the pile of  batteries he’s collected over the past decade, decided that instead of throwing them out, he would recycle them into a grotesque USB power bank.

Inside the bulk of this power bank are an eye-popping 64 18650 Lithium Ion cells, mostly collected from laptop batteries, and wired in a parallel 8×8 pattern with an estimated capacity of over 100,000mAh(!!).  The gatekeeper to all this stored energy is a two-USB power bank charger board from Tindie.

Ah — but how to package all this power? The handy man’s secret weapon: duct-tape!

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MagSafe Power Bank From Scrap

Just a few short years ago, it was possible to find scrapped lithium batteries for free, or at least for very cheap. What most people at the time didn’t realize is that a battery with multiple cells might go bad because only one cell is bad, leaving the others ready for salvaging. Now it’s not a secret anymore, but if you can manage to get your hands on some there’s a lot of options for use. [ijsf] took a step further with this hack, taking a few cells from a Panasonic battery and wrangling them into a MagSafe-capable power bank for a Mac.

The real hack wasn’t scavenging batteries, however, it was getting the MagSafe to signal the computer to use power from the battery bank to run the computer only, and not to use any of that energy for charging the computer’s internal batteries. This is achieved by disabling the center MagSafe pin, which is the computer’s communication line to the power adapter. After that, the battery bank could be programmed to behave properly (a feat in itself for lithium batteries) and the power bank was successfully put into operation.

Not only was this hack a great guide for how to repurpose cells from a “dead” battery, it’s also an unparalleled quick reference for any work that might need a MagSafe connector. Of course, if you’re going to work with these chargers, make sure that you’re using one that isn’t a cheap clone.

DIY USB Power Bank

USB power banks give your phone some extra juice on the go. You can find them in all shapes and sizes from various retailers, but why not build your own?

[Kim] has a walkthrough on how to do just that. This DIY USB Power Bank packs 18650 battery cells and a power management board into a 3D printed case. The four cells provide 16,000 mAh, which should give you a few charges. The end product looks pretty good, and comes in a bit cheaper than buying a power bank of similar capacity.

The power management hardware being used here appears to be a generic part used in many power bank designs. It performs the necessary voltage conversions and manages charge and discharge to avoid damaging the cells. A small display shows the state of the battery pack.

You might prefer to buy a power bank off the shelf, but this design could be perfect solution for adding batteries to other projects. With a few cells and this management board, you have a stable 5 V output with USB charging. The 2.1 A output should be enough to power most boards, including Raspberry Pis. While we’ve seen other DIY Raspberry Pi power banks in the past, this board gets the job done for $3.

 

This Quick Hack Will Keep You Online During Your Next Power Outage

The modern human’s worst nightmare: a power outage. Left without cat memes, Netflix, and — of course — Hackaday, there’s little to do except participate in the temporary anarchy that occurs when left without internet access. Lamenting over expensive and bulky uninterruptible power supplies, Youtube user [Gadget Addict] hacked together a UPS power bank that might just stave off the collapse of order in your household.

This simple and functional hack really amounts to snipping the end off of a USB  power cable. The cable is then attached to a screw terminal to barrel connector adapter and plugged it into a pass-through power USB power bank. No, really — that’s all there is to it. [Gadget Addict] notes that while most modems and routers are designed to run off a 12V power supply, they still operate at 5V. He goes on to connect several router and router/modem combination units to the power bank. In each case the system appears to boot up and perform normally.

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DIYing A Raspberry Pi Power Bank

Over the last decade or so, battery technology has improved massively. While those lithium cells have enabled thin, powerful smartphones and quadcopters, [patrick] thought it would be a good idea to do something a little simpler. He built a USB power bank with an 18650 cell. While it would be easier to simply buy a USB power bank, that’s not really the point, is it?

This project is the follow-up to one of [patrick]’s earlier projects, a battery backup for the Raspberry Pi. This earlier project used an 14500 cell and an MSP430 microcontroller to shut the Pi down gracefully when the battery was nearing depletion.

While the original project worked well with the low power consumption Pi Model A and Pi Zero, it struggled with UPS duties on the higher power Pi 3. [patrick] upgraded the cell and changed the electronics to provide enough current to keep a high-power Pi on even at 100% CPU load.

The end result is a USB power bank that’s able to keep a Raspberry Pi alive for a few hours and stays relatively cool.