A vape pen, broken into parts, all laid out on a cutting mat

2022 Hackaday Prize: Disposable Vape Pens Turned Project Parts

Disposable vape pens, a sub-genre of electronic cigarettes, have been a fad for a few years now – they’re small self-contained devices with a rechargeable battery and some vape liquid inside. As the battery discharges and the liquid runs out, the entire vape pen is typically thrown out. [Dimitar] wants to change that, however, and teaches us how to reuse as much of the vape pen as possible – as yet another underappreciated source for parts we can use in our projects.

In an extensive intro worklog, he breaks down and documents a vape pen’s inner workings, coupled with a video we’ve placed below the break showing ways to disassemble them. In these, he shows how we can reuse the casing and the plastic parts, should any of us be interested in a project that happens to fit the e-cig form factor. Attention is paid to the sensor that triggers the evaporation – it may look like a microphone, but is actually a purpose-built pressure-sensor with a high-side switch! He tears into one of these in a separate video, showing how to reuse it as a capacitive touch controller. He also aiming to assemble a small database of related resources on GitHub, currently, hosting the files for the protection circuit he developed as part of his recommendations for safely reusing vape pen Li-ion batteries.

[Dimitar]’s journey is ongoing, and we can’t wait to see some fun uses for these components that he will certainly stumble upon on his way! For instance, here’s a hacker using an e-cig battery to power a pair of RGB LED-adorned sunglasses, replacing the AAAA battery they originally came with. We’ve seen hackers make guides on reusing each and every part of microwave ovens, printers and laptops, and we ourselves have talked about reusing ATX power supplies and computer mice.

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2022 Hackaday Prize Enters Second Round: Reuse, Recycle, Revamp

Ding! That’s the bell for the second challenge round of the 2022 Hackaday Prize. If your project reuses or recycles what would otherwise be waste materials, or helps you to do the same for further projects, we want to see it.

Hackers are often frugal folk — we’ll recycle parts for projects because it’s easier on the pocketbook when prototyping. But in these strangest of times, when we’ve seen $1 microcontrollers in such shortage that they fetch $57 apiece (if you can get the parts at all), making use of what you’ve got on hand can be an outright necessity. If this is going to become the new normal, it’s going to make sense that we automate it. There’s gold, literally and metaphorically, in busted PCBs. How are you going to get the most value out of our broken electronic waste in our post-apocalyptic near future? Have you built an unpick-and-unplace machine? We’d like to see it.

But electronic parts are a small fraction of your recyclable materials, and plastics might play a larger role. If you’re a 3D printerer, you’ve doubtless thought about recycling plastic bottles into filament. Or maybe you’d like to take some of the existing plastics that are thrust upon you by this modern world and give them a second life? This factory churning out paving stones by remelting plastic with sand is doing it on an industrial scale, but could this be useful for the home gamer? Precious Plastic has a number of inspirational ideas. Or maybe you just need an HDPE hammer?

Have you built a fancy can crusher, or a plastics sorter, or a recycling robot? Head on over to Hackaday.io, write it up, and enter it into the Prize!

Basically any project that helps you recycle or reuse the material around you is fair game here. (But note that if you’ve got epic repair hacks, you’ll want to enter them in the upcoming Round Three: Hack it Back.) This round runs until June 12th and there are ten $500 awards up for grabs, so get hacking!

3D Printed Forge For Recycling

If you own a CNC and have kept tabs on metal prices these past few years (honestly months), you might shed a small tear as you watch chips fly off your work and into the trash. With a sigh, these flecks and pieces are consigned to be the cost of machining a part. Thankfully, the fine folks at [ActionBox] have been working on a 3d printed plaster forge for recycling their metal scraps.

The team ordered some graphite crucibles of a few sizes from a large online bookstore and started 3D printing some molds for crucible holders. They started with a smaller version to try the method. While the walls were too thin in that initial version, the approach was proven. With slightly thicker walls, the medium-sized version worked much better. The goal of the forge was to smelt copper as they had a lot of thick copper wire lying around. Armed with several propane torches, they started melting aluminum and brass, which worked reasonably well. However, the melting point of copper continued to elude them (1984°F or 1085°C).  To counter this, the [ActionBox] team bought some new torches that provided significantly higher BTU output, while still fitting the holes in the mold. This did the trick!

The mold to accommodate the large crucible was massive and printed in four sections. The team did melt copper successfully and had four ingots to show off. We want to stress how dangerous molten copper and other metals are, particularly regarding things you might not realize have moisture soaked up inside. Proper PPE is essential to use these things without getting hurt. [ActionBox] has some helpful pointers in that area, but they admit they are relatively new to forging and casting themselves. Perhaps version two can incorporate a flip lid for added safety.

Video after the break.
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Recycling Soda Bottles Into Filament To Print Smaller Soda Bottles

Thermoplastics are great, because you can melt them down and reform them into whatever you like. This is ably demonstrated by [The Q] by recycling old soda bottles into usable 3D printer filament.

Cute, huh? Why aren’t Coca-Cola making these? Tiny fake grocery items already proved hugely popular in Australia.

