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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
*Disclaimer* The information contained herein is for educational purposes only. The author assumes no responsibility of any kind if you injure, maim, mangle yourself or others or die while attempting to follow these instructions. These instructions relate the authors own personal experiences in a life or death scenario. However this information should not be relied upon to guide you out of a life or death situation where you may be stranded without food, water, shelter and/or cell phone services. Please exhaust every other method of rescue available to you before attempting this. Don't try this at home without proper adult supervision.
*End disclaimer*

As you may know my wife and I have spent the last few weekends bouncing around in the west desert.

We are lucky enough to have a vehicle with a decent battery in it, but a couple of weekends ago it was really, really hot and to make matters worse we left the stereo and the fan on while we camped.

This completely discharged the battery.
Now I confess this particular bit of MacGyver style wizardry is not an invention of mine.

My father in law is an electrical engineer and showed me this little trick a few years back. I was lucky enough to remember the basic concept behind it and whip it up in the field.

To understand how this works you need to know a little bit (albeit not much) about electricity.

The first thing to know is that electricity is a lot like water.
Water pressure is measured in PSI, electric pressure is measured in volts.
Water flow is measured in Feet per second, electron flow is measured in amps.

To charge a battery you need to pump more volts at less amps than the battery is capable of putting out. If you don't then current from the battery will back flow into the charger.

If you put a lot of amps into a battery at once the battery will heat up and burn out, possibly exploding.

Another thing to know is that batteries work by galvanic action.

Put simply galvanic action is any chemical process that yields a flow of electrons, if you reverse a galvanic action by adding current you get electrolysis which produces chemicals by electrical reactions, effectively storing those electrons for later use (recharging).

Thus, many galvanic / electrolytic reactions are reversible.

The final thing to note is that electricity (much like water) is always flowing from high pressure to low pressure.

With that in mind I present to you the Beer Can Trickle Charger.

Assuming you've already topped off your battery with water from wherever you can source it, the following steps will yield a charger.

First start a campfire, a nice big one. You want to obtain as much ash as you can get your hands on.

While the campfire is going you need to knock back a 12 pack of beer, soda works too, and the kind doesn't matter. What does matter is the cans, so don't crush them and don't throw them in the fire.

As you're drinking, cut the tops off the empty cans as cleanly as possible.

As soon as the fire is out and you can get at the ash take as much ash as you can.
Do your best to get only ash, white or grey ash is preferred.
Avoid the black ash, it's charcoal and the charcoal will interfere with the process, I'll explain why in a minute.

Once you have your ash, slowly and carefully add a little water until you get a paste that's the consistency of mud. It needs to be wet mud but shouldn't be runny if at all possible.

Now pack all 12 cans full of this mud. The mud or electrolyte is potassium, most likely the water will start catalyzing in the ash and produce potassium hydroxide, also known as lye. We want to collect the electric current from this reaction.

You now have what amounts to 12 alkaline batteries each with a potential of 1.5 volts for a total potential of 18 volts. Now what you need is a rod to stick down in there and act as a terminal or collector.

Ideally, large zinc concrete nails are best here because you will get the most amperage out of them and that's what my father in law used when he demonstrated this to me.

However since I was camping the only thing I had were tent stakes and I only had 6 of them. Fortunately they were made of metal, although I have no clue what kind of metal.

Carefully drive your tent stakes into the mud in the cans and make sure to leave at least a half inch between the stakes and the bottom of the cans.

I was lucky enough to have my multimeter in the vehicle and was able to check the output. Each can was 1.5v @ 1100 mA basically a fully charged AA.

Since I only had 6 stakes I started looking around for something else. Normally there is metal everywhere if you just look for it. In my case I was SOL.

I did have 3 pennies so I placed them edgewise into the mud but they wouldn't stay, however my voltmeter showed them working as good as the stakes while they were in it.

Finally I remembered that in alkaline batteries they use carbon rods, so I took a chance and found some long cylindrical pieces of charcoal, it works!

Putting my multimeter to them showed 1.5v @ 300uA. The amperage sucked and was about on par with a dead AA but it was all I had.

Now that we have 12 beer can and ash batteries we lay them down (or stack them up) end to end.

Now that you're connected use the multimeter to check the voltage and amperage. If it's less than 18 volts then double check your beer cans because you've likely got a short. If so, it'll probably be the beer can that's currently the hottest doing the shorting, just pull the rod out a half inch or so and it should resolve the problem.

