Crank-Powered Train Uses No Batteries Or Plugs

The prolific [Peter Waldraff] is at back it with another gorgeous micro train layout. This time, there are no plugs and no batteries. And although it’s crank-powered, it can run on its own with the flip of a switch. How? With a supercapacitor, of course.

The crank handle is connected a 50 RPM motor that acts as a generator, producing the voltage necessary to both power the train and charge up the supercapacitor. As you’ll see in the video below, [Peter] only has to move the train back and forth about two or three times before he’s able to flip the switch and watch it run between the gem mine and the cliff by itself.

The supercapacitor also lights up the gem mine to show off the toiling dwarfs, and there’s a couple of reed switches at either end of the track and a relay that handles the auto-reverse capability. Be sure to stick around to the second half of the video where [Peter] shows how he built this entire thing — the box, the layout, and the circuit.

Want to see more of [Peter]’s trains and other work? Here you go.

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A Supercapacitor From Mushrooms

The supercapacitor is an extremely promising energy storage technology, and though they have yet to reach parity with the best batteries in terms of energy density, offers considerable promise for a future of safe and affordable energy storage. Perhaps best of all from our point of view, they are surprisingly simple to make. A practical supercapacitor can be made on the bench by almost anyone, as the ever-resourceful [Robert Murray-Smith] demonstrates using mushrooms as his feedstock.

The idea of a supercapacitor is to replace the flat plate on the simple capacitor from your physics textbook with one that has as large a surface area as possible for charge to accumulate on. In this case the surface is formed from organic charcoal, a substance which retains something of the microscopic structure of whatever it was made from. Mushrooms are a good feedstock, because their mycelium structure has a naturally huge surface area. He takes us in the video below the break through the process of carbonizing them, much easier when you have a handy kiln than trying the charcoal-burner method, and then grinds them to a powder before applying them as a paste with a binder to a piece of graphite foil. With two of these electrodes and a piece of paper towel as a dielectric, he demonstrates a simple benchtop supercapacitor running a small electric motor for a surprisingly longer time than we expected.

We’d like to see further work on home made supercapacitors, as we believe they have immense potential as well as storing the stuff. Meanwhile, this is by no means the most unexpected supercapacitor material we’ve seen.

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a) Schematic illustration of energy storage process of succulent plants by harnessing solar energy with a solar cell, and the solar cell converts the energy into electricity that can be store in APCSCs of succulent plants, and then utilized by multiple electrical appliances. b–d) The energy is stored in cactus under sunlight by solar cell and then power light strips of Christmas tree for decoration.

Succulents Into Supercapacitors

Researchers in Beijing have discovered a way to turn succulents into supercapacitors to help store energy. While previous research has found ways to store energy in plants, it often required implants or other modifications to the plant itself to function. These foreign components might be rejected by the plant or hamper its natural functions leading to its premature death.

This new method takes an aloe leaf, freeze dries it, heats it up, then uses the resulting components as an implant back into the aloe plant. Since it’s all aloe all the time, the plant stays happy (or at least alive) and becomes an electrolytic supercapacitor.

Using the natural electrolytes of the aloe juice, the supercapacitor can then be charged and discharged as needed. The researchers tested the concept by solar charging the capacitor and then using that to run LED lights.

This certainly proposes some interesting applications, although we think your HOA might not be a fan. We also wonder if there might be a way to use the photosynthetic process more directly to charge the plant? Maybe this could recharge a tiny robot that lands on the plants?

Building A Rad Super Capacitor RC Plane

[Tom Stanton] is a fan of things like rubber band planes, and has built many of his own air-powered models over the years. Now, he’s built a model powered by a supercapacitor for a thoroughly modern twist on stored-energy flying toys.

It’s not a wholly original idea; [Tom] was inspired by a toy he bought off-the-shelf. His idea, though, was to make one that could be hand-cranked to charge it to make it more like the rubber-band planes of old. He thus built his own geared generator for the job using a big pile of magnets and 3D printed components. It’s capable of putting out around 17 volts when cranked at a reasonable speed. Hooked up to the toy plane, his hand-crank generator was able to fully charge the plane in just a few turns.

His generator was really overkill for the small toy, though. Thus, he elected to build himself a much larger supercapacitor-powered model. He wired up a pack of six supercapacitors in series, designed for roughly 18 volts. The pack was given balance leads to ensure that no individual capacitor was charged beyond its 3.0 V rating. The pack was placed inside a nice aerodynamic printed fuselage. The plane was then given a brushless motor and prop, speed controller, servos, and an RC receiver. Indeed, far from a simple throwable model, it’s a fully flyable RC plane.

