Stainless Cell Update

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything, I’ve had a lot on my plate lately. I finally got a chance to resume experimenting and decided to pick up my stainless cell experiments.

If you haven’t seen them, check out these videos:

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As I work my day job, my mind is in my lab. I’ve been pondering how this cell operates and decided to make a huge change. I’ve replaced the epsom salt electrolyte with a sodium hydroxide electrolyte. So far, it seems to work at least as well as before. This experiment also rules out the production of iron sulfate salts forming. Perhaps this is either a iron oxide or hydroxide salt reaction.

My progress has been slow, but I feel like I’m starting to come to a better understanding of how this cell works. If it continues to show promise, I have a very good application for it that I’ll be sharing in the future. Stay tuned for a video on this updated cell as well as more information as it comes in.

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Important Stainless Epsom Breakthrough!

I figured out that my stainless epsom cell can be made far cheaper by changing the negative electrode to steel. The performance of the cell seems to be on par, if not slightly better, with this change. Here’s my most recent video on it, where I make a couple observations:

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I’m still not certain as to what chemical reaction is taking place in the cell. I’m leaning toward an iron oxide reaction, with the yellowish substance being a hydrate form of the oxide. This hunch is the result of trying to build the cell with steel wool as the material for both the anode and cathode. The positive side produced green iron(II) sulfate, so the chances of iron(III) sulfate forming on the anode are very unlikely.

Another good thing is the apparent lack of chromium compounds being produced, making this a clean way to store energy.

Since the cell seems to level out at around 1V, I believe that charging it under 1.48V will prevent electrolysis and improve the efficiency of charging. I’ve charged it with a NiMH AA battery and did not observe any offgassing. This still has to be further tested, but if it is true, it will lead to a highly efficient charge.

Capacity still leaves something to be desired. By using fine steel wool and stainless steel wool, I hope to increase the capacity of the cell. Electrolyte concentration is another area of work as well.

I hope these experiments have got you building your own rechargeable cells. Being able to build your own storage batteries from cheap, safe materials would revolutionize green energy and off grid living.

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Stainless Steel – Epsom Secondary Cell Update

Its been a year since I used this particular cell that I’m writing about. It sat on my workbench for a year, exposed to temperature extremes, low charge, and evaporating electrolyte. Not exactly the best treatment.

After topping it off with distilled water, it read a bit over a quarter of a volt. Encouraged by this sign of life, I went ahead and charged it. After getting off the charger, it settled to 1.008V. A bit better than I remember it doing before.

The difference is in how I charged it. Before I was using way too much voltage, which I believe was messing up the electrode formation. Using lower voltage is giving me better results. Here’s a video of it in action that shows a good amount of detail:

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I’ve tried using regular steel wool, but seem to get green iron(II) sulfate on the positive electrodes and much lower voltage readings. The negative side is still producing a yellowish tint, which I’m guessing to be iron(III) sulfate . I’m still trying to put my finger on the chemistry behind this cell.

If any of you are brushed up better on chemistry than I am and have some input, I’d love to hear from you. From my research, the scrubber pads I’m using for my electrodes are made of a 400 series stainless steel. I’d guess 409 or 434.

I’m going to order in some fine stainless steel wool to improve surface area and thus increase the cell capacity. Perhaps stainless steel can be used in conjunction with cheaper steel to lower the overall cost.

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Poor Man's Power Backup Video Series

I’ve got my video series up and running on how to take a UPS and turn it into an emergency power supply. With a little creativity, you can convert one into a homemade inverter generator. Be sure to look at some of the points below the video to address any additional ideas or concerns.

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First, be sure to scrap the batteries you got from the UPS. You’ll get a couple of bucks to offset any costs incurred in turning it into an inverter. Also, see if you can find an old computer or computer power supply to get a small cooling fan instead of purchasing a new one. Scrap the computer parts to recover even more money.

Get a multimeter to monitor the charge of your battery. Harbor Freight has a really cheap model that is ideal for this use. They come in handy around the house and car anyway. At that price, you might as well get a couple. Also, you will want to have a gallon of distilled water to keep your electrolyte level good.