Check amps next, you should be pushing a grand total of 1 or 2 amps. If it's significantly less then look to see which beer can has dried up or has broken it's rod. If you happen to have more beer cans laying around, for instance you brought a 24 pack then you can build another battery pack and connect it in parallel ++ & -- to the first one pack to drive the amps up.

Remember serial is positive to negative and drives up volts, parallel is positive to positive, negative to negative and will drive up the amps. Do not go past 10 amps or you risk significant injury and death.

In my particular case I had 12 beer cans 6 at 1100mA and 6 @ 300uA this is because I was trying drive the voltage and had to connect the 6 charcoal batteries in series to kick the voltage up, remember pressure, not flow.

However if I had needed to rely on charcoal alone I would have needed a lot more cans since 300uA was about all I could pull out of charcoal.

12 of the charcoal batteries would have only been 3.6mA per pack.
So 600 cans would have been needed for about the same amperage.
That's a lot of beer.

Moving right along...
Next step is to check the vehicle battery. Volts should be fairly close to 12 if it's not then you need to top it up, or possibly you have a dead cell, if the cell is dead this likely won't work but if you're really and truly stranded with no other way, there is no harm in trying.

The last vehicle battery check should be amps. A normal multimeter can handle a max of 10 amps. However if you aren't lucky enough to have a mechanics multimeter you can turn on your high beams and see if they glow about as bright as always.

If they don't light, your battery has very few if any amps, if they light about halfway you have about half the amps you need etc.

Once you guesstimate your car battery's current amperage shut off the lights.

Your job is now to figure out how long to run the beer can trickle charger for.

If you're lucky enough to have an owners manual in the glove box look up the replacement battery specs. This is going to read something like.
12V - 38 AH

This means at 1 amp from 0 charge you will need 38 hours to charge. If you happen to have 2 amps of output or the battery is looking like it's 50% charged then you only need to let it run 19 hours.

Now what do you do if you have no manual?

Look at the battery itself and find out what it's CCA or Cold Cranking Amps are.

If you have an OEM battery that shipped with the car the CCA is probably about 25% more than you actually need to start the vehicle. If you have an aftermarket battery and didn't cheap out then it's likely 50% above whats needed.

A good rule of thumb on OEM is CCA is 10.5* max amps. So if you have a 410 CCA battery (LR51) then you have 38 amps. If you have a non-oem battery then you will probably be safe with CCA = 10 * max amps, so a 410 CCA battery would need 41 amps.

Do the math and move on to the next step.

Next connect the black jumper cable (you did remember jumper cables didn't you?) to the base of the bottom can and the red jumper cable to the stake sticking out of the top can.

Ever so gingerly connect the red end of the jumper cable to the positive terminal of the battery and the other end of the black cable to the frame of the car an engine mount or some other unpainted metal.

The reason for connecting the black cable to the frame of the car instead of the negative terminal on the battery is simple. If you screwed up there could be a huge spark. If that spark is next to your battery and your battery is outgassing at the moment that spark start a fire and/or explosion.

The final step is to wait, it is possible and quite likely that the beer can trickle charger will run out of juice. About once an hour disconnect it and check it to see if it's still putting out (volts and amps) about as expected. If not dump your cans, clean your rods thoroughly, which means to wash and dry them.
If possible find something a little abrasive to sand them with and then repack the charger and retest.

Eventually the battery will charge enough to turn the engine. At this point let the vehicle run at least 30 minutes, while you clean up your mess and get out of there.

That's all there is to it. I hope you never have to use this information to save your life, but if you do I'd be much obliged if you let me know how it turns out for you.

Enjoy!
 

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Ham Extra Class
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This is a neat trick, however I would find it maybe even better to use this to run a radio or gps that the battery has died in. Thanks for the info.
 

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Great argument for the manual transmission.

Back in the day when I was too poor to get a new battery, but I lived in Hawaii where there are always plenty of slopes available, I could go for months without replacing the battery. I just made sure to park where gravity would get me going.
 

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17 Oaks Ranch Tx
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Great argument for the manual transmission.

Back in the day when I was too poor to get a new battery, but I lived in Hawaii where there are always plenty of slopes available, I could go for months without replacing the battery. I just made sure to park where gravity would get me going.
LOL I drove for over a year in a car with no starter, I did not have enough money to buy one...I learned to ALWAYS back in on a slope. Pop clutch in 2nd gear and drive.
 

