Charging Pad Flips For Solar Power

Charging pads are now a common, popular way to charge small devices. They have the benefit of reducing wear on connectors and being easier to use. [bcschmi6] decided to build a solar powered charging pad, which should come in handy when out and about.

The build uses a 3 W square solar panel, hooked up to an Adafruit solar charging board. This charges a pair of 18650 lithium batteries. The batteries only put out a maximum of 4.2 V, so they’re hooked up to a boost converter to get the output a little higher, up to 5.2 V. The output of the boost converter is then hooked up to a charging pad harvested from an Anker charger, and it’s all wrapped up in a tidy 3D printed frame.

We imagine the device would be great for camping. It could be left charging in the sun during the day, before being flipped over and used as a charging pad at night. It would be easy to build a bigger version for charging several phones at once, too. If you want to build your own charging coils, that’s a thing, too. And if you’ve got your own solar project cooking up as we head into summer, be sure to let us know!

Microbatteries On The Grid

Not everybody has $6500 to toss into a Tesla Powerwall (and that’s a low estimate), but if you want the benefits of battery storage for your house, [Matt]’s modular “microbattery” storage system might be right up your alley. With a build-as-you-go model, virtually any battery can be placed on the grid in order to start storing power from a small solar installation or other power source.

The system works how any other battery installation would work. When demand is high, a series of microinverters turn on and deliver power to the grid. When demand is low, the batteries get charged. The major difference between this setup and a consumer-grade system is that this system is highly modular and each module is networked together to improve the efficiency of the overall system. Its all tied together with a Raspberry Pi that manages the entire setup.

While all of the software is available to set this up, it should go without saying that working with mains power is dangerous, besides the fact that you’ll need inverters capable of matching phase angle with the grid, a meter that handles reverse power flow, a power company that is willing to take the power, and a number of building code statutes to appease. If you don’t have all that together, you might want to go off-grid instead.

Solar Panel Keeps Car Battery Topped Off Through OBD-II Port

Up until the 1980s or so, a mechanic could check for shorts in a car’s electrical system by looking for sparks while removing the battery terminal with everything turned off in the car. That stopped being possible when cars started getting always-on devices, and as [Kerry Wong] learned, these phantom loads can leave one stranded with a dead battery at the airport after returning from a long trip.

[Kerry]’s solution is simple: a solar trickle charger. Such devices are readily available commercially, of course, and generally consist of a small photovoltaic array that sits on the dashboard and a plug for the lighter socket. But as [Kerry] points out in the video below, most newer model cars no longer have lighter sockets that are wired to work without the ignition being on. So he chose to connect his solar panel directly to the OBD-II port, the spec for which calls for an always-on, fused circuit connected directly to the positive terminal of the vehicle battery. He had to hack together an adapter for the panel’s lighter plug, the insides of which are more than a little scary, and for good measure, he added a Schottky diode to prevent battery discharge through the panel. Even the weak winter sun provides 150 mA or so of trickle charge, and [Kerry] can rest assured his ride will be ready at the end of his trip.

We used to seeing [Kerry] tear down test gear and analyze unusual devices, along with the odd post mortem on nearly catastrophic failures. We’re glad nothing burst into flames with this one.

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Laser Etches Solar Absorbing Material

Having a laser cutter these days isn’t a big deal. But [Chunlei Guo], a professor at the University of Rochester, has a powerful femto-second pulse laser and used it to create what might be the perfect solar absorber. You can see a video about the work, below.

It stands to reason that white materials reflect most light and therefore absorb less energy than black materials — this is part of what makes a radiometer work. Tungsten, in particular, is a good metal for absorbing solar power, but this new laser treatment — which builds nanostructures on the surface of the metal — increases efficiency by 130% compared to untreated tungsten.

