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Archive for January, 2012

What is the Battery of the Future?

Or, what is the future of the Battery?

Battery technology seems to move at a snails pace. We want fast charging, non-toxic, long life, and light weight, but can we have it all? There are a lot of different technologies available, some at different levels of development and maturity, and some still on the drawing board. From light weight Lithium Polymer and long lasting Nickel Iron, to the old standby Lead Acid, and Flow batteries, the future is murky.

“As a storage device for energy, a battery is notoriously inefficient,” notes Johan de Nysschen, the president of Audi of America, though the automaker is investing in battery-powered vehicles. Today’s lithium ion batteries hold roughly 0.72 megajoules per kilogram. The equivalent amount of gasoline holds 35 times more energy.

Are we searching for the next El Dorado or the Northwest Passage in our efforts to find batteries that last longer, charge quickly, are inexpensive and don’t deteriorate?

The Txchnologist looks at that today in an article entitled: What Do We Need From the Battery of the Future? By David Biello and I thought it might be worth a read.


Sugar & Fat Bad, Fiber Good?

We have all heard that sugar is bad for us, fat is bad for us, and fiber is very good for us. Is it that simple? No, not really. There are different types of sugars & fats, of which some are necessary, and some are to be avoided. Fructose (found in white sugar and HFCS) is bad, unless paired with fiber, because you can eat lots of fructose, but without the fiber, the body doesn’t know that you are getting filled up. The short answer is “eat fruit, don’t drink soft drink”.

For a more complete explanation of the roles that sugar, fat, cholestoral and fiber play in our bodies digestion and utilization, see


Saving Energy with Lighting

We all know that fluorescent lights use less electricity than incandescent lights, and are a good way to save big on the electric bill.

The big thing in the news though is the mercury content of fluorescent lights, and the fact that the T12 fluorescent tubes are being phased out.

Well, there is some good news! CFL’s & T5 Tubes have 1/10th the mercury content of the T12 tubes (3mg vs. 30mg), and the T5 tubes are more efficient than the T12’s (100 vs. 60 lumens / Watt.

According to the EPA, fluorescents reduce mercury emissions over incandescents, even though they contain minute amounts of mercury, because most mercury emissions (51%) come from coal fired power plants (57% of the USA’s Electric), and fluorescents drop power consumption enough to more than compensate for their own emissions if broken (there’s no mercury emissions if intact).

I recently received the following and thought I’d share:

LUXADD introduces the Express T5 Retrofit Kit Series: Greener, more efficient fluorescent lighting saves up to 73% on energy costs

Lighting is the single largest user of electricity in schools, hospitals, office and other commercial (retail and service) buildings

(Miami, Florida) – Lighting is the single largest user of electricity in the U.S. New, patented technology from LUXADD allows for easy retrofitting of older, less efficient fluorescent lighting systems to T5, the leader in energy efficiency and lighting quality. The T5 saves up to 73% on lighting energy and reduces a company’s carbon footprint up to 60% with just one simple “SNAP” – like changing a light bulb.

The Lighting Technology for all commercial and residential applications in the U.S. and Canada

LUXADD’S Express T5 Retrofit Kit for T12 & T8 pays for itself with labor and energy savings within one year – and then continues to reduce lighting energy bills for building by up to 73% every year and a/c energy up to 15%. LUXADD offers the only linear fluorescent lighting conversion adapter specifically designed for the US and Canadian market. It is designed for all residential and commercial applications. LUXADDT is “Made in the USA” in effort to create new “green” jobs, promote a sustainable supply chain and ensure quality control.

The Need for Energy Efficiency

Rising energy costs directly impact all buildings in the U.S. Retail and service buildings in the U.S. use 149 billion kWh (or 508 trillion Btu) of site electricity (electricity consumed within the building) each year. This electricity is used for a variety of different purposes, the most being used for lighting (59%).

The majority of this electricity is used for lighting and office equipment (24%) (such as computers, printers, faxes and photocopiers). Both lighting and office equipment produce heat, requiring more air conditioning – another electricity end use – to cool the buildings.

The following percentage of electricity used simply to light different types of buildings includes:

Retail and Service: 59%

Education: 56%

Office: 44%

Health Care: 44%

Food Service: 30%

T12 phase out by the Department of Energy starting in July 2012

Most of the standard fluorescent lights in millions of buildings will need to be replaced starting in July 2012. The Department of Energy (DOE) regulations will eliminate the most common T12 tubes. It is estimated that the replacement of 500 million T12 tubes would produce an annual saving of $10 Billion in electricity costs nationwide. LUXADD is the only U.S. manufacturer of the new Express T5 Retrofit Kit Series to meet new Federal law mandating replacement of standard T12 (and elective replacement of T8 fluorescent light tubes to save up to 73% in lighting energy costs).

One-Year, Rapid ROI

LUXADD can instantly improve lighting energy efficiency and also save on air conditioning electricity costs used to cool the building due to heat produced by old-technology fluorescent lighting. The overall energy savings with LUXADD are up to 80%.