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Patient Zero of WWZ
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*Disclaimer* The information
********
obliged if you let me know how it turns out for you.

Enjoy!
I really used to enjoy watching you on that show where you were on the deserted island.

Two questions.

Why did you take som many clothes for a three hour tour?

And

Did you ever tap Ginger?
 
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Sounds good in theory, will have to try it. I just open the back of the truck and pull out my 800 amp booster.
 

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I really used to enjoy watching you on that show where you were on the deserted island.

Two questions.

Why did you take som many clothes for a three hour tour?

And

Did you ever tap Ginger?
First off, Gilligan, the Skipper, and the professor, only had one set of clothes. The Howells, Ginger, and Mary Ann, had a neverending wardrobe.. And I was never a big fan of Ginger, because Mary Ann always came with a warm piece of pie..:thumb:
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I really used to enjoy watching you on that show where you were on the deserted island.

Two questions.

Why did you take som many clothes for a three hour tour?

And

Did you ever tap Ginger?
It's more MacGyver than Gilligan and professor. Only thing I know how to do with coconuts is make horse clopping noises and even then I'm not much good at it.
 

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Only thing I know how to do with coconuts is make horse clopping noises and even then I'm not much good at it.
When I was a kid, I had gerbals/hamsters and I used to cut the end off of the coconuts and use them as homes for the resident rodents...
 

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Super Moderator and Walking Methane Refinery
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How long will it put out that amperage though. I've cobbled together all sorts of batteries since I was a kid, just because it interested me. But I never could get them to put out much current for long. Without enough current, it's not going to build enough charge to start the car.
 

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17 Oaks Ranch Tx
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*Disclaimer*

That's all there is to it. I hope you never have to use this information to save your life, but if you do I'd be much obliged if you let me know how it turns out for you.

Enjoy!
I sent to this my buddy he is an old (85 yr old) engineer. I asked him about this and this guy is one smart electrical engineer. He said he had heard of this and it might have worked in the old days when a hi-perf motor was a 4 cyl and CR's were as low as 6:1. But hoping this is gonna work on a modern HiPerf engine, V8/V6 with CR of >9:1 its gonna be tough to spin ghe engine. Plus todays modern cars have big time electrical draws before the engine ever kicks over...LOT of electrical systems have to come on line. The old days all that was required was a starter to spin.

I read thru your write up and I maybe just missed it, but did you do this? It seems as if you did. If so then how long before you got the battery up enough to start your car. What kind of car/engine?

I have a Ford F 350 and I am here to tell you a 12 pack of beer cans and some campfire ashes are not gonna spin that 17.5:1 CR V8 diesel. I am OEM 2 BIG batteries...
 

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17 Oaks Ranch Tx
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Commenting to tag this as it looks awesome I will be trying soon thanks
Please do, post pics, give us details such as engine, make of car, how long etc.

It would help if you measured your dead battery voltage when you began and how long it took at what voltage to start...thanks and I look forward to your data...
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
I sent to this my buddy he is an old (85 yr old) engineer. I asked him about this and this guy is one smart electrical engineer. He said he had heard of this and it might have worked in the old days when a hi-perf motor was a 4 cyl and CR's were as low as 6:1. But hoping this is gonna work on a modern HiPerf engine, V8/V6 with CR of >9:1 its gonna be tough to spin ghe engine. Plus todays modern cars have big time electrical draws before the engine ever kicks over...LOT of electrical systems have to come on line. The old days all that was required was a starter to spin.

I read thru your write up and I maybe just missed it, but did you do this? It seems as if you did. If so then how long before you got the battery up enough to start your car. What kind of car/engine?

I have a Ford F 350 and I am here to tell you a 12 pack of beer cans and some campfire ashes are not gonna spin that 17.5:1 CR V8 diesel. I am OEM 2 BIG batteries...
You're misunderstanding the point of the device. This isn't meant as a replacement car battery and it's also not a jumpstart pack.

It is a trickle charger intended to help you build back up enough current in your existing battery to start your vehicle. Because it is only trickling around 1100mA or 1.1A and because I have an LR51 OEM battery which was about 50% depleted it took about 30 hours. (I drive a honda accord)

This is counting the fact that I had to refresh the batteries every 2 hours by pulling the pack apart, cleaning the cans and the rods and remixing the electrolyte, then packing everything back together of course. It takes about 30 minutes to do that for 12 batteries and I had to do it about a dozen times.