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The Cult Of Really Low-Power Circuits: Scrounging, Sipping, And Seeing Power

If you’ve ever tried to make a really low-power circuit — especially one that runs on harvested power — you have probably fallen into at least a few of the many traps that await the unwary in this particular realm of electronic design. Well, Dave Young has been there, seen the traps, and lived to tell about it. In these territories, even “simple” systems can exhibit very complex, and sometimes downright confusing behavior when all possible operating conditions are considered. In his 2019 Hackaday Superconference talk: Scrounging, Sipping, and Seeing Power — Techniques For Planning, Implementing, And Verifying Off-Grid Power Systems, Dave discusses a number of these issues, how they interplay with low-power designs, and tricks he’s collected over the years to design and, more importantly, test these deceptively simple systems.

Dave is an electrical engineer and his company, Young Circuit Designs, has worked in the test and measurement, energy, and low-power consumer industries. We were lucky to have him share some of his 15 years of experience on the Supercon stage this past November, specifically discussing devices powered from harvested energy, be it wave energy (think oceans not RF), thermal energy, or solar. The first lesson is that in these systems, architecture is key. Digging deeper, Dave considers three aspects of the architecture, as mentioned in the talk title: scrounging, sipping, and seeing power.

Continue reading “The Cult Of Really Low-Power Circuits: Scrounging, Sipping, And Seeing Power”

Teardown And Analysis Of A Cheap Solar Lamp

If you walk the aisles of a dollar store one constant that you will see worldwide is the Chinese solar lamp. Your dollar gets you a white LED behind plastic, mounted on a spike to stick into the ground, and with a solar cell on top. It charges in the sunlight during the day and then lights the LED for a few hours at nightfall. They are in gardens everywhere, and no doubt landfill sites are full of them because they do not last very long. [Giovanni Bernardo] had one that stopped working, so he subjected it to a teardown to find out what was up, and what made it tick (Italian, Google Translate link).

As expected, the culprit proved to be a leaking and corroded 1.2 volt NiMh cell, and its replacement with an AA cell brought the lamp back to life. But the interesting part of this tale comes from his teardown and analysis of the lamp’s components. It’s centered around a YX8016 battery charger and power management chip. The device has an amazing economy of design with only four components including the solar cell and the LED. The final component is a small inductor that forms part of the boost converter to keep the LED lit as the battery voltage falls. The chip switches at 580kHz, and produces a 3.2 volt supply.

If this is a subject that interests you, don’t forget to take a look at the power harvesting challenge we ran a while back.

AMSAT CubeSat Simulator Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, December 4th at noon Pacific for the AMSAT CubeSat Simulator Hack Chat with Alan Johnston!

For all the lip service the world’s governments pay to “space belonging to the people”, they did a pretty good job keeping access to it to themselves for the first 50 years of the Space Age. Oh sure, private-sector corporations could spend their investors’ money on lengthy approval processes and pay for a ride into space, but with a few exceptions, if you wanted your own satellite, you needed to have the resources of a nation-state.

All that began to change about 20 years ago when the CubeSat concept was born. Conceived as a way to get engineering students involved in the satellite industry, the 10 cm cube form factor that evolved has become the standard around which students, amateur radio operators, non-governmental organizations, and even private citizens have designed and flown satellites to do everything from relaying ham radio messages to monitoring the status of the environment.

But before any of that can happen, CubeSat builders need to know that their little chunk of hardware is going to do its job. That’s where Alan Johnston, a teaching professor in electrical and computer engineering at Villanova University, comes in. As a member of AMSAT, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, he has built a CubeSat simulator. Built for about $300 using mostly off-the-shelf and 3D-printed parts, the simulator lets satellite builders work the bugs out of their designs before committing them to the Final Frontier.

Dr. Johnston will stop by the Hack Chat to discuss his CubeSat simulator and all things nanosatellite. Come along to learn what it takes to make sure a satellite is up to snuff, find out his motivations for getting involved in AMSAT and CubeSat testing, and what alternative uses people are finding the platform. Hint: think high-altitude ballooning.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, December 4 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.