Soda bottles are usually made out of PET plastic, or polyethylene terephthalate, which is one of the most popular thermoplastics in modern society. A soda bottle can be cut into a continuous long, thin strip with the use of a simple hand-operated machine that slices the bottle with a blade. This strip of plastic can then be fed through a heated nozzle in order to produce filament for 3D printing. [The Q] demonstrates both parts of this process, including using a motorized reel to take up filament as the bottle material is fed through the extruder.

The filament is then demonstrated by printing tiny versions of soda bottles. [The Q] fills these with soda and gives them the appropriate lids and labels for completion’s sake. It’s a neat way to demonstrate that the filament actually works for 3D printing. It bears noting that such prints are almost certainly not food safe, but it’s really a proof of concept rather than an attempt to make a usable beverage container.

Like similar builds we’ve seen in the past, the filament is of limited length due to the amount of plastic in a single bottle. We’d like to see a method for feeding multiple bottles worth of plastic into the extruder to make a longer length spool, as joining lengths of filament itself can be fraught with issues. Video after the break.

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Remoticon 2021: Unbinare Brings A Reverse-Engineering Toolkit Into Recycling

Unbinare is a small Belgian company at the forefront of hacking e-waste into something useful, collaborating with recycling and refurbishing companies. Reverse-engineering is a novel way to approach recycling, but it’s arguably one of the most promising ways that we are not trying at scale yet. At Hackaday Remoticon 2021, Maurits Fennis talked about Unbinare’s efforts in the field and presented us with a toolkit he has recently released as a part of his work, as well as described how his background as an artist has given him insights used to formulate foundational principles of Unbinare.

Image showing an Unbinare OISTER boardUnbinare’s tools are designed to work in harmony with each other, a requirement for any productive reverse-engineering effort. OI!STER is a general-purpose salvaged MCU research board, with sockets to adapt to different TQFP chip sizes. This board is Maurits’s experience in reverse-engineering condensed into a universal tool, including a myriad of connectors for different programming/debugging interfaces. We don’t know the board’s full scope, but the pictures show an STM32 chip inside the TQFP socket, abundant everywhere except your online retailer of choice. Apart from all the ways to break out the pins, OI!STER has sockets for power and clock glitching, letting you target these two omnipresent Achilles’ heels with a tool like ChipWhisperer.

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An Open Source Detector For Identifying Plastics

One of the challenges involved in recycling plastic is determining the specific type of plastic a given item is actually made of. To keep up with demand, large scale recycling centers rely on various automated systems to separate different types of plastic from a stream of incoming material. But in less technologically advanced parts of the world, workers can find themselves having to manually identify plastic objects; a time consuming and error-prone process.

To try and improve on the situation, [Jerry de Vos], [Armin Straller], and [Jure Vidmar] have been working on a handheld open hardware device that they refer to simply enough as the Plastic Scanner. The hope is that their pocket-sized unit could be used in the field to positively identify various types of plastic by measuring its reflectivity to infrared light. The device promises to be very easy to operate, as users simply need to bring the device close to a piece of plastic, push the button, and wait for the information to pop up on the OLED display.

Or at least, that’s the idea. While the team eventually hopes to release a kit to build your own handheld Plastic Scanner, it seems that the hardware isn’t quite ready for production. The most recent work appears to have been put in, not unexpectedly, the development board that lets the team refine their process. The development unit combines an array of IR LEDs with wavelengths ranging from 850 to 1650 nanometers, a InGaAs photodiode connected to an ADS1256 24-bit analog-to-digital converter (ADC), and an Arduino Uno. In comparison, the final hardware uses a Raspberry Pi Zero and a smaller “breakout board” that contains the sensor and IR LEDs.

Browsing through the software repository for the project, we can see the device uses Python, TensorFlow Lite, and a database of IR reflectivity values for known plastics to try and determine the closest match. Obviously the accuracy of such a system is going to be highly dependent on the quantity of known-good data, but at least for now, it appears the user is responsible for building up their own collection or IR values.

As interesting as this project is, we’re a bit skeptical about its purely optical approach to identifying plastics. Automated recycling centers do use infrared spectroscopy, but it’s only one tool of many that are employed. Without additional data points, such as the density or electrostatic properties of the plastic being tested, it seems like the Plastic Scanner would have a fairly high margin of error. Just taking into account the wide array of textures and colors the user is likely to encounter while using the device will be a considerable challenge.

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Faster IPA Recycling For Your Resin Print Workflow

If you’ve printed with photopolymer resins, you know that you need alcohol. Lots of alcohol. It makes sense that people would like to reuse the alcohol both to be environmentally responsible and to save a little money. The problem is that the alcohol eventually becomes so dirty that you have to do something. Given time, the polymer residue will settle to the bottom and you can easily pour off most of the clean liquid. You can also use filters with some success. But [Makers Mashup] had a different idea. Borrowing inspiration from water treatment plants, he found a chemical that will hasten the settling process. You can see a video of his process below.

The experimentation started with fish tank clarifier, which is — apparently — mostly alum. Alum’s been used to treat wastewater for a long time. Even the ancient Romans used it for that purpose in the first century. Alum causes coagulation and flocculation so that particles in the water wind up sinking to the bottom.

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