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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
It might be good to know how to make batteries out of common household items should the need arise. Since I have never made a battery, I thought it might be interesting to start a thread to share the experience. Maybe this will end up being useful information for preppers, but at the very least, it might show you what not to do.

Battery Basics

First of all, those AA, AAA, C, & D cells you have aren't batteries, at least not technically. They are dry cells. You have to hook multiple cells together to form a battery. Be that as it may, I intend to call anything I make a "battery," even if it's only one cell.

Batteries are made of 3 parts; an anode, a cathode, and electrolyte.

The anode is the negative side of a battery. I don't want to get too technical here, but let's just say the anode will accumulate excess electrons and thus end up with a net negative charge. The anode can be made of many materials, but I will be using either aluminum or zinc, which are easy to find and safe to work with. (anything galvanized has been coated in zinc and can be used for an anode)

The cathode is the positive side. It "donates" electrons, so ends up with a net positive charge. Again, many substances can be used for the cathode, but I'll be using copper.

The electrolyte can be any acid, base, or even salt. Car batteries use sulfuric acid as the electrolyte while your typical Alkaline battery uses potassium hydroxide. Whatever is used, the electrolyte causes a chemical reaction which causes electrons to leave the cathode and move to the anode. This causes an electrical imbalance and creates a potential difference (voltage) between the anode and cathode.

The excess electrons collecting at the anode really want to go back into the cathode, but the chemical reaction caused by the electrolyte prevents this... at least internally. If you hook a wire between anode and cathode, these electrons will leave the anode and gleefully swarm back to the cathode, creating current.

You can connect 2 or more cells to create a true battery. If you hook them anode to cathode to anode to cathode, etc, (in series) their voltages will add. For example, in a car battery, there are 6 X 2.1 volt cells connected in series to give you 12.6 VDC. If you connect all the cathodes together and all the anodes together, (in parallel) the voltage will be the same that of an individual cell, but the current (in amps) will add.

So there you have it: the simple version of how batteries work.

Now we can make some, yay!
 
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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Design Goal

My overall goal is to make a battery that will be able to power (or charge) any USB device. It has to be made of common materials you can find almost anywhere, and not contain anything too dangerous. If successful, I can use it to charge my phones, tablets, and other small hand held devices. So the first order of business is to figure out how much power I'm gonna need.

The USB 1 and USB 2 specs call for 5 VDC and no more than 500 mA, while USB 3 allows 5 VDC and no more than 900 mA. Some manufacturers have included higher power USB ports on their motherboards, with the intent of recharging devices faster, but I think I will stay within the standard USB 3 spec and aim for 5 VDC and 900 mA. Since watts = amps X volts, we are looking at 4.5 watts.

Baby Steps

Well, I don't have the materials I want, so until I can get to a hardware store, I might as well do something...

I took a piece of aluminum foil about 2 inches wide and crumpled it into a thin rope-looking thing. This will be my anode for this simple experiment. Next I stripped 2 X 9 inch lengths of speaker wire and twisted them together to form my cathode. Hey, so far this is easy!

Then I got a 16 ounce glass, filled it with tap water, and stuck my anode and cathode in on opposite sides. When I put my meter on it, it read .6 VDC. Switching to amps, I couldn't get a reading at all. The meter I am using (Fluke 115) was designed for field service work on industrial equipment and lacks a milliamp range, but will read amps to a 3 place decimal, (which are milliamps) so something must be wrong.

I decided my tap water doesn't contain enough chlorine to make it that acid, so I was going to add some bleach, but can't find it and the little woman is asleep. So I emptied out about 1/4 of the water and filled the rest up with vinegar. After hooking up the meter, I was semi-delighted to see about 12 mA produced. Not much, but it's something.

So now I want to make a better "test bed" battery with an anode and cathode which have more surface area. (I'm thinking some kind of tubing) Once I get this together, I want to test different electrolytes. I'm guessing that raising the concentrations will increase amperage but shorten the life of the battery. I want to try salt water, chlorine, and vinegar at varying concentrations to get some idea of how these variables relate to output power. More to come...
 

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Do a search on Fischer Scientfic and see if there is a vendor that sells to the public in your area. You will be able to get 1N concentrations of Glacial Acetic Acid as well as Sulphuric Acid. You can also get KoH in varying Normalites and NaoH as well for your base if you choose to go try the Alkaline route.

Cool project, btw.

EDIT: Might be worth picking up a Pool Ph testing kit so can track the Ph of your electrolyte to keep out of the 6-8 nuetral range, which is where your tap water will be.