The plane is quite a capable flyer with plenty of power, but a fairly short run time of just under two minutes. Though, with that said, it can be recharged in just about that same amount of time thanks to its supercapacitor power supply. [Tom] reckons it should be capable of a 1:1 crank time to flight time ratio in ideal conditions.

Supercapacitors are super cool, but we don’t see enough of them. They’ve popped up here and there, and obviously have many important applications, but we’re not sure they’ve had a real killer app in the consumer space. XV Racers were killer fun, though. Continue reading “Building A Rad Super Capacitor RC Plane”

Sailor Hat Adds Graceful Shutdown To Pis

Even though Windows and other operating systems constantly remind us to properly eject storage devices before removing them, plenty of people won’t heed those warnings until they finally corrupt a drive and cause all kinds of data loss and other catastrophes. It’s not just USB jump drives that can get corrupted, though. Any storage medium can become unusable if certain actions are being taken when the power is suddenly removed. That includes the SD cards on Raspberry Pis, too, and if your power isn’t reliable you might consider this hat to ensure they shut down properly during power losses.

The Raspberry Pi hat is centered around a series of supercapacitors which provide power for the Pi temporarily. The hat also communicates with the Pi to let it know there is a loss of power, so that the Pi can automatically shut itself down in that situation to prevent corrupting the memory card. The hat is more than just a set of backup capacitors, though. The device is capable of taking input power from a wide range of sources and filtering it for the power requirements of the Pi, especially in applications like boats and passenger vehicles where the input power might be somewhat noisy. There’s an optocoupled CAN bus interface as well for those looking to use this for automotive applications.

The entire project is also available on the project’s GitHub page for those wishing to build their own. Some sort of power backup is a good idea for any computer, though, not just Raspberry Pis. We’ve seen uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) with enough power to run an entire house including its computers, to smaller ones that’ll just keep your Internet online during a power outage.

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Inside A Cordless Soldering Station

There was a time when soldering stations were unusual in hobby labs. These days, inexpensive stations are everywhere. [Kerry Wong] looks at the TS1C station, which is tiny and cordless. As he points out, cordless irons are not new, but modern battery technology has made them much more practical. However, this iron doesn’t actually have a battery.

The iron has a large 750 Farad supercapacitor. This has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, a supercapacitor charges quickly and doesn’t get weaker with each charging cycle like a conventional battery. On the minus side, the large capacitor makes the unit bulky compared to normal irons. [Kerry] notes that it is ergonomic, though, and he felt comfortable holding it. Also, the supercapacitor limits the amount of charge available while soldering.

It is somewhat of a balance, though. If you want to take the iron and climb a tower, you might be very interested in a longer running time. But if you return the unit to the base every few minutes, the fast charging of the cap will compensate for the lower capacity, and you’ll probably never notice it go flat.

The iron itself doesn’t display any data. The display is on the base, meaning the devices must be paired via Bluetooth. It also requires a PD-enabled USB-C connection, so you can’t just wire it to a battery. You can plug a power supply right into the iron if you prefer, but you still can’t use a simple power connection.

Of course, you assume it does an adequate job of soldering. We wanted to see inside! And [Kerry] didn’t disappoint. If you want to see soldering, skip to about the 10-minute marker. The teardown starts at around 16 minutes.

Honestly, for the bench, we’d probably stick with a wired iron. You don’t always want a base and a PD power supply for a portable iron. But if you absolutely hate cords, this could be a reasonable answer. We’ve seen another review of this iron that didn’t like the plastic casings. Maybe it is like Jedi and lightsabers: you should just build your own.

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MIT Cracks The Concrete Capacitor

It’s a story we’ve heard so many times over the years: breathless reporting of a new scientific breakthrough that will deliver limitless power, energy storage, or whichever other of humanity’s problems needs solving today. Sadly, they so often fail to make the jump into our daily lives because the reporting glosses over some exotic material that costs a fortune or because there’s a huge issue elsewhere in their makeup. There’s a story from MIT that might just be the real thing, though, as a team from that university claim to have made a viable supercapacitor from materials as simple as cement, carbon black, and a salt solution. Continue reading “MIT Cracks The Concrete Capacitor”