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Lithium powerbox photo-shoot

May 02, 2020 — BarryK

The powerbox is complete, for now anyway. There have been a series of blog posts as the project progressed, and the intention is to create a front-page for the project, that will link to all of the blog posts, in the correct sequence for anyone who wants to build one.

Here is the previous post:

https://bkhome.org/news/202005/itechbcdc25-dc-dc-charger-problem-resolved.html

There were some refinements to improve battery-terminal accessibility and wiring-board layout, and I edited the second-from-last post:

https://bkhome.org/news/202004/dc-dc-charger-issues-and-powerbox-improvements.html

Now for a photo-shoot, with the powerbox posing at various angles for the camera:

img1

img2

img3

img4

Need to do some more testing of course, and go camping! 

Tags: nomad

iTECHBCDC25 DC-DC charger problem resolved

May 01, 2020 — BarryK

In the last post in the lithium powerbox project, I reported a couple of issues with the DC-DC charger:

https://bkhome.org/news/202004/dc-dc-charger-issues-and-powerbox-improvements.html

I sent an email to iTECHWORLD Service department, reporting two problems:

  1. The battery-type selector button did not work, it was stuck on "calcium"
  2. The MPPT regulator was not tracking at the peak power point of the panel

I received a reply from Jason, that has resolved the first issue, number-2 is looked at a bit more today.

Before receiving the reply from Jason, early this morning I thought it necessary to perform a more thorough test of the DC-DC charger, solar charging...

Nice sunny day today, last chance as rain forecast over the next several days. In fact, almost exactly one year ago, on an almost identical day, mid-winter, sunny, hardly any breeze, ambient 16 degC, I tested three solar panels, including the Atem Power "250W" panel:

https://bkhome.org/news/201905/measurements-for-three-solar-panels.html

...and recorded a peak power output for the Atem Power panel of 157.2W.

MPPT charging

Early this morning, Friday 1st May, 2020, 9.10am - 9.30am, have tested charging the iTECHBCDC25 with this same panel. Ambient is 17 degC, irradiance is 820W/m2 -- a year ago it was almost the same, 800W/m2.

As the DC-DC charger is stuck on "calcium" battery type, I used my Waeco Coolpower 44 battery box, which has a deep cycle 44AH AGM battery, a closer choice to the calcium charging profile than the lithium battery. Here is a photo:

img1

As the battery is fully charged, I loaded it down by a 40W globe running via an inverter. The panel was outputting 20.3V at 4.99A (101W), and the battery voltage was 14.7V.

I needed to load the battery down a bit more, bring down the battery voltage, so that the DC-DC charger will think the battery state-of-charge is low, and will then pull everything it can from the panel. So I attached my air compressor. Now getting 15.4V at 9.6A (148W) from the panel, battery voltage 12.1V.

Good, but a year ago, I determined the peak power point of the panel to be 16.21V, power output of 157W. So that issue is still there, the iTECHBCDC25 is pulling at a bit off the peak power point.

But, to be 100% certain about this, I really should test for the peak power point at the same time as testing with iTECHBCDC25.

Battery-type

Moving on, the issue of the battery-type button being stuck on "calcium". Here is a photo:

img2

Fast forward to this evening, I read my emails, and here is the reply from Jason:

In regards to the DCDC charger being stuck on calcium, to set it to the correct profile, you will need to disconnect the solar input and auxiliary battery connections, and only have the main(starting battery) connected, in order to change the settings.

...riiiight. Tonight, I used the Waeco Coolpower as the "car battery", connected to the red and black cable of the iTECHBCDC25, and hey, was able to change to "Lithium" type. Good, but the User Manual does not state that the "car battery" only has to be connected. Quoting from the User Manual:

SOLAR INPUT
Once correctly installed, the iTECHBCDC25 has MPPT solar
charging for increased solar efficiency.
Once your solar panel has been connected to the solar
input section of the iTECHBCDC25 the charger will
transfer to solar mode when the vehicle is not running.
The initial default setting is for AGM/GEL batteries.
If you are charging a battery of a different chemistry
simply change the battery type by pressing the battery
type selector button on the front panel of the
iTECHBCDC25.
Once you have selected the new battery type the
iTECHBCDC25 will remain on this battery type until it is
changed.
Solar charging requires a solar input of 16 to 25v.
Your solar panel will need to be unregulated when
connecting to the iTECHBCDC25.

