Without knowing it, we’ve spent years watching [Jasper Sikken] piece together an empire of energy harvesting equipment, and now he’s putting the pieces together into wonderful creations. His recently finished solar harvesting pyramids are mesmerizing objects of geometric perfection we’d love to see glinting in the sun.
These solar harvesting pyramids are well described by their name. Each one contains a PCBA around 30mm on a side with a solar energy harvester built around the dedicated AEM10941 IC, a single solar cell, and a very bright green LED. [Jasper] calculates that the solar cell will charge the super capacitor at 20uA at with just 200 lux of light (a level typical for casual indoor spaces) letting it run indefinitely when placed indoors. Amazingly with the LED blinking for 15ms every 2 seconds it will run for 21 days in complete darkness. And that’s it! This is a software-free piece of hardware which requires no input besides dim light and blinks an LED indefinitely.
What about that super capacitor? It’s called a Lithium Ion Capacitor (LIC) and is a hybrid between a typical rechargeable lithium battery and an electrolytic capacitor, offering extremely high capacity in a convenient two leg through hole form factor. This one is a whopping 30 Farad at 3.8 V, and we first saw it when [Jasper] won the Hackaday Earth Day contest last month. Check out that link if you want to know more about their uses and how to integrate them.
For more detail about all of the components of the solar pyramid we need only turn to the Hackaday archives. In December 2019 [Tom Nardi] wrote about building a cheap degassing system for making some very familiar looking resin pyramids. And before that [Donald Papp] brought us another familiar piece of the pyramid when he wrote up a different 1″ x 1″ solar harvesting system that [Jasper] designed.
Check out the video after the break to see what one of these gems looks like from all sides. And for many more experiments leading up the final pyramid check out the logs on the Hackaday.io page.
One of the biggest challenges for wireless sensor networks is that of power. Solar panels usually produce less power than you hoped, especially small ones, and designing super low power circuits is tricky. [Strange.rand] has dropped into the low-power rabbit hole, and is designing a low-cost wireless sensor node that runs on solar power and a supercapacitor.
The main components of the sensor node is an ATMega 328P microcontroller running at 4Mhz, RFM69 radio transceiver, I2C temperature/humidity sensor, 1F supercapacitor, and a small solar panel. The radio, MCU, and sensor all run on 1.5-3.6V, but the supercap and solar panel combination can go up to 5.5V. To regulate the power to lower voltage components a low-drop voltage regulator might seem like the simplest solution, but [strange.rand] found that the 3.3V regulator was consuming an additional 20uA or more when the voltage dropped below 3.3V. Instead, he opted to eliminate the LDO, and limit the charging voltage of the capacitor to 3.6V with a comparator-based overvoltage protection circuit. Using this configuration, the circuit was able to run for 42 hours on a single charge, transmitting data once per minute while above 2.7V, and once every three minutes below that.
Another challenge was undervoltage protection. [strange.rand] discovered that the ATmega consumes an undocumented 3-5 mA when it goes into brown-out below 1.8V. The small solar panel only produces 1 mA, so the MCU would prevent the supercapacitor from charging again. He solved this with another comparator circuit to cut power to the other components.
We’ve all committed the sin of making a little arduino robot and running it off AA batteries. Little Flash is better than that and runs off three 350 F capacitors.
In fact, that’s the entire mission of the robot. [Mike Rigsby] wants people to know there’s a better way. What’s really cool is that 10 A for 40 seconds lets the robot run for over 25 minutes!
The robot itself is really simple. The case is 3D printed with an eye towards simplicity. The brains are an Arduino nano and the primary input is a bump sensor. The robot runs around randomly, but avoids getting stuck with the classic reverse-and-turn on collision.
It’s cool to see how far these capacitors have come. We remember people wondering about these high priced specialty parts when they first dropped on the hobby scene, but they’re becoming more and more prevalent compared to other solutions such as coin-cells and solder tab lithium batteries for PCB power solutions.
[Barry] sent us a tip about a video from [electronupdate], describing an experimental cell phone charger. It’s a familiar issue: Your cell phone battery is low, and you aren’t in a position to plug it in for hours to charge. Some phones, including the one in his video, have swappable batteries, but that isn’t always an option either. As he explains in the video, a wall outlet can deliver the joule capacity of a high-end battery in a matter of seconds, but it is impossible to charge a battery that quickly. Capacitors, on the other hand, charge near-instantly.
[electronupdate] decided to look at the possibility of using super capacitors to power a typical usb plug. It would allow you to charge a secondary power supply in a short period of time, and then get on your way, letting your phone charge slowly from the device.
His experiment wasn’t entirely successful, possibly because he used 2.7V capacitors, which required a boost regulator and limited the useful voltage range. We think he might have had better success using 120V capacitors and a switching power supply, but it would be nice to see the various options compared.
Oh, [electronupdate] describes using this circuit as you are rushing to your airplane. We aren’t convinced carrying a couple super capacitors through a TSA checkpoint would be the best idea… YMMV.
[Caleb] was given a tiny LED flashlight which has a crank used to charge it. Unfortunately it wasn’t holding a charge, and constant cranking didn’t work very well either. He cracked it open to find a single lithium button cell. Instead of using a drop-in replacement he soldered in his own super capacitor.
The stock device is remarkably simple. It uses a standard DC motor as the generator. It’s connected to the crank using a set of gears, with the two red wires seen above connecting it to the control board. Four diodes make up a bridge rectified and apparently feed directly into the battery. No wonder that cell went kaput!
But this orientation isn’t bad for using capacitors. They can be charged directly and the switch which attaches the LEDs to voltage doesn’t interfere with their operation. The last problem was making room for them in the case. [Caleb] considered a few different approaches, but ended up just heating the plastic enclosure until it could be deformed to make room for the additional parts.
A group of researchers have figured out how to produce graphene using a DVD drive. This discovery helps clear the path for mass production of the substance, which was discovered in the late 1980’s. More recently, the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to a team that produced two-dimensional graphene; a substance one just atom thick. One method of doing so used Scotch tape and is mentioned in the video after the break as a technique that works but is not feasible for large-scale production.
The process seen here starts with graphite oxide because it can be suspended in water. This allows a lab technician to evenly distribute the substance on a plastic surface. Note the use of optical discs. The second part of the process involves hitting the dried layer of graphite oxide with a laser. It just so happens that this can be done with a consumer DVD drive. The result is graphene that can be used in circuits and may have potential as a fantastic super-capacitor.
[Gil] recently wrote in to tell us about some awesome research going on at UCLA. Apparently by layering some oxidized graphite onto a DVD and tossing it into a lightscribe burner, it’s possible to print your own super capacitors; some pretty high capacity ones at that.
For those that are unaware, supercapcaitors are typically made using two electrolyte soaked, activated carbon plates separated by an ion permeable film. Since activated carbon has an incredible surface area huge energy densities can be reached, in some cases 1kJ/lb.
Laser-formed graphite sponge replaces the activated carbon in the researchers’ printed capacitors. A video after the break discusses the whole process in moderate detail, meanwhile greater detail can be found in their two papers on the subject.
First one to print a transistor gets a bag of mosfets!