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Extending the USB Nano Pump: Solar Power

As my second test for the Aquarium Co-Op USB Nano Air pump, I have decided to start writing before the test is done, and to kick things off today.
 
I'm hoping a few tests will come of this, but an "instant fail" is just as valuable. I'm hoping what may come of this will be some numbers (mAh in, hours per day, etc.) that can be used in later selections of solar powered batteries for this pump.
 
I hope to answer this question: Is there a low-cost solar-powered battery by which I can run the USB nano pump indefinitely? Failure is defined as the power running out or the battery otherwise failing by other means.
 
SELECTING THE SOLAR-POWERED BACKUP BATTERY
 
In making my choice of backup battery, I listed the following criteria that needed to be satisfied:
 
1. It has to be water-resistant.
2. It has to be reasonably sized (not too large).
3. It has to be affordable.
 
Not too much. The whole trick was to find something that is a balance between power and price. I settled on this IEsafy Solar Charger 26800mAh, Outdoor Solar Power Bank with 4 Foldable Solar Panels and 2 High-Speed Charging Ports for Smartphones, Tablets, Samsung, iPhone, etc, with Waterproof LED Flashlight from Amazon:
 
71yLNWBBM5L._AC_SL1280_.jpg
 
(non-affiliate link)
 
It cost $27.50 when I bought it last week, but seems to have risen to $40. A quick search of Amazon and the internet suggests that if you're resourceful, you can find one in the $30 range with these specs. But I still don't yet know if these specs are sufficient. 
 
A WORD ABOUT LOCATION AND TIME OF YEAR
 
This test is going to be a bit less useful around the world; access to sunlight matters a lot. I live in north San Diego county, California, and it is currently July (middle of summer). It stands to reason that if I pick my spot correctly, I will get direct sunlight for much of the day. If I can figure out how many hours of direct sunlight I'll need each day, in theory I can move the charger around as needed
 
But in winter months and in locations farther from the equator, this may be more difficult.
 
THE SETUP
 
THE FIRST THING I DID WAS CHARGE THE BACKUP BATTERY BY PLUGGING IT IN. This has to be done first before expecting to make use of solar power at all. It took several hours to charge fully.
 
I am combining this test with another project: A small daphnia culture in a 17-gallon tub. These tubs are $5 at Walmart, so there's no excuse not to have several!
I filled the tub with well-used greenish water from my small pond, added extra mulm for good measure, dropped in a medium sponge filter from Aquarium Co-Op, and connected it to the USB nano pump. The pump is hanging from a hole I drilled in the lip of the tub.
 
Then I connected the pump's power cable to the backup battery, which I placed on an empty Amazon box. I placed this entire rig in a spot where I expect it to get much sunlight all day.
 
IMG_20200718_090907.jpg
 
(I know that the sponge filter is not necessary daphnia, and many folks keep daphnia in still water even. But I HATE mosquitoes and want to stabilize things as much as possible. Also, I won't be ordering daphnia for several weeks, as I want the water to get much greener from the direct sunlight; I'll be feeding it a steady diet of grass clippings as needed.)
 
TEST ONE: IS THIS REMOTELY VIABLE AT ALL?
 
Today is lightly cloudy, but the clouds are seeming to burn off. The sun hit the charger at 9am this morning, so we are off and running!
 
IMG_20200718_090900.jpg
 
UPDATE 7/20/2020: This test has been canceled, for reasons outlined below. New test coming soon!
 
Bill
 
 
Edited by Bill Smith
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38 minutes ago, TheDukeAnumber1 said:

Love the test, hope it goes well. I'm very curious to see how the battery holds being baked in the sun, my guess is that will be the failure mode.

Might be a good idea to define "failure" too.

Thanks Duke, yes, I'm curious too. Willing to sacrifice in order to see. 🙂

And yes, I'll add a line about failure. Thanks!