Well, that is a relief, the charger is not broken.

My Hyundai Getz has a radio/CD-player that, if the car battery is disconnected, after reconnection, the security-code has to be be re-entered for the radio/CD-player to work again. Of course, that is for security, but it is to be hoped that the DC-DC charger will remember the battery-type setting if the "car battery" is removed! ...yay, it does! 

Tags: nomad

DC-DC charger issues and powerbox improvements

April 30, 2020 — BarryK

Ha ha, I am an inveterate tinkerer -- in the sense of always wanting to experiment, modify and improve whatever I have designed and constructed. In fact, the journey is often as much or more fun than the destination. Camping, for example -- preparing for camping is as much fun as actually going camping.

Nice sunny day, so this morning took the powerbox outside and connected the Atem Power "250W" solar panel. Yes, it does charge, but there are two serious issues. I have sent an email to iTECHWORLD technical support, and will await their response before deciding if these "issues" can be described as faults. Stay tuned for developments.

The previous blog post for this powerbox project:

https://bkhome.org/news/202004/installation-of-the-coulometer-lcd-display.html

In earlier posts, I have identified some limitations in the physical design of the powerbox and the wiring layout. Decided to fix them,,,

Getting at those battery terminals is just too awkward and dangerous. The top-plate of the box is screwed on from the underneath. In retrospect, this was dumb, but there was a reason originally -- wanted to place the DC-DC charger flat on the top of the box, without protruding screws getting in the way.

Screwing from the top allows the screws to be removed and top panel lifted off. This allows access to the battery terminals. So, I pulled off all of the side panels, removed the screws holding on the top panel:

img1

...yay, easy access to the battery terminals. You can't see the positive terminal in the photo, as it is covered with black electrical tape.

Late night right now, tomorrow will apply screws from the top. It will be easy to remove them and lift up the top panel any time it is desired to access the battery terminals, or anything else.

Another problem is that extra terminal block just floating there, looking messy, see this earlier snapshot:

img2

Another task for tomorrow will be replacement of that floating terminal block with a small busbar mounted on the spare space on the wiring-board. And a bit of a tidy-up of the wiring. 

EDIT 2020-05-02:
The top plate has been modified, with screws on the top, so that it can be opened up. I have edited the original blog post:

https://bkhome.org/news/202004/top-plate-of-lithium-powerbox.html

To get rid of that floating terminal block, I have installed "protected +bus", using one of the 8-way busbars from Jaycar, though (currently) only need three ways:

img4

"+bus" is connected directly to the battery positive terminal, whereas "protected +bus" is on the other side of a 30A circuit breaker. Or rather, is, once it is wired up:

img5

And, after screwing the front and back panels into place:

img6

That is better. It is still crowded of course, but that was part of the exercise, to build a very compact powerbox.   

Tags: nomad

Installation of the coulometer LCD display

April 29, 2020 — BarryK

The previous post in the powerbox project:

https://bkhome.org/news/202004/wiring-board-installed-in-powerbox.html

The finishing touch is to install and calibrate the Amptron coulometer. As already discussed, the shunt is already mounted on the wiring-board. This is what I have:

https://www.amptron.com.au/100a-coulometer---battery-monitor-with-shunt.html

If you search on eBay and elsewhere, for "battery coulometer", you will find this available from many vendors, and there are also setup videos on YouTube.

Installing the coulometer

There is a shielded cable to connect the shunt to the LCD display, and this is a problem, as it is very long. This is for the situation where you want the display somewhere else, maybe on the dashboard of the vehicle, or whatever.

I want to cut it right down, as the LCD display is close to the shunt. So, I cut the plugs off each end, and joined the cable. I am familiar with delicate electrical work, as I was an electronic engineer in my working days. I have a small soldering iron and fine solder for the purpose. The wires inside this cable are so tiny, this photo blows it up, but in actuality they are so tiny. The photo shows after I have stripped each wire and twisted them together:

img2

...I then very carefully soldered each join, then put heatshrink tubing over each join, then bound it all together with electrical tape.