For anyone else, how long it would take to accomplish this depends on many factors including but not limited to.

The quality and condition of the materials you have available to you.
The size, condition and state of charge of the battery in the vehicle.

In the instructions I posted are what I consider pretty detailed explanations of how this works but let me elaborate some more on it since so many posters seem to have missed that part.

For the most part, all batteries including the ones in your flashlight and the ones in your vehicle all produce electricity through "galvanic action".

Galvanic action occurs when two electrochemically dissimilar metals are in contact and a conductive path occurs for electrons and ions to move from one metal to the other.

In the case of the beer cans you have aluminum being oxidized by potassium hydroxide as one half of the reaction and Zinc or Carbon being reduced by the same potassium hydroxide in the other half of the reaction.

The standard electrical potential of a cell can be determined by use of a standard potential table for the two half cells involved. The first step is to identify the two metals reacting in the cell. Then one looks up the standard electrode potential, E0, in volts, for each of the two half reactions. The standard potential for the cell is equal to the more positive E0 value minus the more negative E0 value.

In the case of the Beer Can Trickle Charger you have ash and water combining to create an electrolyte of Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) as well as probably a bunch of other chemicals like sulfates, but the KOH is the primary actor.

Potassium is a metal and the hydroxide means it is positively charged or anionic K+.

The KOH is being split during reaction into K+ on one side and OH- on the other.

Since the electrochemical potential of K+ is identical to that of Li+, the cell potential is similar to that of lithium-ion.

The potassium and aluminum react in air (probably with sulfates present in the ash as well) to create Potassium Alum KAl(SO4)2 in the electrolyte and aluminum oxide AlO2 on the walls of the can. This reaction is what determines the voltage.

The OH- is busily reacting with the Zinc or Carbon or Copper depending on the rod material and the exact reaction on that side of the cell is dependent on the rod material. However the material from which you source the rod and the reaction it causes is what will determine your amperage or the number of electrons being pushed out of the beer can and into the car battery.


Effectively what we have is an Aluminum battery http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium_battery

To quote wikipedia...
About 1.2 volts potential difference is created by these reactions, and is achievable in practice when potassium hydroxide is used as the electrolyte. Saltwater electrolyte achieves approximately 0.7 volts per cell.

When I measured this on my multimeter I was coming in at 1.5 volts and 1100mA, this could indicate a problem with my meter but on the whole is not significantly out of range with the expected chemistry.

The final piece of the puzzle is that volts are a measure of electrical pressure not the number of electrons flowing. In otherwords, PSI is to water as volts are to electrons. Also amperage is a measure of the number of electrons flowing, or put another way. Amps are to electrons as cubic feet per second is to water.

The reason a car won't start isn't voltage, it's amperage, basically your run down car battery, assuming it's not physically damaged has plenty of pressure but it's all out of electrons to pump into the starter and coil.

Because of this we have to overcome the pressure of the car battery (12 volts) and fill it back up with electrons (amps).

To increase voltages you connect voltage sources in series, or positive to negative. This keeps the amperage the same but kicks up the voltage.
If I have 12 beer cans producing 1.5 volts @ 1100mA each and I connect them in series I now have an 18 volt source (according to my meter), capable of pumping 1100mA into my car battery(or 18v @ 1.1a)

I hope this clarifies it for you.
 

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crustulum latro
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Coconut shells are the base for some good activated charcoal when processed properly.
Its specific advantage is that it will ADsorb harmful molecules etc through an electrical reaction with them, rather than ABsorb which is a mechanical reaction similar to a towel soaking up water.
If you have a water filtration unit, you probably have some in it.
Coconut shells are semi unique in this property due to the specific properties of the coconut prior to processing.

To get the activated charcoal, it is carborized in an oxygen deprived environment. In otherwords, if you can make char cloth, you can make this.
It is the same process except care should be taken not to cook it to destruction, you want that point just prior to it falling appart structurally.

activated charcoal of this nature is very very useful, and btw, can be used in place of your ash for the battery. Given the water purification properties of it, I believe it would amount to a pour use of it, but any port in a storm eh?

Now you know.
It's more MacGyver than Gilligan and professor. Only thing I know how to do with coconuts is make horse clopping noises and even then I'm not much good at it.
 

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Renaissance Man
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Neat trick, but I think I could probably walk home in the time it takes you to do this.

Az
 
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