Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dead Battery? - - - PowerPulse to the Rescue!!!!???

Last nights news said Super Heroes are the rage this summer.   So in that light:  What does one do with a classically 'dead' battery?  One that will not start the car, will barely hold the lights up, and will not take a charge?   Why, you use the a Battery Super Hero - PowerPulse!   - PowerPulse - Can leap tall Cells as well as squat batteries in a single pulse.  Fights sulfating with one lead clipped off.  Continued use will bring years of life to your battery, yourself, your dog.  Your Volts will be taller, your Amps stronger, teeth whiter, breath smell better.  All for the one time payment of . . . .

OK, having a little fun here I know.  Pulse technology of batteries seems one of those 'buy now, and get one free' type of things.  There are those who swear by them, and those who do not.  Myself, I really do not know.  I can say I installed a battery pulser on our  old L-16's temporary house batteries when I purchased them.  5 years of use (more correctly abuse), and they still would carry us over a weekend - supplying 300+Ah.  When I upgraded to the industrial cells I moved that pulser over and it has been purring away sense.

The other night I had an opportunity to talk with Arild Jensen (noted contributor to the T&T mailing list) and the topic went to Pulsers.  He talked very favorably about the PulseTech brand, and mentioned many of the 'clones' do not work - but this one does what it says.   So I ordered one: with the idea of replacing the existing pulser on our house battery.

As it would happen, last week my brother-in-law had a newly dead starter battery in an old truck  (Yup, Farm truck).  Though it was under 3 years old, it has been 'flattened' 2-3 times and would no longer start the truck.  So I thought, why not hook up the PowerPulse and see what happens?  And I did:

Dead Battery, PowerPulse, and a small 12v power source (Wall-wort)

 Over the next few weeks will leave it hooked up, along with a small wall-wort 12v power supply to provide make up current.  If all goes well, plan to pop it back into the truck and see what happens.  Will do some posts and update everyone on the progress.

Now, a BIG WORD OF CAUTION:   PulseTech, the makers of PowerPulse are up front that 'recovering' batteries may or may not work.  If this does, wow.  If not - I still plan on hooking it up to our house battery when I get back to Viking Star.  So, though this will be fun - if in the end the battery is still dead there is no way I am saying this is downtalking battery pulsers...

But will be fun to see what happens.   OK, here is kind of a log of the subject:

Name:      Battery
Gender:   Group 31
Age:        2year, 6 mo.
Condition:  Poor.  Overnight on charger followed by 3hr rest shows 12.45v  Applying 5a load (running lights) drops voltage to 10.5.  Unable to start truck.  Acceptance rate per charger amp meter under 5a.

7/23/2014:  Applied 16.6v / 800mA 'wall-wart' DC transformer to subject.  Acceptance  rate of 390mA at 13.5v.  Installed PowerPulse device with wall-wart connected.  O'Scope shows 3.5v p-p pulse
7/24:  Vbat 13.6v, acceptance not measured.  O'Scope shows 5.4v p-p pulse


So, what does the PowerPulse do?  It sends out a voltage pulse every second.  Google will give up lots of info, and for fun here is an O'Scope photo showing it on 7/24:

PowerPulse at work.
 The ringing is typical of a charged inductor being set up and discharging.  And I can say something is changing.  The p-p of the pulses are up almost 2v higher after 1 day, and battery terminal volts are up 100mV.

A final thought for now.  I am under the impression that PulseTech kind of invented these devices, and word is they have the best.  Plus they are very reasonably priced.  Easy to find under $40.  So, if you are interested in one - why not get the original?  Heck, even the cheap in me would not try to recreate one for this price.

Make sure to check back to see how this story unfolds.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Arduino, Alternators and Generators - An update on the 'family'

With the current break at hand I have been down in the Man Cave working more on my Arduino based controller for a DC generator.   I also finished pulling out the alternator regulator portion of that design into a standalone external regulator.  Over the past few months there has been a 'group buy' of both of projects and I thought I would post some photos.

First off, the External Alternator Regulator.