I know that such delicate work will be a challenge for many -- well, you could just go and buy a ready-made powerbox! But it is not insurmountable. The wires are so tiny, I stripped them with my thumbnail, pressing onto the table -- my cable stripper does not handle such tiny wire.

Calibrating the coulometer

I watched one of the YouTube videos on how to calibrate the coulometer, but it is misleading. They set "full" and "empty" corresponding to certain battery voltages, but this could be very inaccurate.

Here are the instructions:

img4

img6

What I did was first charge the battery to 100%, using the Amptron mains-input lithium 15A battery charger:

https://www.amptron.com.au/15a-12v-lithium-lifepo4-battery-charger.html

...this has eyelet lugs, that I replaced with a black Anderson plug -- very convenient, just plug it into the powerbox, and it will charge until 100%.

Following the above instructions, I then pressed the "up" key for three seconds to set the display at 100%.

Following the "User Settings", I then chose battery capacity as 50AH -- note, the buttons have to be very firmly pressed, and getting out of "engineering mode" proved to be difficult.

That's it, I did not set "FULL" and "ZERO" voltages, as that is not a reliable indicator of 100% and 0%.

Using the coulometer

I plugged my Powertech 150W inverter (purchased many years ago from Jaycar, and used on many camping trips) into a cigarette lighter socket, and plugged in a desktop lamp:

img7

Fantastic, working! Here is the LCD display:

img8

Very nice! That snapshot is after running the lamp for a short time, the capacity has dropped a bit below 50AH.

EDIT 2020-05-04:
After further reflection, I decided it is a good idea to minimize "error creep" of the State-Of-Charge, by setting a lowest voltage for 0%. See this later post:

https://bkhome.org/news/202005/coulometer-error-creep.html   

Tags: nomad

Wiring-board installed in powerbox

April 29, 2020 — BarryK

In the previous post, I wrote about some compromises when wiring-up the wiring-board:

https://bkhome.org/news/202004/reflections-on-construction-of-the-wiring-board.html

Now for some photos showing the wiring-board installed. Firstly, here is the wiring-board all ready to be installed:

img1

And here it is installed:

img2

...quite crowded, but more so because of that extra terminal block. The previous post discussed how that could have been improved, with a distribution bus mounted on the wiring-board -- there is some space bottom-right of the board.

I also discussed in the previous post, the limited space to access the battery terminals. The unconnected eyelet lug in the above photo is waiting to be bolted to the battery positive terminal. I managed, just, and solutions to obtain better access are mentioned in the previous post.

EDIT 2020-05-02:
Both of these problems, battery terminal access and messy floating terminal block, have been fixed. See this later blog post:

https://bkhome.org/news/202004/dc-dc-charger-issues-and-powerbox-improvements.html 

Tags: nomad

Reflections on construction of the wiring-board

April 29, 2020 — BarryK

Continuing the powerbox project, previous post:

https://bkhome.org/news/202004/battery-insertion-and-more-bits-and-pieces.html

The wiring-board has been completed and inserted into the powerbox. There are a couple of places where I improvised, due to not having the type of connectors desired...

DC-DC common earth

Top-right of the wiring-board, there are two porcelain terminal blocks, These will take the wires from the DC-DC charger. The DC-DC charger has three earth wires (black wires), a "DC input" (red wire), a "DC output" (blue wire) and "Solar input" (brown wire) wires. The three earth wires (let's call them "cables" from now on) are electrically connected together inside the DC-DC charger, so theoretically we only need one of them. However, for the lowest possible resistance path, I have joined them via the top terminal block, hence to the "-bus", like this:

img1

...originally, I was going to daisy-chain the left-side terminals, however, the holes aren't big enough. So, improvised with eyelet lugs bolted together. What would have been ideal is this (instead of the porcelain block):

https://www.amazon.com.au/Square-Schneider-Electric-PK4GTACP-Terminal/dp/B00173B1LQ/