Made in the USA

LUXADD is a leading lighting solution provider based in Miami, FL and is comprised of experts dedicated to developing new technologies that improve energy efficiency in lighting, the single largest consumer of electricity worldwide. The U.S. Department of Energy’s fluorescent lighting made official that most of the T12 lamps will be phased out of production starting July 2012. Current lighting systems consisting of T12 fixtures with magnetic ballast will be retrofitted to modern T5 lamp technology with electronic ballast over time.

Environmental concerns, escalating energy costs and highly competitive economic conditions have created strong demand for energy efficient products that will help to conserve energy, save money and promote a healthy environment. LUXADD meets this need with products that dramatically reduce electricity consumption instantly while producing higher quality light. LUXADD is a registered trademark and the conversion adapter – the LUXADD Express T5 Retrofit Kit series is a patented technology. The company’s products are in compliance with the LEED and NAHB green building standards.

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The 6v LED Lantern Flashlight

Again we address the LED flash-light topic, because it’s one of our favorite topics. This time we converted a Eveready(R) Utility Lantern. It comes with a pretty weak PR13 bulb, but we will fix that shortly.

Nice features of this flash-light is that it floats, has a shatter-proof lens, and comes with a 6v battery. It comes in a variety of colors, so if you mail order it, you never know what one you might get.

Ok, Why convert to LED? Well, as we have said in previous upgrades of tube type flashlights, a good LED will last pretty much forever, is shock proof, greatly increases brightness, and can extend battery life by 2x or more (unless you go extreme). Over the years you can save well more than the cost of the bulb in reduced battery costs.

Ever have a bulb get dimmer and dimmer till you can hardly see? Not so with LED’s. They stay bright, and then suddenly go out when battery voltage dips below the minimum needed to keep them lit. Ok, so maybe that’s a mixed blessing. Keep a spare battery handy.

So, here’s a couple of proven LED options.

TerraLUX TLE-1F MiniStar1 1-Watt 50 Lumen Replacement Bulb

TerraLUX TLE-6EX MiniStar5 5-Watt 140 Lumen Extreme LED Replacement Bulb

The 1-Watt LED is a nice visual upgrade for the old 2.38 Watt PR-13. It’s brighter, and whiter (a little blueish versus aging yellow on the PR-13). The 5-Watt Extreme LED will make you blind as a bat (without the cool sonar stuff).

Pulling out the old bulb isn’t very easy, so just take your time and gently rock the plastic carrier plug back and forth with firm pulling pressure.

There you have it! Have fun, and happy conversions. It’s a cool upgrade!

PS: There are not 32 AA batteries inside a 6v lantern battery, if you have seen the gag video claiming otherwise. There are four 1.5v “not quite D” (F) cells in series batteries inside.

Want a rechargeable “Lantern Battery”? shows that four “C Cells” will fit nicely inside. A 6v lantern battery is about 11 amp hours, so unless you can get creative, you will lose run time, but at least pick up recharge-ability. The 11amp hour “D” NiMH will also fit (a tiny bit larger in diameter than the “F”), and give you similar ah rating as the 6v Lantern Battery. Use the Dorcy 4D adapter for instant conversion!

Maha Powerex D cell 11,000mAh Rechargeable Batteries- 2 Pack

AA NiMH Precharged Rechargeable Batteries (8-Pack, 2000 mAh)

Remington makes a 6v agm Lantern Battery, but it requires a special charger:



See the following video for ideas.


Are you off-grid, or want to be?

Come join the discussion at one of the premier off-grid discussion groups on the net. Learn what off-grid living is like, or share your experience. You’ll be communicating with hundreds of off-gridders on all sorts of off-grid topics like:

Rain Water Harvesting
Solar & Wind Power
Organic Gardening
Animal raising for food, transportation and clothes
DIY Home building
Soap Making
DIY Fuels

and much, much more. It’s a warm friendly group, and we look forward to your questions and experiences. Come on home to Simply Off Grid!


Electric Vehicles: Designing or Converting?

I ride a electric hybrid bike. I can pedal, cruise electric only, or just use the electric to assist me on hills. I’ve driven electric utility carts, golf carts, and ridden Segway’s. Electric vehicles are fun, cheap to run, and much simpler to fix than their engined counterparts, as well as being very quiet and clean to operate, with little to no chemicals on site like oil, fuel, and emissions.

If you want a electric vehicle, other than buying a expensive commercial version, you can either design one from scratch, or convert an existing one. Conversion looks like the simpler method, but then you get all the design compromises of the original vehicle along with it. Designing from scratch means you get a vehicle that meets your specific need (assuming you were able to resolve what that specific need is).

For designing a vehicle, we use Electric Vehicles: Design and Build Your Own. For anything from a 2 wheel electric bike to a 4 wheel cargo truck or electric speedster, including hybrids, this is the one you want. You learn about suspensions, steering, drivetrain and instrumentation issues. It’s a dated work, but the basics are still applicable, and can easily be updated with today’s technology. A great spot to introduce Arduino microcontrollers.