It does what most external regulators do, regulator voltages in a 3-step approach (Bulk, Acceptance, Float) to quickly and efficiently recharge a battery - specifically house storage batteries.  As also expected, temperature of the battery is monitored adjusting target voltages, and the alt temp is also monitored to protect the alternator.  Other features like soft raping, the ability to reduce alternator output (help prevent burning out small frame alternators), equalize mode, round out the 'as expected' features.  But these are available today, so why (outside of boredom) create yet another external regulator?  One simple reason:
Many  have had problems with existing external regulators in that they too quickly stop charging the battery - leave Acceptance phase early -  and hence chronically undercharging the house battery.

Not only do we not get the capacity of the battery, but repeated undercharging leads to shorter battery life.  Adding the ability to measure the current entering the battery allows this regulator to measure the batteries state of recharge (via its acceptance rate) and following battery manufactures charge profiles accurately determine when to exit Acceptance and move into float. Contrast this to regulators which use a fixed amount of time in Acceptance, or perhaps some function of the time spent in bulk - problematic to know the actual battery state of recharge, esp in a real world with other factors such as varying engine speed, and different house loads being applied randomly.  

Another use of measuring amps can be to limit an alternators output, either to match the capability of the driving engine (ala, a small DC engine), or to protect the alternator.  Along the lines I added a few other capabilities:
  • Measures and manages battery or alternator current (Well, already said that).
  • Support P or N type alternators with only one jumper during installation.
  • Support 12v, 24v, 36v, or 48v systems w/no change to hardware or software.
    • (Can support 32v systems with changes in source code)
  • Optionally support 4-stage charging, adding an 'overcharge' step specified by some battery manufactures in their charge profiles.
  • Includes 8 default charge profiles - selectable by DIP switches.  FLA, AGM, GELL, LiFeP04. . .
  • Reports out complete status via ASCII text over the service cable and/or Bluetooth.
  • More advanced capabilities and full customization of all configuration parameters can be done using ASCII text commands send via service cable, or via Bluetooth.
  • Based on Arduino, fully customizable if you wish.

Arduino Alternator Regulator

  Parts costs are under $100, add in $25 if you want the Bluetooth capability.   More details are here:

Next, the fully integrated DC generator engine and alternator controller

This is what started these whole open-source Arduino projects:  An integrated controller for our Kubota based DC generator / watermaker.   It started out as just the alternator regulator with the goal of better matching the power delivered to the capabilities of the small Kubota engine, but then grew into an integrated engine controller + alternator regulator.  Taking care of starting, monitoring, stopping the engine as well as adjusting the throttle / speed to match the needs of the alternators.  The controller can interface with an optional remote LCD display for nearly full automatic operation (no more into the rain to fire up the generator for me!).  It features the same technologies for the Alternator regulator as above, so all the above features (with the exception of the ASCII text configurations and Bluetooth) are here as well.  This is the 3rd revision of the controller board.

Newest revision of Controller Board.
And remote LCD display board

Now same size as LCD.

The system manages and monitors the generator.  It can be configured to turn itself off when the battery is fully recharged, includes a 'quite' mode - limiting RPMs when you don't want to upset the neighbors.  And a  built in RTC clock can be used to enable time/date based auto-starting, or blackout periods (time based code is not fully flushed out).   Fully customizable using the Arduino programming environment.  Want to add a feature to monitor outside temperature, and start the Generator when conditions fall below freezing to keep the generator house warm?  Maybe you are doing a co-gen project and want to be able to fire up the engine when hot-water is needed..   A expansion connector brings out unused ports and the I2C bus.   The sky is the limit.

Parts cost for the controller w/o heatsink and remote are around $150.  Controller will function w/o the remote if you wish just local switches to control things.  More on the integrated engine and alternator controller here:

Both of these projects are based upon the Arduino IDE, both are released using the CC 'open source' licensing agreement  for non-commercial use, and both are fully documented (source, design, parts list, etc) in their respective blogs.  Have just completed a group build of both the Alternator Regulators and the Controller sets to folks looking to install them.  I have had a lot of fun doing them, and do like to see others taking advantage of the work I have done.  As I am just wrapping up coordinating the group-buys, I am a bit behind in updating the two  web sites with details and documentation.  Will be working on that over the next few weeks.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cost to not cruise - June 2014

With the arrival of June we now have half a year of 'un-cruising' data to look at.  And though we continue to see a decline in the average month costs (largely I think due to further amortization of travel costs over a greater period of time) perhaps things are starting to starting to settle down some in terms of the 'average'.    Each month still has some wild swings - though these days it is as much about how we share costs with Kristi's folks than anything (ala, the Groceries in April reflect a 'balancing' of things between us all).

