Rapid Charging Supercapacitors

Battery technology is the talk of the town right now, as it’s the main bottleneck holding up progress on many facets of renewable energy. There are other technologies available for energy storage, though, and while they might seem like drop-in replacements for batteries they can have some peculiar behaviors. Supercapacitors, for example, have a completely different set of requirements for charging compared to batteries, and behave in peculiar ways compared to batteries.

This project from [sciencedude1990] shows off some of the quirks of supercapacitors by showing one method of rapidly charging one. One of the most critical differences between batteries and supercapacitors is that supercapacitors’ charge state can be easily related to voltage, and they will discharge effectively all the way to zero volts without damage. This behavior has to be accounted for in the charging circuit. The charging circuit here uses an ATtiny13A and a MP18021 half-bridge gate driver to charge the capacitor, and also is programmed in a way that allows for three steps for charging the capacitor. This helps mitigate the its peculiar behavior compared to a battery, and also allows the 450 farad capacitor to charge from 0.7V to 2.8V in about three minutes.

If you haven’t used a supercapacitor like this in place of a lithium battery, it’s definitely worth trying out in some situations. Capacitors tolerate temperature extremes better than batteries, and provided you have good DC regulation can often provide power more reliably than batteries in some situations. You can also combine supercapacitors with batteries to get the benefits of both types of energy storage devices.

The Best Voltage And Current Reference This Side Of A Test Lab

When you measure a voltage, how do you know that your measurement is correct? Because your multimeter says so, of course! But how can you trust your multimeter to give the right reading? Calibration of instruments is something we often trust blindly without really thinking about, but it’s not always an impossible task only for a high-end test lab. [Petteri Aimonen] had enough need for a calibrated current source to have designed his own, and he’s shared the resulting project for all to see.

The cost of a reference source goes up with the degree of accuracy required, and can stretch into the many millions of dollars if you are seeking the standards of a national metrology institute, but fortunately [Petteri]’s requirements were considerably more modest. 0.02% accuracy would suffice. An Analog Devices precision voltage reference driving a low-offset op-amp with a driver transistor supplies current to a 0.01% precision resistor, resulting in a reference current source fit for his needs. The reference is available in a range of voltages, his chosen 2.048 volts gave a 2.048 mA current sink with a 100 ohm resistor.

In a way it is a miracle of technology that the cheapest digital multimeter on the market can still have a surprisingly good level of calibration thanks to its on-chip bandgap voltage reference, but it never hurts to have a means to check your instruments. Some of us still rather like analogue multimeters, but beware — calibration at the cheaper end of that market can sometimes be lacking.

A Division In Voltage Standards

During my recent trip to Europe, I found out that converters were not as commonly sold as adapters, and for a good reason. The majority of the world receives 220-240 V single phase voltage at 50-60 Hz with the surprisingly small number of exceptions being Canada, Colombia, Japan, Taiwan, the United States, Venezuela, and several other nations in the Caribbean and Central America.

While the majority of countries have one defined plug type, several countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia use a collection of incompatible plugs for different wall outlets, which requires a number of adapters depending on the region traveled.

Although there is a fair degree of standardization among most countries with regards to the voltage used for domestic appliances, what has caused the rift between the 220-240 V standard and the 100-127 V standards used in the remaining nations?

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If You Need A Measurement Tool Just Build A Measurement Tool

[Darlan Johnson] was working on a wearable project and needed a way to measure the change in voltage and current over time. 

Most measurement tools are designed to take snapshots of a system’s state in a very small window of time, but there are few common ones designed to observe and log longer periods. It’s an interesting point, for example, many power supply related failures such as resets occur sporadically. Longer timescale measuring devices could pick these up.

[Darlan] had a ton of Feathers and shields lying around, and combined them into the needed instrument. An INA219 current sensor records the measurements. They are then displayed on a TFT and logged to an SD card. Everything is bundled into a neat 3D printed case along with a battery for wireless operation. A set of barrel connectors provide the breakout to split the wires for the current measurement.