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2 hours ago, Bill Smith said:

Extending the USB Nano Pump: Solar Power

As my second test for the Aquarium Co-Op USB Nano Air pump, I have decided to start writing before the test is done, and to kick things off today.
 
I'm hoping a few tests will come of this, but an "instant fail" is just as valuable. I'm hoping what may come of this will be some numbers (mAh in, hours per day, etc.) that can be used in later selections of solar powered batteries for this pump.
 
I hope to answer this question: Is there a low-cost solar-powered battery by which I can run the USB nano pump indefinitely? Failure is defined as the power running out or the battery otherwise failing by other means.
 
SELECTING THE SOLAR-POWERED BACKUP BATTERY
 
In making my choice of backup battery, I listed the following criteria that needed to be satisfied:
 
1. It has to be water-resistant.
2. It has to be reasonably sized (not too large).
3. It has to be affordable.
 
Not too much. The whole trick was to find something that is a balance between power and price. I settled on this IEsafy Solar Charger 26800mAh, Outdoor Solar Power Bank with 4 Foldable Solar Panels and 2 High-Speed Charging Ports for Smartphones, Tablets, Samsung, iPhone, etc, with Waterproof LED Flashlight from Amazon:
 
71yLNWBBM5L._AC_SL1280_.jpg
 
(non-affiliate link)
 
It cost $27.50 when I bought it last week, but seems to have risen to $40. A quick search of Amazon and the internet suggests that if you're resourceful, you can find one in the $30 range with these specs. But I still don't yet know if these specs are sufficient. 
 
A WORD ABOUT LOCATION AND TIME OF YEAR
 
This test is going to be a bit less useful around the world; access to sunlight matters a lot. I live in north San Diego county, California, and it is currently July (middle of summer). It stands to reason that if I pick my spot correctly, I will get direct sunlight for much of the day. If I can figure out how many hours of direct sunlight I'll need each day, in theory I can move the charger around as needed
 
But in winter months and in locations farther from the equator, this may be more difficult.
 
THE SETUP
 
THE FIRST THING I DID WAS CHARGE THE BACKUP BATTERY BY PLUGGING IT IN. This has to be done first before expecting to make use of solar power at all. It took several hours to charge fully.
 
I am combining this test with another project: A small daphnia culture in a 17-gallon tub. These tubs are $5 at Walmart, so there's no excuse not to have several!
I filled the tub with well-used greenish water from my small pond, added extra mulm for good measure, dropped in a medium sponge filter from Aquarium Co-Op, and connected it to the USB nano pump. The pump is hanging from a hole I drilled in the lip of the tub.
 
Then I connected the pump's power cable to the backup battery, which I placed on an empty Amazon box. I placed this entire rig in a spot where I expect it to get much sunlight all day.
 
IMG_20200718_090907.jpg
 
(I know that the sponge filter is not necessary daphnia, and many folks keep daphnia in still water even. But I HATE mosquitoes and want to stabilize things as much as possible. Also, I won't be ordering daphnia for several weeks, as I want the water to get much greener from the direct sunlight; I'll be feeding it a steady diet of grass clippings as needed.)
 
TEST ONE: IS THIS REMOTELY VIABLE AT ALL?
 
Today is lightly cloudy, but the clouds are seeming to burn off. The sun hit the charger at 9am this morning, so we are off and running!
 
IMG_20200718_090900.jpg
 
I will update this post as developments transpire. Thanks for reading!
 
Bill
 
 

Hi Bill,

Really seems like a nice test of the unit.  If I am understanding it correctly, they are rating the charged internal battery at a capacity of 26800mah?   Would probably be much less than that for many reasons.  Loss, efficiency, duty cycle, etc.  I measured the current consumption of one of my USB Nano pumps at it draws about 120ma or .120 Amps equivalent, under load with about 5 feet of tubing, check valve & air stone attached.  So doing quick math:  The pump should run on a fully charged battery approx 223 hours without the aid of the sun.  Now, again, that is in theory. It will be less that that.  This is all assuming that the battery is rated at a true 26800 mah.  Every Nano airpump will probably draw slightly different amounts of current, dependent on installation factors.  If I had to guess, and it's only a guess, I would go with about 70% efficiency and it might run about 155 hours or 6.5 days of continuous operation, from the battery alone, at the stated current consumption.  All ideas/information presented herein are my opinion.