If you live in an area where there are few natural disasters and power outages are short, using the UPS to charge the battery is probably the best route to go. The marine battery I used costs only $75 or so and has many times the capacity of the stock battery. Smaller marine batteries can be had for even cheaper and all of them will outperform the stock battery for not much more money. Moral of the story – upgrade the battery and enjoy your power longer.

Remember, it is not necessary to purchase a battery to use with the UPS if you plan to use it with your car. The car battery is enough. In that case, I would connect a long set of jumper cables directly to the battery leads of the UPS. The car then should be parked close enough to a window so the UPS can be inside the house. Use a rolled up towel to prevent air leaking through the window.

It should go without saying don’t leave your car running in a closed garage. In the recent power outage in the northern U.S., a man actually died from carbon monoxide poisoning from his generator. Don’t let this happen to you. Please use common sense and a carbon monoxide detector.

Also, get a set of spare keys and lock the vehicle while it is running to prevent theft.

Be sure to turn off your car’s lights, radio, blower, and any other accessory that uses power. This will ensure maximum power is available for your power needs.

A riding lawnmower can also be used to provide charging power during a prolonged outage. This will use less gas than an idling car and will work fine if you keep your power requirements light. Adjust the throttle until the battery slightly charges or stays level under load. This will further conserve fuel.

I personally use a deep cycle battery in conjunction with the UPS so I can use my solar panels instead of the car. The car is my backup for less than favorable solar conditions. You can build a 100 watt panel for as little as $45 if you are handy with a soldering iron and ordering from ebay.

I’ve got many more ideas along these lines. Stay tuned for more posts and videos.

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Poor Man's Power Backup – Introduction

Since work and weather has slowed my rocket stove DVD production to a halt, I decided to work on another project until I can pick it back up. Bad weather affects all of us, and in recent years, it seems to be affecting more of us more often.

Being able to provide light, heat, food, water, and sanitation during extended power outages caused by natural disasters is an important skill set to have. I’m putting up a series of videos on Youtube on how to do these things on a budget.

Here’s a teaser video that shows some of the basic elements of the electrical system I’m developing:

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Stay tuned for more videos on how to keep your family more comfortable during inclement weather.

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Black & Decker Thrift Store Win & Battery Conversion Update

Some of you might remember my post on converting a 18V Black & Decker nicad battery to lithium ion. Today I hit an unexpected find at the thrift store – a Black & Decker cordless weed eater for only $15.

Kind of the wrong time of year for weed eating, but since I am behind on keeping up with my property, there were some dead weeds for me to try it out on. While charging the nicad battery that it came with, I decided to try out my lithium ion conversion. It worked flawlessly.

So far the conversion works great with the cordless drill and the weed eater. It does not work well with the chainsaw, unfortunately.

Here’s my video on how to do these conversions:

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If you use the stock charger, be sure to monitor voltage periodically. It is possible for it to rise higher than is recommended for the 6 cells. This will lead to damaged cells if allowed to happen.

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Cordless drill battery upgrade

For $5, or the cost of a used laptop battery, I was able to upgrade the horrible nicad cells in my Black & Decker 18V Single Source battery to lithium ion cells. Here’s how I did it:

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I’ve used it pretty heavy for several days with no need to recharge. So far, it seems to be a winning upgrade. The 2.2 Ah cells used will give it at least 1.5x the battery life. You can find cells rated up to 5 Ah on ebay, though I’ve heard that the ratings of some cells can be grossly exaggerated.

Be sure you research lithium ion batteries and understand the risks involved in using them before trying a project like this on your own.

I’m collecting more used batteries to upgrade my UPS I mentioned in this post. By populating the battery bay in the UPS with several of these homemade lithium ion batteries, I’ll be able to have a self contained, lightweight emergency power system.

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Free Battery Tender/Charger

If you have access to grid power or some other AC power source, a capacitive battery charger is cheap and simple to make. If you have a dead microwave or window AC unit and a old power supply with a bridge rectifier in it, you can build one for free. Capacitive chargers will charge from a single lead acid cell up to a battery bank rated up to the AC voltage, making this highly versatile.

Tending a Battery with a 38.1 mA charge.
Tending a Battery with a 38.1 mA charge.