EDIT EDIT: Please use proper ventilation and observe recommendaed usage of the proper PPE.
 

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Cool project.

Reminded me of the potato project... But obviously this should be taken to the level of usefulness.
 

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What about orange juice? The other thought that jumps immediately to mind is to try dissolving a couple tablespoons of dry lawn fertilizer in water. - I think that is usually slightly acidic.

Very cool project - please let us know what you find.
 

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FYI, you can get the sulfuric acid(electrolyte) at a motorcycle shop or maybe still an auto parts store and, probably wal-mart.for powersports (bike,snowmobile etc,)batteries that are filled and charged when new as they come dry from the manufacturer.be carful wear goggles and leather or quality rubber gloves this stuff is very nasty on body parts(yours).
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks for the suggestions, but...

One of my "design goals" is to use stuff that would be easy to find in a post-SHTF scenario, so most concentrated acids are out. Yeah, they would work, but as you all pointed out, they can be a little dangerous to handle and I just don't want to play with them here.

Orange juice, lime juice, lemon juice, and grapefruit juice would all probably work, but wouldn't be that easy to find unless you live in Florida or something.

The pool test kit is an excellent idea. I want to pick up some granulated chlorine anyway, so will pick one up while I'm at the pool supply store. I think chlorine in one form or another would be on nearly every prepper's list of stocked items.

KoH can be made by letting water filter through hardwood ash, so that's something I might try too.

My shopping list includes 1 1/2" pvc pipe and end caps, 1" schd 40 aluminum pipe, and 1/2" copper pipe. If the aluminum pipe proves hard to find, I'll just get a roll of aluminum flashing, sand off any coating on one side, then roll it until it fits into the pvc. My plan is to make one cell about a foot long as a test, then take it from there. Stay tuned...
 
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I would look at the rolls of zinc for roofing and the copper pipe if I was doing this. Zinc is very reactive and a great metal to use for a battery when copper is the other metal used.

Get your PVC and cut the zinc sheet to fit around the inside diameter. solder or rivet a wire to it and then use some discs made of PVC glued in place to suspend your copper tubing. Solder or rivet a wire to that and add your electrolyte. NOTE: some of the automotive wire has a PVC coating for insulation so it could easily be sealed to the PVC tube wall where it comes through.

Try testing combinations of different electrolytes mixed too. You can sometimes get a lower PH (more acid) by mixing acids than you can from either of the acids alone.

The only drawback is that these batteries will not be rechargeable - it's a one way ticket for the metals being used.
 
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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Paul,

Yeah, that's pretty much what I'm gonna do. I didn't know they had zinc flashing, but will look for it. If not, aluminum will do and is probably more common anyway. And yeah, the first cell I make will be to test various electrolytes and concentrations. As I said, I will be concentrating on chlorine because that's a staple for most preppers anyway.

True, you can't recharge these batteries, but they can be renewed. If I hit the right balance between power and battery life (by finding the right amount of chlorine to add), I would expect a bank of them to put out about 4 watts at 5 V for 2 or 3 months before crapping out. They will fail when they get a buildup of crud that blocks the current. At that point, it should be possible to drain the electrolyte, sand off the crud layer, put the things back together, and add new electrolyte... good as new. In theory, these batteries would last virtually forever if you start with thick enough materials.

I can picture a larger bank of these mounted to a garage wall. Each cell would put out 1.5 V, so you could have 8 cells, each 5 feet long, wired in series to produce 12 volts. You could have 3 of these strings in parallel and get maybe 75 W at 12 VDC, and it would output this power for months at a time. That would be more than enough to provide LED lighting if nothing else.

I don't think this would be that practical for "normal world" use, but PVC pipe, aluminum, copper pipe, and chlorine should be easy to scrounge in any post SHTF scenario, so it's worth looking into, at lease to me. :)
 

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I think you will find that the copper /zinc batteries won't make 1.5 volts each. The aluminum /copper batteries will only make .75 volts. If you used zinc and carbon (packed porous charcoal) and a strong acid/ or Lye you could get 1.5 volts but I think I would count getting .75 volts from a home-made battery a success. The amperage will be in relation to the size of your cell but the voltage is determined by the metals and electrolyte that you use.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
OK, that makes sense to me.

I was going to use galvanized pipe (which is coated in zinc) and copper, but am afraid that the zinc coating wouldn't stand up to many cleanings, so I thought aluminum would be better. If I can find zinc flashing, I'll certainly give it a try.