...however, that ships from the USA, currently not practical to buy. This also looks good, though not sure where it ships from (and ideally I want one that can be affixed to the board, which this doesn't have):

https://www.amazon.com.au/uxcell-Positions-Electric-Distribution-Terminal/dp/B01LWTXOW0/

Incidentally, that 8-way busbar that I have used, two of them, is available in 6-way. Again, I don't know about delivery:

https://www.amazon.com.au/AUTOHAUX-Positions-Terminal-Grounding-DC250V/dp/B07VMD6S3D/ 

Cable splitter

The second improvisation is splitting a cable. The "DC output" goes via the porcelain terminal block, to one of the 30A circuit breakers, hence to the "+bus" busbar. However, I wanted to branch "DC output" to the +ve binding post -- a convenient place to pickup the +ve voltage with protection of a circuit breaker.

I cut off two segments of a 60A terminal block, and wired like this:

img2

...you can see "DC-DC output" label, which comes from the "DC output" of the DC-DC charger. The other side goes to a 30A circuit breaker, hence to the "+bus". My klutz was to insert two cables into the left-side of the terminal, bringing out another cable to go to the +ve binding post.

A 3-way distribution bar mounted on the wiring board would have been far neater.

See bottom-right corner of the photo, "Red Anderson" label. This is from the other 30A circuit breaker, the other side of which is wired to "DC input" of the DC-DC charger. As all the cables from the DC-DC charger and 30A circuit breakers are just bare ends, I need an Anderson lug -- the other terminal on the terminal block joins a short length of cable with an Anderson lug on the other end.

This also could have been simplified. The terminal block join could have been eliminated by soldering an Anderson lug directly onto the cable from the 30A circuit breaker -- just might need a bigger hole in the back panel for the cable to feed through to the circuit breaker.

That extra terminal block does look a bit untidy, and clutters things somewhat, but it does the job.

Notice that there is masking tape with labels on all the cables. This is important to do, as it helps to avoid a wiring mistake. In the final assembly, there are cables all over the place, and the labels help greatly.

EDIT 2020-05-02:
The messy floating terminal block has been fixed, see this later blog post:

https://bkhome.org/news/202004/dc-dc-charger-issues-and-powerbox-improvements.html 

Tags: nomad

Battery insertion and more bits and pieces

April 29, 2020 — BarryK

The previous post was "bits and pieces" information about construction of the lithium powerbox project:

https://bkhome.org/news/202004/cable-and-soldering-guidelines.html

This post is notes about battery insertion, and various notes about connectors. In a previous post, I had discussed concerns about the current capability of some blade fuse holders, and I also mentioned that spade terminals might not be suitable above 10 amperes -- today's post has more on this.

Today I inserted the Amptron 50AH lithium battery into the powerbox. The front and back panels have to be taken off, for insertion of the bracing bar that will hold the battery down:

img1

Construction of the bracing bar is described in an earlier post. You can see it in the above photo, with a bolt that will be adjusted to provide tension. The bracing bar is 10x10mm aluminium channel, and the bolt is M4 16mm hex head, purchased from Bunnings:

https://www.bunnings.com.au/pinnacle-4-x-16mm-yellow-zinc-hi-tensile-hex-bolt-and-nut-10-pack_p0054166

I used two nuts on each bolt, to lock the nuts.

The battery is held firmly, but just in case, to stop horizontal creep, I put two pieces of old foam at each end, and on the side of battery facing the the front panel, put two pieces of 12x20 angle:

img2

WARNING:
As the frame is made with aluminium, I placed electrical tape over the battery terminals before inserting the battery. Advice to everyone: do not skip this step!
Also, I wrapped electrical tape around the spanner, for doing-up the terminal bolts. Again, important precaution.

Which reminds me: in a previous post, I suggested that an extra 5mm height for the box would be an improvement. Yes, I have slim fingers, but it was difficult to get into the narrow gap between top of battery and top-inside of the box. Someone with chunky fingers would find it impossible. Make that an extra 10mm.

Oh, and about the spanner, do not use an adjustable spanner. A proper flat 13mm (for the Amptron battery) spanner is required. There is just enough space to slip a spanner over the hex head of the terminals, and very little swing to tighten it.

