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OS:Stephen Dickens Magnesium-Water-Copper Battery

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A $3 magnesium rod surrounded by (not touching) a copper coil in water, produces 1.5 V and enough current to power a wall clock.
A $3 magnesium rod surrounded by (not touching) a copper coil in water, produces 1.5 V and enough current to power a wall clock.

An open source project hosted here at PESWiki.


Would you like to be able to build an AA battery for emergency preparedness, or just for self-reliability?

Consider Stephen Dickens' Water Battery/Generator using Magnesium and Copper Electrodes with Foam Insulator.

It's a lot bigger than an AA, but is cheap and easy to build.

Variations of the concept have been around for more than a century. This one, though probably not unique, appears to be noteworthy given its simplicity. A kindergartener could build this and afford to buy the parts needed.

Briefly, it entails approximately 10 turns of 10-12-gauge copper wire loosely over foam around a Magnesium rod of dimensions: ~0.5" diameter by 3.5" long. The rod is loosely wrapped by 1/2-inch foam insulation. An electrode is attached to the top of the Mg rod with a hose clamp. The assembly is immersed in water (with no added electrolyte) up to the top of the foam.

Adding electrolyte, while increasing amperage, diminishes the life of the Mg. Without electrolyte, the battery can last longer. It produces around 1.5 V and a few mA continuously. Every 9 months or so, the magnesium rod and copper wire should be briefly sanded to remove build-up. The Dickens Battery uses no salts, acids, or added chemicals.

Other people have built Mg-Cu-H2O cells and posted them to YouTube. What makes this unusual is that Stephen doesn't use electrolyte, and this enables the Mg to have longevity that makes the battery practical.

Apparently the power output is a function of the Mg depletion. The question is whether the addition of electrolytes merely speeds up the Mg depletion (resulting in increased power), or if the electrolytes themselves speed up the Mg depletion.

The objective here is to characterize the phenomena, optimize the output and efficiency, miniaturize it, identify alternate variations using other materials that might work even better, and facilitate its dissemination as a solution, if it can be made feasible.

Who can come up with the most cost-effective, easy-to build battery design, using materials that are readily available?

Anyone is welcome to participate in this contest. But if you make money based on this concept presented by Stephen Dickens, we ask that you share a royalty.

Non-exclusive license terms
Stephen has agreed to let NEST help him open source this technology, this page being the home page for that project. Since he has graciously chosen to share his technology with the world in this manner, rather than going through the traditional route of confidentiality, patents, etc... (though whether a patent could be awarded is unlikely), we request that you likewise honor him and do the right thing by remitting a 5% royalty for any commercial applications of this technology. Royalties should be remitted to NEST, who has an agreement with Stephen to share 60% with him, while retaining 40% to finance the administration and propagation of this project.

Please direct your royalty payments to:

New Energy Systems Trust
c/o Chip Paul, Treasurer
9717 E 42nd Street
Tulsa, OK 74146 USA

PayPal email: chip.p@energynest.org
email: chip.p@energynest.org
phone: +1-918.289.0000

Note: NEST is not taking donations for Steve. You can donate to his project via his website, listed below.

Contents

Cautions

Magnesium is highly flammable. People will whittle shavings of Mg from a rod to use for fire starter. If a Mg rod catches fire (e.g. from a flame source, or even just from grinding), it cannot be doused by submerging in water but will continue to burn very hot until the Mg is consumed. That's why they use Mg rods for under-water welding. You can possibly douse it by covering it in sand, but it can still re-ignite.

As for health or pollution, Mg is not an issue. It is found in food. It is non-polluting.

Official Websites

  • This PESWiki page is the official page for this open source project.
  • blinkyblue {dot} zapto {dot} org - Steve's original site (The zapto domain is considered a "spam" site by Mediawiki, so we can't link directly to it.)
  • My Inventions Calendar By Stephen Dickens
  • http://www.youtube.com/user/stevensrd1 - Steve's YouTube Channel

Interviews

Videos

Instructions

Parts List

5 Pack by GalliumSource.
5 Pack by GalliumSource.
  • Magnesium rod of dimensions: ~0.5" diameter by 3.5" long.
  • Bare copper wire (e.g. 12- or 14-gauge household wiring ground wire), about 1 foot long.
  • Tap water
  • Small container to hold water, bigger than 6 oz.
  • A way to cap the container to prevent evaporation of the water. The lid will need to be penetrated with wires to connect to the electrodes.
  • Silicon or other sealant to put around the holes in the lid (for the two protruding wires) to make an air-tight connection to prevent evaporation.
  • Alligator clips and wires to run from the electrodes to what is being powered.
  • Sand (enough on hand to completely cover the Mg. rod in case it should catch fire; in order to douse the fire.
  • (Note, no electrolyte is needed or suggested, as it causes corrosion and diminishing of the Mg rod.)

Optional / Supplemental Parts

  • Capacitor, to run in parallel with the electrodes, sometimes helps. 450 V, 100 uF; or 10 V 2200 uF, or 200V 220 uF
    • Note, this needs to be characterized, optimized, in this open source project.

