There are all kinds of old wives’ tales surrounding proper battery use floating around in the popular culture. Things like needing to fully discharge a battery every so often, unplugging devices when they’re fully charged, or keeping batteries in the fridge are all examples that have some kernel of truth to them but often are improperly applied. If you really want to know the truth about a specific battery, its behavior, and its features, it helps to dig in and actually take some measurements directly like [Tyler] has done with a vast array of embedded batteries in IoT devices.
[Tyler] is a firmware engineer by trade, so he is deeply familiar with this type of small battery. Battery performance can change dramatically under all kinds of scenarios, most important among them being temperature. But even the same type of battery can behave differently to others that are otherwise identical, which is why it’s important to have metrics for the batteries themselves and be able to measure them to identify behaviors and possible problems. [Tyler] has a system of best practices in place for monitoring battery performance, especially after things like firmware upgrades since small software changes can often have a decent impact on battery performance.
While working with huge fleets of devices, [Tyler] outlines plenty of methods for working with batteries, deploying them, and making sure they’re working well for customers. A lot of it is extremely useful for other engineers looking to develop large-scale products like this but it’s also good knowledge to have for those of us rolling out our own one-off projects that will operate under battery power. After all, not caring for one’s lithium batteries can have disastrous consequences.
The price of lithium batteries has plummeted in recent years as various manufacturers scale up production and other construction and process improvements are found. This is a good thing if you’re an EV manufacturer, but can be problematic if you’re managing something like a landfill and find that the price has fallen so low that rechargeable lithium batteries are showing up in the waste stream in single-use devices. Unlike alkaline batteries, these batteries can explode if not handled properly, meaning that steps to make sure they’re disposed of properly are much more important. [Becky] found these batteries in single-use disposable vape pens and so set about putting them to better use rather than simply throwing them away.
While she doesn’t use the devices herself, she was able to source a bunch of used ones locally from various buy-nothing groups. Disassembling the small vape pens is fairly straightforward, but care needed to be taken to avoid contacting some of the chemical residue inside of the devices. After cleaning the batteries, most of the rest of the device is discarded. The batteries are small but capable and made of various lithium chemistries, which means that most need support from a charging circuit before being used in any other projects. Some of the larger units do have charging circuitry, though, but often it’s little more than a few transistors which means that it might be best for peace-of-mind to deploy a trusted charging solution anyway.
While we have seen projects repurposing 18650 cells from various battery packs like power tools and older laptops, it’s not too far of a leap to find out that the same theory can be applied to these smaller cells. The only truly surprising thing is that these batteries are included in single-use devices at all, and perhaps also that there are few or no regulations limiting the sale of devices with lithium batteries that are clearly intended to be thrown away when they really should be getting recycled.
Continue reading “Harvesting Rechargeable Batteries From Single-Use Devices”
Electronics have been sent to some pretty extreme environments, but inside a living host is a particularly tricky set of conditions, especially if you don’t want to damage the organism ingesting the equipment. One step in that direction could be an edible battery cell. (via Electrek)
Developed by scientists at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, this new cell is made from food additives and ingredients to skirt any nasty side effects one might experience from ingesting a less palatable battery chemistry like NiCd. A riboflavin anode is coupled with a quercetin cathode, both with activated carbon to increase conductivity. Encapsulated in beeswax and with a separator made of nori algae, the battery is completely non-toxic.
The cell generates a modest 0.65V with a max sustained current of 48 µA for 12 min, but it shows promise as a power source for ingestible medical sensors, even if it won’t be powering your next mobile Raspberry Pi project. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen edible electronics; check out this screaming chocolate rabbit or robots made of candy.
There’s a good chance that if you build something which includes the ability to top up a lithium-ion battery, it’s going to involve the incredibly common TP4056 charger IC. Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. It’s a decent enough chip, and there are countless pre-made modules out there that make it extremely easy to implement. But if the chip shortage has taught us anything, it’s that alternatives are always good.