Be sure to discharge the capacitor of the microwave or AC unit before you do anything with it. Remove the power cord and swipe the capacitor while you are at it. Obtain a bridge rectifier from an old power supply and check its rating. The one I got came from an audio system and is rated for 8 amps. I used colored test leads to illustrate how everything is hooked up. Please do not assemble in such a manner unless you really like to get shocked:

Hooking up the capacitive charger. Do not assemble this way unless you like getting shocked.
Hooking up the capacitive charger. Do not assemble this way unless you like getting shocked.

I’ll include the schematic at the end of this post as well. As you can tell, it is very easy to hook up. If you simply want to keep a battery from sulfating and topped off with charge, the microwave capacitor will put between 35 and 40 mA into the battery.

If you really want to charge a battery another good option is the window AC capacitor. Most of these are the dual capacitor type. On mine, the compressor side is rated to 60 uf and the fan side is 15 uf. You will typically get ~1A charge per 25 uf on your capacitor. I get 2.25A with the 60 uf side and .55A with 15 uf side.

AC Dual Capacitor
AC Dual Capacitor – Two capacitors in one.

This gives the option of having both a trickle charge and charge in the same box. Looking at the top of these, you can see one post is labeled herm for 60 uf which normally goes to the compressor. The fan post is the 15 uf capacitor. The other post is the common one and is usually labeled C.

Top view of dual capacitor.
Top view of dual capacitor.

Be sure to build this in a nonconductive box for safety and portability. Use the normal safety precautions when working with line power. Be sure you hook the battery up to the charger before turning the unit on. It will put out the full voltage on the DC side, which can give you a nasty shock. Turn the unit off before disconnecting the battery. Don’t over charge your battery, use a timer to turn the unit off automatically.

To get greater charging amps, you can wire more capacitors in parallel. If you have access to free capacitors, this might be an option for you. Otherwise, the cost quickly escalates. Keep in mind that you will be limited to the current on the AC breaker you are working with, so again you are looking at 15A or so max charge. Here’s that schematic I mentioned earlier, it includes an optional wiring for a dual capacitor:

Capacitive Charger Schematic - be sure not to exceed the limits on any single component.
Capacitive Charger Schematic – be sure not to exceed the limits on any single component.
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Insights on the alum battery

I’m changing to a new electrolyte after 8 months of pretty hard use on my mower battery converted to an alum electrolyte. In this time, I’ve overcharged and overdischarged the battery numerous times. It has held up remarkably well under all this abuse.

Open circuit voltage on alum battery.
Open circuit voltage on alum battery.

In the mean time, I’ve made some interesting observations. First, contrary to what I originally read and believed, alum electrolytes are not alkaline, nor do they become so under use. After 8 months of use, the electrolyte still turns litmus red. That is simply a property of potassium alum.

I’ve also discovered that one of the cells runs weak and has actually completely died in the process of my latest electrolyte swap. This account for some of the frustrating voltage anomalies I’ve encountered while I used this battery. If you got a battery with all good cells, the battery should charge to very similar voltages with a sulfuric acid electrolyte.

I’ve worked out the actual chemistry on the battery and realized my electrolyte recipe was rather weak. Better results probably could have been had by increasing the amount of alum to each cell. In spite of all that, I’ve had a battery that has powered tons of experiments and given us light and entertainment in power outages.

I’m leaving the alum behind and moving on to experimenting with epsom salts. I’ve had very good success with epsom salt electrolytes in my homemade cells and hope to achieve good results in a regular battery. Epsom salts are cheaper and more available than alum is, making it a great alternative for everyone to use. Stay tuned for more experimenting.

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New UPS for backup power

You might remember my old post on converting a computer UPS into a cheap power backup system. I just scored a better one, this time one with a 830W capacity:

$20 plus recycled batteries gives a cheap back up power supply.
$20 plus recycled batteries gives a cheap back up power supply.

The batteries that came with it are not in good shape, so I am looking for some larger ones to convert to a epsom electrolyte to replace them with.

When I get some replacement batteries, I’ll show how to hook this all up for an emergency power back up system.

You might notice some bags under the UPS in the picture. I’m starting work on the instructional videos for the rocket stove furnace :)

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