Tools (optional)

  • A multimeter would be good to have to measure volts and amps.
  • A caulk gun for dispensing silicon would come in handy if you wish to make an airtight seal around the electrodes to prevent evaporation of the water.

Assembly

  1. Fasten a short piece of metal to the end of the Mg rod with the hose clamp.
  2. Use the handle of a screwdriver to wrap around 10 turns of copper wire to then slip over the foam on the Mg rod. It should fit loosely, not tightly.
  3. The rod is wrapped by 1/2-inch foam insulation. The assembly is immersed in water (with no added electrolyte) up to the top of the foam. It produces around 1.5 V and 20-100 mA continuously. Every 9 months or so, the magnesium rod and copper wire should be briefly sanded to remove build-up.

Assembly Diagram

Here's a simplified graphic:

Image:Dickens-Water-Battery-w2.jpg

Image by Jim Rodney

Operation Instructions

  1. Assemble the device per the above instructions.
  2. Use an alligator clip to connect the positive electrode from the cell to the positive connector of what it is powering, and the negative electrode to the negative connector of what it is powering. (The AA battery container usually has a diagram showing a AA battery, with a "+" on one end and a "-" on the other.) You will sometimes need to be creative in figuring out how to make an electrical connection to the target device +/- connectors.
  3. If there isn't enough juice to run the device, combine two in parallel, or more, until there is enough juice.
  4. One troubleshooting step is to also add a capacitor in parallel with the electrodes.

Designer Profile: Stephen Dickens

Stephen Ralph Dickens was born in Lexington, NC, and grew up in Salisbury, NC. Born May 17, 1969, as of June, 2012, he is 43 years old. His mother was the late Daisy Boone, and his father is Stephen Saddler. His parents split up before Stephen was born, so he ended up with his sister's father's last name, which is Dickens.

Steve's late sister was Ann Ghent. He lives with his wife, Sandra and his daughter Krystal and son, Wayne.

Steve quit school at an early age, so he is self taught in most everything. He has had an interest and has been fiddling with electronics, science and inventing things since he was kid.

Replications

Ray Jennings, First Reproduction

June 6, 2012

On June 6, 2012 Massachusetts attorney, and New Energy Systems Trust vice president, Ray Jennings, received his Magnesium rods. It took him about 15 minutes to assemble this 1.5.-volt battery by fastening a metal strip to the end of the Mg rod with a hose clamp; then fitting a piece of foam around the rod, then winding a copper wire loosely around that and setting the assembly in a bottle of tap water (no electrolyte). Adding electrolyte, while increasing amperage, greatly diminishes the life of the Mg. without electrolyte, the battery can last essentially indefinitely, maybe sanding every 9 months to remove some build-up on the electrodes.

The battery powers a wall clock. (Note, in the video, Ray misread his meter. The actual voltage is around 1.3 V).

Jim Rodney, Second Reproduction

On the afternoon of June 7, 2012, Jim Rodney of http://www.jamesrodney.com achieved 1.6 V. Not enough current to run wall clock.

Image:Jim_Rodney_sq_300.jpg

Sterling Allan, Third Reproduction

On the evening of June 7, 2012, Sterling D. Allan powered a wall clock with three 18-gauge, 15-turn coils in parallel; and one 10-gauge, 6-turn coil, with just three small slices of foam to keep the Mg from touching the Cu coil.

Data

Things That Have Been Run on the Dickens Battery

List the item, then the name of the researchers who first demonstrated it.

  • Wall clock (Steve Dickens, Ray Jennings)
  • Digital alarm clock (Steve Dickens)
  • LED lights (Steve Dickens)
  • Small motors (Steve Dickens)

Questions for Optimization

  • What is relationship between length and thickness of Mg rod and volts? Amps?
  • Different shapes of rod: square, flat, etc..
  • What is relationship between purity of Mg rod and energy generation?
  • Thickness of copper wire
  • Number of turns of copper wire
  • Other metals for positive electrode
  • Thickness of foam
  • Types of foam
  • Other metals/materials besides Mg
  • Does the copper have to be exposed to the water, or will magnet wire work? (which is insulated)

Theoretical Considerations

On June 8, 2012; 12:40 am MDT an anonymous user provide the following observations regarding the Dickens' battery:

0) This setup is basically a galvanic cell.

1) The magnesium water battery is well known, and not novel. It is a galvanic cell that produces electricity at the cost of one metal being consumed. In this case, the magnesium.

2) To increase the consumption rate of the magnesium and increase the output power, electrolytes can be used. Here is a trade off. Do not use electrolytes and less magnesium will be consumed. However, the output power will be less. So you have to decide if you want high power or long lifespan.

3) By increasing the temperature of the cell the output will be increased.

4) To increase the power output you can also increase the surface area of the cathode. However, the cathode needs to be fairly close to the magnesium. The closer it is the greater the rate of magnesium consumption and the greater the output power.