So we’d suggest bookmarking this opensource hardware Li-Ion battery charger design from [Shahar Sery]. The circuit uses the BQ24060 from Texas Instruments, which other than the support for LiFePO4 batteries, doesn’t seem to offer anything too new or exciting compared to the standard TP4056. But that’s not the point — this design is simply offered as a potential alternative to the TP4056, not necessarily an upgrade.
[Shahar] has implemented the design as a 33 mm X 10 mm two-layer PCB, with everything but the input and output connectors mounted to the topside. That would make this board ideal for attaching to your latest project with a dab of hot glue or double-sided tape, as there are no components on the bottom to get pulled off when you inevitably have to do some rework.
The board takes 5 VDC as the input, and charges a single 3.7 V cell (such as an 18650) at up to 1 Amp. Or at least, it can if you add a heatsink or fan — otherwise, the notes seem to indicate that ~0.7 A is about as high as you can go before tripping the thermal protection mode.
Like the boilerplate TP4056 we covered recently, this might seem like little more than a physical manifestation of the typical application circuit from the chip’s datasheet. But we still think there’s value in showing how the information from the datasheet translates into the real-world, especially when it’s released under an open license like this.
When it comes to portable power, lithium-ion batteries are where it’s at. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of work being done to better understand how to maximize battery life and usable capacity.
While engaged in such work, [Dr. Michael Metzger] and his colleagues at Dalhousie University opened up a number of lithium-ion cells that had been subjected to a variety of temperatures and found something surprising: the electrolytic solution within was a bright red when it was expected to be clear.
It turns out that PET — commonly used as an inert polymer in cell assembly — releases a molecule that leads to self-discharge of the cells when it breaks down, and this molecule was responsible for the color change. The molecule is called a redox shuttle, because it travels back and forth between the cathode and the anode. This is how an electrochemical cell works, but the problem is this happens all the time, even when the battery isn’t connected to anything, causing self-discharge.
Continue reading “Researchers Find “Inert” Components In Batteries Lead To Cell Self-Discharge”
Lithium batteries have, nearly single-handedly, ushered in the era of the electric car, as well as battery energy storage of grid power and plenty of other technological advances not possible with older battery chemistries. There’s just one major downside: these lithium cells can be extremely finicky. If you’re adding one to your own project you’ll have to be extremely careful to treat them exactly how they are designed to be treated using something like this boilerplate battery protection circuit created by [DIY GUY Chris].
The circuit is based around the TP4056 integrated circuit, which handles the charging of a single lithium cell — in this design using supplied power from a USB port. The circuit is able to charge a cell based on the cell’s current charge state, temperature, and a model of the cell. It’s also paired with a DW01A chip which protects the cell from various undesirable conditions such as over-current, overcharge, and over-voltage.
The best thing about this design isn’t the design itself, but that [DIY GUY Chris] built the circuit schematic specifically to be easily copied into PCB designs for other projects, which means that lithium batteries can more easily be integrated directly into his other builds. Be sure to check out our primer on how to deal with lithium batteries before trying one of your own designs, though.
Continue reading “Copy And Paste Lithium Battery Protection”
Lithium sulfur batteries are often touted as the next major chemistry for electric vehicle applications, if only their cycle life wasn’t so short. But that might be changing soon, as a group of researchers at Drexel University has developed a sulfur cathode capable of more than 4000 cycles.
Most research into the Li-S couple has used volatile ether electrolytes which severely limit the possible commercialization of the technology. The team at Drexel was able to use a carbonate electrolyte like those already well-explored for more traditional Li-ion cells by using a stabilized monoclinic γ-sulfur deposited on carbon nanofibers.
The process to create these cathodes appears less finicky than previous methods that required tight control of the porosity of the carbon host and also increases the amount of active material in the cathode by a significant margin. Analysis shows that this phase of sulfur avoids the formation of intermediate fouling polysulfides which accounts for it’s impressive cycle life. As the authors state, this is far from a commercial-ready system, but it is a major step toward the next generation of batteries.
We’ve covered the elements lithium and sulfur in depth before as well as an aluminum sulfur battery that could be big for grid storage.