Sharp eyed folks might notice the Medical costs.  They are 4 reasons:
  1. We had to drop our IMG international policy as we are no longer outside the USA more than 6 months out of the year.
  2. We had to take up an ACA policy, as we are not outside the USA more than 11 months out of the year.
  3. We had to take up a policy in Minnesota vs. Washington State as we now claim Minnesota as our state of Residence.
  4. I (Al) am working through a developing medical condition.  (Sigh)

Points 1-3 combined resulted in an increase of our yearly insurance cost from $1,400 to over $2,300, as well as a doubling of our maximum deductible/out-of-pocket for these 'catastrophic' insurance policies.   Point #4 is a life thing, don't want to make much of it - as it is manageable -  but it will add a bit to our ongoing medical costs.  And does go to show why one should get on with life:  "The whole idea is freedom, go simple, go cheap, go now"

With 6 months of averaging perhaps we can start to compare the cost to cruise vs. the cost to not-cruise.  Simply put:  $3,100 a month vs. $2,200 a month.   When looking at these monthly averages, keep in mind a few things:
  • While cruising, we did not pay for moorage - outside of transient times and winter months (Nov..Feb)
  • While not-cruising we have moorage, but are not covering 'housing' nor auto costs - that is part of the deal for Kristi and I helping out her folks.
  • We do however share food costs (Groceries and dining out), as well as pick up any personal items.

For me, the most interesting lines to compare are:
  • Boat Maintenance:  How much does it cost to use it vs. store it?
  • Groceries:  Automobile = access to different stores, plus we have cut down on 'adult beverages'  (Hard to have sun-downers while fighting off the Mosquitos)
  • Personal:  Oh So Much Time On Ones Hands + Oh So Easy Access To Internet + Oh So Simple To Have Things Delivered To Us....  (Each day brings a new surprise at the post office!)
  • Medical, well - kind of talked about that above - and it really is more of a USA social issue than a cruising thing.  Until we are able to leave the USA for 11+ months out of a year we will be under the highest cost medical system in the world.  (Oops, that box was sneaking out again).  But given it still represents over 20% of our budget this is a major cost item and consideration for anyone looking to live life on a budget.

There you go.  July will be kind of low-key, August I fly back to Washington for 10 days of boat maintenance and preparing her for another winter alone.


And now here is the standard explanation: If this is your 1st time looking at costs on our blog, and want some more background on why we are reporting what it costs to not-cruise on a cruising blog - well, we are taking a break by moving back to Minnesota to help out Kristi's folks.  And we thought it would be interesting to be able to compare our costs on Land vs. on Sea., see more here:

For reference here is a summary of what it did cost us to cruise last year:

For Reference, Costs for Cruising in 2013
Again, following the link above will give you access to more details, or you can click on the Costs label to the right.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Slackers at the Blog..

Yesterday I noticed it has been, ahem, a bit of time from our last post.  And yet folks seems to keep coming back!  (Well, a couple of ya anyway).  But I do want to say sorry for not getting SOMETHING up at least every 2 weeks.

This will be a quick one, more of a 'checks in the mail' type post.  Over the past few weeks I have been really focused on coordinating group builds of the two Alternator projects,  the external alternator regulator, and the integrated DC generator controller.  What's new is am using a China firm to fab the PCBs as well as do some of the PCB component assembly.  Has been a mixed bag, but in the end am focusing on using China for the SMT parts, and then hand soldering on what is left.  Which made a bit of work converting the projects over to SMT components.  You can read more in their respective blogs, and if anyone is interested in a board set I have a few left over for both the integrated controller as well as the stand alone regulator.

Stand alone external Alternator Regulator

CAD 3d drawing of new LCD Remote

CAD drawing of new SMT  DC generator controller.

Back to the Check is in the Mail.  It is time for another Cost to not cruise post, we will have 6 months of info now, perhaps starting to see comparable values?  Have some photos for a posting entitled "A tail of three LEDs",   A low power story full of Drama, Color, and even smoke/fire!

Till then,