I'm looking for a total of 6 volts, which I will pass through a 5V regulator to get a solid 5V output. If I have to use more cells to get it, that's what I'm gonna do. Once I get the right voltage, I'll add a current limiting resistor to get the 900 mA. (I might have to use more than one bank of cells to get the current) Then I'll grab a USB port from a dead hub I have here and plug in one of my GF's devices to make sure it works. I'll probably breadboard the simple control bits then eventually make a circuit board and hard wire it into a small case.

At this point, nothing is etched in stone. I'm happy to hear suggestions because batteries have always seemed to be voodoo science to me.
 

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Have you looked up the Hutchinson effect? Me and Hank are working on making a batter bank that just creates current off of contact with air. Certain materials when wet and exposed to air just give off a charge, however small it might be. The theory is ENOUGH of this material linked in series will become a battery. My thoughts? It could be something. Rumors persist that people are already doing it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Leon, not until you mentioned it. The article I just read says the inventor, when asked about a wire clearly visible in one of his videos said, "Hutchison claimed that it was a wire which was part of the apparatus, but later he confessed that he was "creative" with the footage because he has been unable to reproduce the effect since 1991."

I remember hearing somewhere that it's possible to make a device that, when buried, will tap into the nearly infinite number of electrons in the ground to produce power. Though these kinds of things are interesting, (don't get me going about Tesla's "cold electricity") I am mainly looking for easy, safe, well established ways to make modest amounts of electricity.

Once I move and establish a proper evil laboratory, I do intend to explore some off-the-wall energy sources. Mwwwwahahahahaha!!
 

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For the electrolyte you might want to look into drain cleaner. These substances contain ether sodium hydroxide or sulfuric acid.
Be careful when working with this stuff, it is hard on your body.
I have seen batteries explode and it is not a pleasant sight.

This in one area I would not tuch. It's to dangerous.
 

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Okay, so I understood battery, and I think I have the toad, catholics and gatorade part, but then I got lost. ;-)

Seriously though, great thread Prepadoodle! I believe I will be checking on that one and look forward to seeing how yours turns out! However, I would recommend not telling your girlfriend that you're using one of HER devices to test it on. Just sayin'. You want to talk about voodoo; there will be some bad juju comin' your way if you fry something. :razz:
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
...I would recommend not telling your girlfriend that you're using one of HER devices to test it on. Just sayin'. You want to talk about voodoo; there will be some bad juju comin' your way if you fry something. :razz:
I have no intention of telling her unless it works! I just don't want to risk one of MY devices, yanno? If her's blows up, I'll find some way to blame the cat. :)
 
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You don't need to restrict the amperage. If you get 5 volts then any 5 volt device will limit the amount of current it absorbs.
Any extra amperage capacity can be used for a second or third device in parallel.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Paul,

I have an LM7805 5v regulator on hand, which is rated at 1 A. I'm just more comfortable limiting the current to the 900 mA USB 3 spec because I don't want to risk blowing the regulator with devices that might draw more than that during charging.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
I made a simple battery today to test various electrolytes.

It's a 12" long piece of 1 1/2" PVC with a cap on one end. I cut a piece of aluminum flashing to line the inside diameter, then sanded it to remove any coating or oxidation, then rolled it up and stuffed it in the pipe. Then i took a piece of 3/4" copper pipe cut to 12" long, sanded it to clean it up, and wound electrical tape around the bottom and top in order to center it in the tube. Then I stuffed that into the tube too.

I decided not to mess around, so I mixed up a 50-50 mix of Clorox and tap water. This is much higher concentration than I was gonna use. I added it to the tube and took voltage and amperage readings and was very surprised to find....

1.5 VDC and almost 5 amps (!)

The voltage was about what I expected, but the current was way higher than I was expecting. Right now, I drained it and am letting everything dry. I only want 1 amp, so will reduce the concentration and try again tomorrow.

The metals I'm using (aluminum and copper) will eventually get crudded up by the chlorine. I'm trying to balance battery life with output here, so diluting the electrolyte should make the batteries last longer between cleanings. My eventual goal is to make batteries 5 feet long, which would only need a very dilute concentration of chlorine, and thus last for months. More to come...
 
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Holy crap! That is WAY higher amperage than I would have expected! You should try it a second time with the same concentration to verify the results are similar. If that is the case you could wire up 64 of them and create 480 watts in the same footprint as a 2' x 4' solar panel!

How would a 4 footer perform? - 20 amps? more?

Nice shootin' Tex!
 
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