At the risk of being overly-verbose in this post, another thought has occurred to me. I did also mention in an earlier post that a wood frame might be better than using aluminium. It certainly would be safer when inserting the battery and accessing the terminals (note, I have not connected the aluminium frame to either +ve or -ve, which does make it safer). With a wood frame, the top plate of the box could be screwed from the top, such that the top plate could be lifted off, thus giving easy access for both inserting the battery and doing-up the terminals -- worth considering!

I do have thoughts how to design the wood frame, and if anyone wants to go that way, contact me. Or, if you create a design, let me know and I can post it.

Now for some connector details...

Washers

The bolts on the battery terminals do not screw all the way down, and require washers. I have used two washers plus the cable eyelet-lug. The binding posts also require an extra washer on each. The washer that I have used for both situations is this:

https://www.bunnings.com.au/pinnacle-m8-stainless-steel-flat-washer-12-pack_p0130534

Also used these in a couple of places, 3/16 inch and M5:

https://www.bunnings.com.au/zenith-3-16-zinc-plated-machine-washer-50-pack_p2420280 

Eyelet lugs

Eyelet lugs are required for battery terminals, binding posts, coulometer shunt, and the 30A circuit breakers. I purchased these two sizes from Jaycar:

https://www.jaycar.com.au/6mm-non-insulated-eye-terminal-6mm2-pk-8/p/PT4934

https://www.jaycar.com.au/8mm-non-insulated-eye-terminal-10mm2-pk-8/p/PT4936

Spade terminals

I have posted earlier about current capability concerns. As I am soldering all connections, not crimping, I purchased these female spade connectors:

https://www.jaycar.com.au/6-3mm-non-insulated-spade-connectors-pk-10/p/PT4630

However, they have very thin metal, and I could feel they had less grip compared with others that I already have. Those others are going to be much more suitable for currents up to 15A, but unfortunately are only available as crimp-type:

https://www.jaycar.com.au/female-spade-yellow-pk-8/p/PT4707

...the plastic covering is very tough, can't even get it off with a hacksaw, so used my soldering iron to cut down its length. I then had naked connectors, to which the cable can be soldered. Note, these connectors will take up to 6mm auto cable.

Rubber feet

The wiring-board is not going to be bolted to the box, instead will rely on everything around it to keep it in place. There are screws sticking out the back of it, and as the back side will be against the battery, I screwed rubber feet onto the back side of the board. These ones:

https://www.jaycar.com.au/11mm-screw-fixing-rubber-feet-pk-8/p/HP0800

Final product notes

Tomorrow the plan is to do some finishing touches to the assembly, and powerbox will be ready to go. It is anticipated that the next blog post will be about the final assembly.

An interesting point about practical usage: the completed powerbox weighs just on 11kg, which is OK for me, but I wouldn't want to lug anything heavier. The battery is 50AH, effectively equivalent to an 80AH AGM battery, which is also OK for me -- but what if one day in the future, I want to run more things off the battery, or find myself in situations where there are many days without sunlight, and want more battery storage?

No problem, just attach another battery. What I would need is another 50AH lithium battery, in a box, with fuse and short cable with a black Anderson plug. Plug it into the black Anderson plug on my powerbox, and hey presto, power storage is doubled (make sure both are full-charged beforehand!). Having two separate boxes is also easier to lift.

My Amptron mains-input lithium battery charger will also have a black Anderson plug, and can be used to charge either battery.   

Tags: nomad

Cable and soldering guidelines

April 27, 2020 — BarryK

Continuing the lithium powerbox project, this is the previous post:

https://bkhome.org/news/202004/holders-for-blade-fuses-in-powerbox.html

Today's post has some bits and pieces of information about electrical circuit construction techniques. Those who are skilled with soldering, etc., will be OK to construct a powerbox like mine. Others, however, might need some hints.

Cable sizes

I have used various sizes of cable in the powerbox, as you can see in photos posted in earlier blog posts:

https://bkhome.org/news/202004/holders-for-blade-fuses-in-powerbox.html

...the thinner cable is "6mm auto cable", purchased from Big Als via eBay. This has copper area of 4.59mm2. The thicker cable is two types, purchased from Altronics. I do have some 8AWG from Big Als, however that is twin core, besides, I want to use that for extension leads. So I popped into Altronics and bought one metre of each of their "61A" and "90A" power cables, red and black. Here are links to the red cable:

https://www.altronics.com.au/p/w4100-630-0.12-red-61a-power-cable/

https://www.altronics.com.au/p/w4216a-119-0.30-90a-red-power-cable/

The differences between these is very interesting. The 61A cable has thinner strands, which makes the cable more flexible. Here they are compared with 6mm-auto and AWG sizes:

Cable type
Copper area
(mm2)

6mm auto
4.59
10 AWG
5.26
9 AWG
6.63
W4100 61A
7.1
8 AWG
8.36
W4216A 90A
8.4

Much more expensive buying locally, but ordering over the Internet is currently very slow, as vendors such as Big Als are based in the Eastern States. I have used both of those cables from Altronics, using up what has been purchased.

Soldering

Soldering technique varies, according to individual style. I prefer the old-school copper tips on soldering irons -- modern irons do have copper tips, but they are coated with something -- that I file off to expose the copper -- as I find that solder sticks better to the copper surface. The copper corrodes, which is why it has the coating, but I use a file to keep the copper tip clean and flat. I also prefer a chisel-tip.

This is the iron that I am using for this project:

https://www.bunnings.com.au/tradeflame-60w-240v-soldering-iron-kit_p5910275

...60 watts is more than enough for soldering 8 AWG cable. I use a wet cloth to wipe the tip of the iron, but it would be nice to have this one, with stand and sponge:

https://www.bunnings.com.au/tradeflame-30-60w-soldering-iron_p6270385

I do not own a crimping tool, so all joins are soldered. Eyelet lugs and Anderson plug lugs are connected to cables by the flood-fill method. See demo here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IjG6-PxNBs

...difference for me though, is I apply solder to the expose cable ends, before inserting. This ensures that solder has flowed through all the fine wires in the cable, avoiding what is called a "dry join".

The video shows a flame being used to heat the Anderson lug. As I use a soldering iron, just a dab of solder on the flat surface of the chisel-tip, held against the side, will heat the wall and the solder can be inserted -- as the video says, take care not to overfill, otherwise it will overflow and run down the outside of the lug, perhaps rendering the lug unusable.

I also solder the ends of the cable that is inserted into screw terminals. This strengthens the cable, as the twisting action of the screw can break the fine wires, plus some wires thrust to the side of the screw are not tightly bonded electrically to the terminal.

Regarding solder, for this fairly heavy work, I prefer 1.6mm thick solder, available from Altronics:

https://www.altronics.com.au/p/t1122-1.6mm-200gm-roll-60-40-leaded-solder/

...Jaycar, only has 1mm solder. Bunnings, on the other hand, only stock much thicker solder, used for plumbing.

Cable splicing

The iTECHBCDC25 DC-DC charger came with Anderson plugs, that I cut off. It also came with three more Anderson plugs with short lengths of cable. I need to extend the length of the cables coming out of the DC-DC charger, so I used the short lengths that were attached to the other three Anderson plugs. The cable is 10 AWG.

The most common way that two cables are joined together, what we call "spliced", is a special metal sleeve, which is then crimped. I have neither the sleeves nor a crimper. Instead, I used this simple method -- just push the two ends into each other.

Doing this, the strands become intertwined, and it will grip together. Note, I haven't tried this with the ultra-fine copper strands in the Altronics "61A" cable -- perhaps it might not work. This slightly out-of-focus photo shows the two cable ends pushed together:

img1

It is then easy to solder, and forms a very strong bond. Heatshrink tubing needs to be slid over the join. many years ago, I bought a pack of mixed sizes, and the largest, 6.4mm, fits over 8 AWG cable. Ah yes, it is still available:

https://www.autobarn.com.au/narva-heatshrink-selection-3-2-6-4-56600

So, there are six Anderson plugs that I have removed the lugs from. I have plenty other Anderson plugs, but if I wanted to re-use these, it is possible to buy the lugs, in packs of 20, from eBay.   

Tags: nomad