It’s a neatly done hack and we can see it as a nice addition to any hacker’s measurement drawer.

Five Channel Monitor Keeps Boat Batteries Shipshape

While those of us stuck sailing desks might not be able to truly appreciate the problem, [Timo Birnschein] was tired of finding that some of the batteries aboard his boat had gone flat. He wanted some way to check the voltage on all of the the batteries in the system simultaneously and display the information in a central location, and not liking anything on the commercial market he decided to build it himself.

Even for those who don’t hear the call of the sea, this is a potentially useful project. Any system that has multiple batteries could benefit from a central monitor that can show you voltages at a glance, but [Timo] is actually going one better than that. With the addition of a nRF24 module, the battery monitor will also be able to wireless transmit the status of the batteries to…something. He actually hasn’t implemented that feature yet, but some way of getting the data into the computer so it can be graphed over time seems like a natural application.

The bill of materials is pretty short on this one. Beyond the aforementioned nRF24 module, the current version of the monitor features an Arduino Nano clone, a 128×160 SPI TFT display, and a handful of passives.

Knowing that a perfboard wouldn’t last long on the high seas, [Timo] even routed his own PCB for this project. We suspect there’s some kind of watertight enclosure in this board’s future, but it looks like things are still in the early phases. It will be interesting to follow along with this one and see how it eventually gets integrated in to the boat’s electrical system.

If you’re looking for a way to keep an eye on the voltages aboard your land ship, this battery monitor disguised as an automotive relay is still the high-water mark in our book.

You Didn’t See Graphite Around This Geiger Counter

Even if you don’t work in a nuclear power plant, you might still want to use a Geiger counter simply out of curiosity. It turns out that there are a lot of things around which emit ionizing radiation naturally, for example granite, the sun, or bananas. If you’ve ever wondered about any of these objects, or just the space you live in, it turns out that putting together a simple Geiger counter is pretty straightforward as [Alex] shows us.

The core of the Geiger counter is the tube that detects the radiation. That’s not something you’ll be able to make on your own (probably) but once you have it the rest of the build comes together quickly. A few circuit boards to provide the tube with the high voltage it needs, a power source, and a 3D printed case make this Geiger counter look like it was ordered from a Fluke catalog.

The project isn’t quite finished ([Alex] is still waiting on a BNC connector to arrive) but seems to work great and isn’t too complicated to put together, as far as Geiger counters go. He did use a lathe for some parts which not everyone will have on hand, but a quick trip to a makerspace or machinist will get you that part too. We’ve seen some other parts bin Geiger counters too, so there’s always a way around things like this.

Old Wattmeter Uses Magnetics To Do The Math

Measuring power transfer through a circuit seems a simple task. Measure the current and voltage, do a little math courtesy of [Joule] and [Ohm], and you’ve got your answer. But what if you want to design an instrument that does the math automatically? And what if you had to do this strictly electromechanically?

That’s the question [Shahriar] tackles in his teardown of an old lab-grade wattmeter. The video is somewhat of a departure for him, honestly; we’re used to seeing instruments come across his bench that would punch a seven-figure hole in one’s wallet if acquired new. These wattmeters are from Weston Instruments and are beautiful examples of sturdy, mid-century industrial design, and seem to have been in service until at least 2013. The heavy bakelite cases and sturdy binding posts for current and voltage inputs make it seem like the meters could laugh off a tumble to the floor.

But as [Shahriar] discovers upon teardown of a sacrificial meter, the electromechanical movement behind the instrument is quite delicate. The wattmeter uses a moving coil meter much like any other panel meter, but replaces the permanent magnet stator with a pair of coils. The voltage binding posts are connected to the fine wire of the moving coil through a series resistance, while the current is passed through the heavier windings of the stator coils. The two magnetic fields act together, multiplying the voltage by the current, and deflect a needle against a spring preload to indicate the power. It’s quite clever, and the inner workings are a joy to behold.

We just love looking inside old electronics, and moving coil meters especially. They’re great gadgets, and fun to repurpose, too.

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