The price of lithium batteries has plummeted in recent years as various manufacturers scale up production and other construction and process improvements are found. This is a good thing if you’re an EV manufacturer, but can be problematic if you’re managing something like a landfill and find that the price has fallen so low that rechargeable lithium batteries are showing up in the waste stream in single-use devices. Unlike alkaline batteries, these batteries can explode if not handled properly, meaning that steps to make sure they’re disposed of properly are much more important. [Becky] found these batteries in single-use disposable vape pens and so set about putting them to better use rather than simply throwing them away.
While she doesn’t use the devices herself, she was able to source a bunch of used ones locally from various buy-nothing groups. Disassembling the small vape pens is fairly straightforward, but care needed to be taken to avoid contacting some of the chemical residue inside of the devices. After cleaning the batteries, most of the rest of the device is discarded. The batteries are small but capable and made of various lithium chemistries, which means that most need support from a charging circuit before being used in any other projects. Some of the larger units do have charging circuitry, though, but often it’s little more than a few transistors which means that it might be best for peace-of-mind to deploy a trusted charging solution anyway.
While we have seen projects repurposing 18650 cells from various battery packs like power tools and older laptops, it’s not too far of a leap to find out that the same theory can be applied to these smaller cells. The only truly surprising thing is that these batteries are included in single-use devices at all, and perhaps also that there are few or no regulations limiting the sale of devices with lithium batteries that are clearly intended to be thrown away when they really should be getting recycled.
Despite the fact that we’re rapidly approaching the year 2022, there are still an incredible number of gadgets out there that you’re expected to power with disposable batteries. Sure you can buy rechargeable stand-ins that come in the various shapes and sizes of the traditional alkaline cells, but that’s a stopgap at best. For some, if a new gadget doesn’t feature an internal Li-ion battery and standardized USB charging, it’s a non-starter.
[Danilo Larizza] is one of those people. Bothered by the fact that his Oregon Scientific weather station required a pair of CR2032 coin cells, he set out to replace them with an integrated rechargeable solution. The conversion ending up being easier to implement than he initially expected, and by his calculations, his solution should keep the unit up and running for nearly 40 days before needing to be topped off with a standard USB charger.
The first step was determining how much power it actually took to run the weather station. Although the two CR2032 cells were wired in series, and therefore providing a nominal 6 V, he determined through experimentation with a bench power supply that it would run on as little as 3.2 volts. This coincides nicely with the voltage range for a single 18650 cell, and meant he didn’t need to add a boost converter into the mix. He notes the weather station does flash a “Low Battery” warning most of the time now, but that seems a fair price to pay.
Confident in the knowledge that the weather station could happily run with an 18650 cell connected in place of the original CR2032s, all [Danilo] needed to do was figure out a way to charge the battery up from time to time. To that end, he reached for a common TP4056 module. This handy little board is a great match for 18650 cells, and is so cheap that there’s really no excuse not to have a few of them kicking around your parts bin. You never know when you might need to teach an old gadget new tricks.
Batteries placed in harm’s way need to be protected. A battery placed where a breakdown could endanger a life needs to be protected. Lithium-ion batteries on the bottoms of electric cars are subject to accidental damage and they are bathed in flame-retardant epoxy inside a metal sled. Phone batteries are hidden behind something that will shatter or snap before the battery suffers and warrant inspection. Hoverboard batteries are placed behind cheap plastic, and we have all seen how well that works. Batteries contain chemicals with a high density of energy, so the less exploding they do, the better.
Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have added a new ingredient to batteries that makes them armored but from the inside. The ingredient is silica spheres so fine it is safe to call it powder. The effect of this dust is that the electrolyte in every battery will harden like cornstarch/water then go right back to being a liquid. This non-Newtonian fluid works on the principal principle of shear-thickening which, in this case, says that the suspension will become harder as shear force is applied. So, batteries get rock hard when struck, then go back to being batteries when it is safe.
Non-Newtonian fluids are much fun, but we’re also happy to see them put to use. The same principle works in special speed bumps to allow safe drivers to continue driving but jolts speeders. Micromachines can swim in non-Newtonian fluids better than water in some cases.