5) There needs to be a way for anions to pass between the cathode and anode. In this setup it would probably be best if the foam between the cathode and anode was porous. One idea is to make lots of little holes in it.

6) The key to making this open source project work is to figure out an easy to assemble kit that....

a) Is cheap.
b) Produces a decent output.
c) Is easy to assemble.

7) Using a thick rod of magnesium is obviously wasteful. The only benefit is that the magnesium would probably last a long time. An alternative would be to use a magnesium tube that would be cheaper, but still probably last months. The tube would cost much less because it would have less mass. It might cost only 1/10th as much! But the surface area would be greater!

8) Using a tube you might be able to place the copper wire anode both on the outside of the magnesium and on the inside of the tube. You could perhaps generate twice as much power, but you would be consuming twice as much magnesium.

9) Using magnesium foil is another option. You could roll it up into a tube. Of course since it would be even thinner than a tube it would not last as long.

10) The economic of a whole system need to be considered. For example, could a one hundred watt system be produced that would last for a certain period of time, that would be significantly cheaper than simply buying grid power, a solar panel, making a windmill, building a Stirling engine, etc?

Related Technologies

Product: WaterBattery.com

  • http://waterbattery.com/ - Commercially available for sale in coming months, AA-size, uses magnesium and carbon. Featured at CES. Mark Dansie notes: "been around for years; only lasts [5] times."

Product: Hydro Powered Clock

  • http://www.perpetualkid.com/clock-hydro-power.aspx ($7.99) Hydro Powered Clock is fun and educational! The water-powered batteries consists of two electrodes made of special alloys, which, when immersed in water, activate the carbon particles to produce energy through a chemical reaction.

Magnesium & Copper Battery.MOV

(prior art)

Uploaded to YouTube on Dec 14, 2011, magnetman2010 describes how to build a self-contained battery producing 1.4 V...

Orange Juice Clock

  • The chemical and educational appeal of the orange juice clock - The Orange Juice Clock, in which a galvanic cell is made from the combination of a magnesium strip, a copper strip, and juice in a beaker, has been a popular classroom, conference, and workshop demonstration for nearly 10 years. It is widely enjoyed because it shows visually how chemistry - or more precisely, electrochemistry - is responsible for the very common phenomenon of a clock ticking. The chemistry of the process can also be understood on a variety of levels, from middle school (simple electron flow in a circuit, Ohm's law) and high school (reduction/oxidation and standard cell potentials) to first-year college (cell potential at nonideal conditions) and graduate school courses (overpotential and charge transfer across interfaces.) The discussion that follows considers the recent history, chemistry, and educational uses of the demonstration. (Journal of Chemical Education, vol. 73, Issue 12, p.1123; Publication Date (Web): December 1, 1996)

Patent US4020247: Water activated primary batteries

  • http://www.google.com/patents/US4020247 - A water activated primary battery in which each cell includes a cathode manufactured largely from an oxy-halogen material and an anode of aluminum, magnesium, zinc or alloys thereof, the electrodes being separated and insulated from one another by a porous membrane; the main feature of the invention being the sandwich construction of the cells and design of the anode which is perforated to provide access of the electrolyte to the cathode and escape of gas from the cell and dimpled to facilitate uniform compaction of the cathode material and to provide cooling water/electrolyte passageways in each cell. (Issue date: Apr 26, 1977)

Stubblefield

On June 02, 2012 7:11 PM MDT, Gary Hendershot of the SmartScarecrow Show wrote: (slightly edited)

This certainly is not a new idea … works with many metals, not just Mg … will also work with Aluminum … the foam is not required either … can use cotton if you like … the copper can be replaced by carbon … many combinations out there that work … this is Stubbelfield stuff from the late 1800’s …

But it's still interesting and would make for a good presentation ...

This is but one example … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGZWJwlJFzY

There are many different ways to do them … some work better than others …

Many deploy these as "earth batteries" so the hydration comes from the ground, instead of sitting in a bath of water …

It's a very interesting project and is certainly one that should be featured … just think it's inappropriate to make more of it than there really is … nothing wrong with discussing old technology rediscovered … but should represent it properly …

This fellow may have come upon this independently and have no idea that it's been done for over a 100 years … but fact is, folks have been playing with this stuff for a long time … The early telegraph system here in US was powered by very similar technology before the great war of northern aggression … it's yet another example of an old technology that should be reexamined …

Opportunities

(Remember, any commercial applications need to remit a royalty, as described in the opening.)

  • Translate the plans into other languages, and sell them.
  • Sell a kit with all the components needed.
  • Source Mg locally outside the U.S., working with GalliumSource.com
  • Optimize the design and miniaturize it to sell as a finished product.
  • etc.

In the News

Forums

Contact

Stephen Dickens, designer


Jim Rodney, Open Source Project director on behalf of NEST

See also

WATER FUEL FOOTER

OPEN SOURCE:

- Other Open Source Projects
- Open Source News
- PESWiki main index
- PES Network Inc.

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