 

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20 hours ago, DaveSamsell said:

Hi Bill,

Really seems like a nice test of the unit.  If I am understanding it correctly, they are rating the charged internal battery at a capacity of 26800mah?   Would probably be much less than that for many reasons.  Loss, efficiency, duty cycle, etc.  I measured the current consumption of one of my USB Nano pumps at it draws about 120ma or .120 Amps equivalent, under load with about 5 feet of tubing, check valve & air stone attached.  So doing quick math:  The pump should run on a fully charged battery approx 223 hours without the aid of the sun.  Now, again, that is in theory. It will be less that that.  This is all assuming that the battery is rated at a true 26800 mah.  Every Nano airpump will probably draw slightly different amounts of current, dependent on installation factors.  If I had to guess, and it's only a guess, I would go with about 70% efficiency and it might run about 155 hours or 6.5 days of continuous operation, from the battery alone, at the stated current consumption.  All ideas/information presented herein are my opinion.

 

Hi Dave:

Thanks man, good stuff. Yes, I would think the battery charges at a faster rate than the pump consumes. We will see. I'll basically be checking each morning to see if the battery loses any "bars".

I'm excited about the potential, even if the solution is a "hybrid" approach, where the solar charging only slows down the consumption, and I have to manually recharge the battery every month or so....

Edited by Bill Smith
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3 minutes ago, Sliceofnature said:

Im stoked to see youre doing this! I am setting up a pond of my own currently, also in so cal and have been looking At these wondering if they would run an air pump reliably. Cant wait to see your results.

Love that half-barrel! I want to set up a row of those things! Where did you get it?

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UPDATE:

It seems that maybe Duke's prediction may be more prophetic than I thought. The battery is putting out significantly less power to the pump now (even at all five bars capacity). The pump is pulsing on and off every half-second, resulting in far fewer bubbles. It's possible the battery pack is overheating from all that direct sunlight.

I have turned the pack upside down, leaving only the three remaining panels exposed. I hope this will shield the battery from the intense sunlight and return it to full throughput.

Any other suggestions?

 

IMG_20200718_124514.jpg

Edited by Bill Smith
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19 minutes ago, Bill Smith said:

Love that half-barrel! I want to set up a row of those things! Where did you get it?

Thanks! i found a guy about 20 min from me that does all sorts of stuff with them. Hes on instagram @ojai_crafter if you wanna check his stuff out. He gave me a great deal and cut me a 3/4 barrel so that i have a bit more room, i think its around 55gal.

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20 minutes ago, Bill Smith said:

Hi Dave:

Thanks man, good stuff. Yes, I would think the battery charges at a faster rate than the pump consumes. We will see. I'll basically be checking each morning to see if the batter loses any "bars".

I'm excited about the potential, even if the solution is a "hybrid" approach, where the solar charging only slows down the consumption, and I have to manually recharge the battery every month or so....

Bill,

Am thinking the unit is either a Lithium Polymer or Lithium Ion design.  Charge rates are usually expressed in a "C" rating.   An example would be "1C". This means that a battery should be able to be charged at an amperage charge rate equal to the battery rated capacity.  Often times, the charge rate is much, much less, for safety.  Where people get into trouble is by overcharging or charging at a higher current level, than what is safe. Personally, I would never charge a lithium battery beyond a "1C" rate.   It appears that charge regulation, from the sun to the internal battery, is automatically done with this charger.  Also, often times, with lithium batteries there are 'sense' lines, because the battery itself is made up of individual cells that need to be monitored, charged individually and evenly.  Not all batteries are advanced designs tough.  In the electronics repair world, it is referred to as "cell balancing"  Lithium batteries are very volatile, especially if the lithium is exposed to oxygen.  I.E. battery is dropped, damaged, cracked open, overcharged, etc.  In addition, lithium batteries typically, don't like to be "stored" for long periods of time, fully charged.  Roughly 40% - 60% is best for storage.  Also, they don't like to be run down low either.  If they are run down too low, there is a point where the battery won't recover.  So, they are a little tricky, but can deliver a lot of power. 