For converting an existing vehicle to electric, my favorite is Convert It!. I have a ’94 For Ranger that is begging for a conversion.

This book is the leading how-to resource for electric car conversions. It combines Brown’s years of professional automotive experience with down-to-earth language even an automotive beginner can understand. It is not written for the engineer in the laboratory, but for the home mechanic building his own car, and for the average person behind the wheel.

Brown speaks to the reader as if talking to a friend in his garage. Before lifting a wrench, Brown answers the most frequently asked questions about electric cars: how fast will it go, how far will it go, how long will the batteries last, how pollution-free is it really, and many more.

The conversion process itself begins with choosing an appropriate donor chassis, and stripping it of internal combustion components. Here Brown’s experience provide numerous tips and tricks to make the later conversion process easier and more successful. Step by step, Brown leads the reader through the conversion. As each component comes up, Brown gives a little background on the different types available, and the pros and cons of each. He includes tips on layout, design and fabrication at each step, and discusses different approaches for different chassis, such as front wheel drive vs. rear wheel drive. By the end of the book, every part of the conversion process has been discussed. Brown wraps up with a procedure for testing and troubleshooting, and guidelines for normal driving, charging, and maintenance.

The book is salted heavily throughout with photos and diagrams to illustrate its topics, and it includes a very thorough index. CONVERT IT has been chosen by the Department of Energy and by numerous schools across the country as the textbook for high school electric car conversion projects.

Discuss electric vehicle construction and conversion at


Why doesn’t watts = amps * volts?

Recently a post was made on a group I subscribe to touting the amazing usefulness of a webpage that calculates amps * volts = watts for you. All well and good (if a bit simple), but I commented that the basic premise, although good for dc, was flawed with ac. This caused great consternation in the group, as if I said the Pope wasn’t Catholic. I then explained that if you have a 1200w resistive load at 120vac, then yes, 1200 / 120 = 10a. But, and it’s a BIG but, if the load is a reactive load (motors, computers, fluorescent lights, etc.), a fourth entity comes into play, called Power Factor.

In this case, lets say a motor has a PF of .5

Now things look very different. We have our 1200 watt load / 120 vac = 10 amps. Now divide the 10a by the power factor .5, and we get 20 amps. That’s a much heavier load, requiring heavier wiring, and a bigger generator or inverter. This may help explain why some folks have problems with some loads and not others, that go beyond simple start up surges.

For more info, see


Beware the Howard Johnson Motor Scam

The Howard Johnson (HoJo) Motor is a recurring scam that’s making the rounds yet again. Purporting to make free energy from no inputs, the attempt is made to convince the gullible that magnets are a source of energy, instead of just a facilitator.

Magnets help in the conversion of energy from one form to another. Take the alternator for instance. When a coil of wire is passed through a magnetic field (permanent magnets or a electromagnet), a current is produced. It’s not magic, it doesn’t “just appear from nothing”, the energy comes from whatever is pushing the wire (or pushing the magnets). When you attach a load to the coils, it becomes harder to push. The required push is associated with the load you are trying to pull. The more power you pull (adding more loads), the more energy is required to push the fields. There is no “excess power”, “free power” or free lunch. It takes energy to convert energy from one form to another, and always with a loss of some of the energy as heat (friction). You can’t break even, never mind pull ahead. Terms like “Zero Point” energy or “over-unity” are a dead giveaway to scaminess.


A DIY Solar / Wind Charge Controller

A Charge Controller protects a battery bank from over or under charging. In typical solar applications, when the battery is full, the panels can be disconnected. In wind and hydro apps, the turbine could be damaged if disconnected, as the load keeps it from overspeeding and self destructing. This controller fixes that problem by bringing on a dump load when the batteries are full. Typical dump loads are water or air heating elements. We prefer water heating elements, that heat our hot water tank anytime the batteries are full. It’s a good way to utilize what would normally be wasted generation.

Commercial charge controllers can be pricey, and we have several units in various voltages at, but you can build your own controller as well. One of the more interesting dump load controllers is based on a 555 Timer chip, and fairly easy to construct. It’s a good match for a home built solar panel. You can learn how to build this unit at, and discuss topics like this at and


Building your own home

Nothing is more satisfying than designing and building your own home. You can save a chunk of dough in the process, but it’s living in a home that you designed to meet your particular needs that really puts a satisfied smile on a person’s face. I started out as a kid designing several tree houses (some of which were good), as well as various farm and camp buildings as a teenager. My dad and I designed and built a log home in the mid 80’s, and I’ve been designing shelters and gadgets ever since.

One of my favorite materials discusses building your own home with green wood. Oak specifically, but if you don’t have a woods full of oak, pine and other types of wood could be substituted with allowances and variations. Oak twists and splits less than other woods, but poplar is a good substitute.

If you have a chainsaw, your own woodlot, and a a jig for making straight cuts, you could easily build a small home for less than $20,000

Here is a free resource that will teach you how to build with green wood, and control warping and splitting: