Reinventing the RegeneratorBy Ancel Bhagwandeen
In the United States, recycling batteries is a standard practice. In fact, nearly 99 percent of the lead from batteries ends up being reclaimed. So while a dead car battery may be a hassle, it's generally not a threat to the environment. In Trinidad and Tobago, where I live, that's not the case.
Batteries aren't recycled as consistently in the developing world. We import a lot of used vehicles to Trinidad and Tobago from the Japanese, Singaporean and Korean markets. These vehicles are 4 to 6 years old when they arrive, which means most of the batteries are near the end of their useful lives.
We find that many of the imported batteries show up in what we call "backyard operations," where people melt them to get at the metal. That's a fairly dangerous affair, and while we're pretty tiny down here in the Caribbean, unfortunately we're one of the smallest countries cited for mass lead poisoning. The scale of the problem in small territories is quite large.
The problem is compounded in the Caribbean. Batteries don't last nearly as long in tropical environments. For every additional 8.4 degrees Celsius, we lose half the battery lifetime. Said another way, for every one-degree warmer, we lose six percent of the battery's lifetime. The result is that too often we are often importing near dead batteries, and they die even faster once they arrive here. That changes the whole economic structure of battery regeneration. So I set out to find a way to both quantify and maximize a battery's remaining use. This would solve both an economic and environmental problem.
Existing regenerative tools push electric current through batteries to dissolve lead-sulfate deposits that have formed on the plates of the battery. These electrical pulses help return the deposits into solution, which in turn regenerates the battery. To make this process viable in Trinidad and Tobago, we found we also needed information about each battery's true capacity. Other battery regenerators simply recharge batteries, but I invented a machine that would evaluate and recommend an application for the battery! After all, users need to know how long a regenerated battery will last. I designed a user-friendly 16 x 2 LCD interface and used a PIC16 series microcontroller with surface mounted electronic parts built on DIY copper clad PCBs, to reliably automate the job!
The process is quite simple. When you connect the battery to the machine, you input the original battery size, make sure the battery cells have water, and then activate the machine. After some processing, the battery is either rejected or regenerated.
With the help of a Jameco PCB manufacturing kit, I developed prototypes and began to run tests. I made a deal with a local car importer, who let me take any batteries they couldn't charge. I told them I'd return all the batteries, even the defectives. I found about 30 percent of previously defunct batteries could be used for their original purpose. More importantly, this machine can let us get more usages out of each battery.
Now, I'm looking to move forward. I want to start exporting the regenerator kits to other countries. The project has been awarded by the IPICA-project.eu! If you'd like to help, please visit my website to learn more: https://www.patreon.com/batteryguy?ty=h.
Ancel Bhagwandeen is an engineer living in Trinidad and Tobago with his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Serana. He has been a loyal Jameco customer for more than two decades.