 

Just my $0.02 on the matter.  

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UPDATE:

It's 6pm, and the charger is finally under shade. the bubble intensity has gone back to full power, leading to an interesting conclusion:

This battery charger pulses at lower power while it is being charged by the sun. I THINK I can live with this.

But since I covered one of the panels earlier by turning the battery pack upside down, I don't have a clean test anymore.

I'm bringing the battery back inside to fully charge it overnight and starting the test all over tomorrow morning, again with all four panels available.

Incidentally, this tub can NOT serve as a daphnia culture; it gets far too hot. I'll have to use this one just for green water and set up the daphnia tub elsewhere.

Live and learn!

Edited by Bill Smith
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35 minutes ago, Bill Smith said:

UPDATE:

It's 6pm, and the charger is finally under shade. the bubble intensity has gone back to full power, leading to an interesting conclusion:

This battery charger pulses at lower power while it is being charged by the sun. I THINK I can live with this.

But since I covered one of the panels earlier by turning the battery pack upside down, I don't have a clean test anymore.

I'm bringing the battery back inside to fully charge it overnight and starting the test all over tomorrow morning, again with all four panels available.

Incidentally, this tub can NOT serve as a daphnia culture; it gets far too hot. I'll have to use this one just for green water and set up the daphnia tub elsewhere.

Live and learn!

Hi Bill,

Sounds about right.  With the solar panels no longer providing power, the unit switched over to its internal battery for output.  The pulsations are a somewhat newer "Pulse Technology" that is supposed to recondition and\or maintain a battery (if you were charging one).  But rather you have the USB Nano pump as the load instead.  I was reading some specs on this charger.  Under full sun, it should easily power the pump & still be charging the battery as well.  It should do well for you.  Depending on how this test goes, maybe you can experiment with multiple pumps running at the same time. I.E. Additional load testing, etc.  Or put a chiller fan on the Daphnia tub, using one of the chargers outputs.  Lots of possibilities.  🤔

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1 hour ago, Bill Smith said:

Nah, that pulsating is too weak. Here's a video to see what I mean.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/rAnul_lZAN8

I don't see any reason not to pull the plug on this test for now...maybe I can find a battery that won't have such weak output.

Any suggestions? 

Hi Bill,

Seen the video and that is surely weak.  I have a few ideas\questions.

 

- Did you fully charge the battery last night manually?

- How about trying a different output port for the pump.

- If you have another Nano pump, try to swap it out.

- Try covering a solar panel, one at a time and note the results of the pump.

- Make sure there are no clogs in the line.

- If using an airstone, try removing it.

- Was the output ever much better, regarding bubbles while charging in the sun? If so, what changed?

- If the bubble output was always this way, perhaps there's an incompatibility between the charger & pump.  I.E. Too much alternating current pulses for a direct current device (pump), etc.

- Is the Nano pump warm or hot in operation?  It shouldn't be.

 

Keep us advised.  Thanks.  👍

 

 

 

Edited by DaveSamsell
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- Did you fully charge the battery last night manually?

Yep, sure did.

- How about trying a different output port for the pump.

Both ports behave the same way.

- If you have another Nano pump, try to swap it out.

I do have several, and a second nano behaved the same way.

- Try covering a solar panel, one at a time and note the results of the pump.