What’s worse than coming in from the workbench for a sandwich only to discover that the bread has molded? That red bread mold–Neurospora crassa–can transform manganese into a mineral composite that may improve rechargeable batteries, according to a recent paper in Current Biology.
Researchers used the carbonized fungal biomass-mineral composite in both lithium ion cells and supercapacitors. The same team earlier showed how fungi could stabilize toxic lead and uranium. Mold, of course, is a type of fungus that grows in multi-cellular filaments. Apparently, the fungal filaments that form are ideal for electrochemical use of manganese oxide. Early tests showed batteries using the new material had excellent stability and exceeded 90% capacity after 200 discharge cycles.
The team plans to continue the use of fungus in various metallurgical contexts, including recovering scarce metal elements. This is probably good news for [Kyle]. This is quite an organic contrast to the usual news about graphene batteries.
[Don Eduardo] took matters into his own hands after experiencing a days-long power outage at his house. And like most of us have done at least one, he managed to burn his fingers on a regulator in the process. That’s because he prototyped a way to use power tool batteries as an emergency source — basing his circuit on a 7812 linear regulator which got piping hot in no time flat.
His next autodidactic undertaking carried him into the realm of switch-mode buck converters (learn a bit about these if unfamiliar). The device steps down the ~18V output to 12V regulated for devices meant for automotive or marine. We really like see the different solutions he came up with for interfacing with the batteries which have a U-shaped prong with contacts on opposite sides.
The final iteration, which is pictured above, builds a house of cards on top of the buck converter. After regulating down to 12V he feeds the output into a “cigarette-lighter” style inverter to boost back to 110V AC. The hardware is housed inside of a scrapped charger for the batteries, with the appropriate 3-prong socket hanging out the back. We think it’s a nice touch to include LED feedback for the battery level.
We would like to hear your thoughts on this technique. Is there a better way that’s as easy and adaptive (you don’t have to alter the devices you’re powering) as this one?
[Patrick] was looking for an easier way to control music and movies on his computer from across the room. There is a huge amount of remote control products that could be purchased to do this, but as a hacker [Patrick] wanted to make something himself. He calls his creation, “Dial” and it’s a simple but elegant solution to the problem.
Dial looks like a small cylindrical container that sits on a flat surface. It’s actually split into a top and bottom cylinder. The bottom acts as a base and stays stationary while the top acts as a dial and a push button. The case was designed in SOLIDWORKS and printed on a 3D printer.
The Dial runs on an Arduino Pro mini with a Bluetooth module. The original prototype used Bluetooth 2.0 and required a recharge after about a day. The latest version uses the Bluetooth low energy spec and can reportedly last several weeks on a single charge. Once the LiPo battery dies, it can be recharged easily once plugged into a USB port.
The mechanical component of the dial is actually an off-the-shelf rotary encoder. The encoder included a built-in push button to make things easier. The firmware is able to detect rotation in either direction, a button press, a double press, and a press-and-hold. This gives five different possible functions.
[Patrick] wrote two pieces of software to handle interaction with the Dial. The first is a C program to deal with the Bluetooth communication. The second is actually a set of Apple scripts to actually handle interaction between the Dial and the various media programs on his computer. This allows the user to more easily write their own scripts for whatever software they want. While this may have read like a product review, the Dial is actually open source! Continue reading “Dial Is A Simple And Effective Wireless Media Controller”→
Battery powered soldering irons are nothing new, but what about a soldering iron that can recharge via USB? [Solarcycle] realized that it might be handy to be able to recharge a portable soldering iron using such a ubiquitous connector and power source, so he developed the Solderdoodle.
The core component of the Solderdoodle is a Weller BP645 Soldering Iron. The heating element is removed from the Weller and placed into a custom case. The case is designed to be 3d printed. The STL files for the case are available if you want to make your own.
The Solderdoodle does away with large, disposable batteries and replaces them with a lithium ion battery pack. The battery contains no built-in protection circuitry in order to save space. Instead, this circuit is added later. [Solarcycle] appears to be using a circuit of his own design. The schematic and Gerber’s are available on his website.
The Instructable walks through all of the steps to build one of these yourself if you are so inclined. If you don’t have the spare time, you can fund the project’s Kickstarter and pre-order a production model. It’s always great to see a new commercial product with an open design.