Yes, this is super interesting. Selectively covering one or more panels reduces the bubbles more and more, until I'm down to one panel. Once I'm down to one panel or none, it goes to full blast. So clearly, the charger is delivering an output based upon its input.

- Make sure there are no clogs in the line.

Brand new line, not clogged. Plugging the nano into an extension cord resulted in fully normal operation.

- If using an airstone, try removing it.

Did that, it's very, very slow pumping of just 2-3 bubbles at a time.

- Was the output ever much better, regarding bubbles while charging in the sun? If so, what changed?

Only for the first few minutes when I started the test this morning. Almost immediately went to pulsing.

- If the bubble output was always this way, perhaps there's an incompatibility between the charger & pump.  I.E. Too much alternating current pulses for a direct current device (pump), etc.

Yeah, stands to reason. Maybe time to look for a battery that doesn't have that feature.

- Is the Nano pump warm or hot in operation?

Nope, cool to the touch the entire time.

 

Thanks so much for the troubleshooting help!

Bill

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35 minutes ago, Bill Smith said:

- Did you fully charge the battery last night manually?

Yep, sure did.

- How about trying a different output port for the pump.

Both ports behave the same way.

- If you have another Nano pump, try to swap it out.

I do have several, and a second nano behaved the same way.

- Try covering a solar panel, one at a time and note the results of the pump.

Yes, this is super interesting. Selectively covering one or more panels reduces the bubbles more and more, until I'm down to one panel. Once I'm down to one panel or none, it goes to full blast. So clearly, the charger is delivering an output based upon its input.

- Make sure there are no clogs in the line.

Brand new line, not clogged. Plugging the nano into an extension cord resulted in fully normal operation.

- If using an airstone, try removing it.

Did that, it's very, very slow pumping of just 2-3 bubbles at a time.

- Was the output ever much better, regarding bubbles while charging in the sun? If so, what changed?

Only for the first few minutes when I started the test this morning. Almost immediately went to pulsing.

- If the bubble output was always this way, perhaps there's an incompatibility between the charger & pump.  I.E. Too much alternating current pulses for a direct current device (pump), etc.

Yeah, stands to reason. Maybe time to look for a battery that doesn't have that feature.

- Is the Nano pump warm or hot in operation?

Nope, cool to the touch the entire time.

 

Thanks so much for the troubleshooting help!

Bill

Bill,

Most of the newer solar chargers I've researched have the "pulsed/smart technology" , built-in & microprocessor controlled.  So,adjusting the pulsed direct current output from the solar charger would not be practical.  The true engineering of the charger is just that; to recharge a compliant battery.

Will have to look some more.  There possibly is yet still a charger of more simplicity out there for our application.  

If not:

Maybe one way around it would be by having two of these chargers.  By only using the pump on a charger (non-dependant) of the solar panels.  I.E. Covering up the solar panels & using the stored power from the fully charged internal battery only to a certain discharge level.  Then, once the battery is low, just swap in the other new, fully charged unit.  Charge the disconnected, depleted solar pack, simply by the sun exposure.

Then repeat, etc.  Would require swapping chargers every "so many days", but it's an option, with a free recharge, compliments of the sun.

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Next test getting a charge doctor might be helpful. And gathering pre test data like how long the battery will power the pump on a full charge, time required in full sun to charge the battery ect. Also sometimes drawing to little power well below the intended use can cause issues too. I know those pumps pull way less current than a phone will.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Digital-Multimeter-Current-Detector-delivery/dp/B07P252NY2/ref=mp_s_a_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=charge+doctor&qid=1595217075&sr=8-5

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All,

A study of Ohm's & Watt's law would also be beneficial, to fully understand what principles are being dealt with.  I feel the charger is more than capable, but where the issue might be is the "pulsed" direct current, from the solar panel, through circuitry.  The inherent design of the charger is, of course, to charge a battery.  By adding anything else, besides a rechargeable battery to the chargers output, would simply be experimentation.

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