Why did I build a power bank?
Why would anyone even try to build a power bank – i.e. an external battery for charging mobile devices – these days? These things are commodity, it’s impossible to compete. Right? Well, that is until you find out that the type of power bank for your application, namely charging a higher-end tablet with 12V input, does not exist cheaply. Looking around for 12V power banks yields a lot of li-ion car jump starters (*) and very few actual power banks. Those that exist are pretty expensive and often don’t even perform that well. Let’s run down the list:
|(no-name) Portable Power Bank with 12V & 5V USB||Approx. 90Wh||$71.99||Big and heavy: weighs 650g. Output power 60W max. Seems to actually be for solar applications. Very little information.|
|XT Power MP-10000 with dual USB and DC 9V/12V 2A||37Wh||$59.90||Output is limited to 2A. Auto turn-off is nice. Weight is ok (300g). Includes lots of connectors.|
|RAV Power Extreme 23000mAh||Approx. 85Wh||$99.99 (normal: $299.99)||Pretty big and heavy (600g), very nice design. Super expensive. High output power.|
|Qualcomm Blitz Wolf QC2.0||Approx. 35Wh||$26.99||Low output power (12V/1.35A), uses QC2.0 instead of general purpose output|
(*) Car jump starters will not work, because they have a 3S pack of li-ion cells directly connected to the output, meaning the output actually varies from about 10-12.6V. My tablet (Cube i7 Stylus) and the Microsoft Surface series only accept 12V +/- 5%
Prices exclude shipping. I tried my best to include an example of every ‘category’ of available power bank in this list, but there are obviously hundreds. They fall into four general categories:
- QC2.0 chargers, which use the new Quick Charge protocol to deliver 5-12V at up to 18W to supported mobile devices. These are the only ‘cheap’ 12V power banks, but unfortunately also woefully underpowered as well as using a communication protocol on the charging port. That makes it very hard to use as a generic 12V charger for a tablet.
- Ridiculously expensive chargers. There are a bunch, and they all retail for between 100-400 dollars. Some are specifically marketed towards high-end laptop/audio/photographic gear. They do have really good specs (often up to 4-6A outputs and variable output voltage), but are also generally heavy and very proprietary in their connections.
- ‘Almost there’ power banks. There are a lot of 12V/1.5A and 12V/2A power banks in the $60-100 price range. Unfortunately, I need 2.5A to be able to charge AND use my tablet and $60 is a bit on the high side, especially with more than $15 shipping (to Europe). Locally, these tend to retail for €100+.
- Weird application-specific stuff. I put in a solar charger. Often without satisfactory documentation
So, how do we fix this? Well, build your own.
The Muxtronics Power Bank is a DIY power bank kit with a reference 48Wh implementation. You can basically add as many cells as possible and use any enclosure you like, so the capacity, weight and size specs are variable. Basic specs for the reference implementation:
- Output 1: 12V/3.0A (optionally: adjustable 10-21V/36W max.)
- Output 2: 2 USB ports, up to 2.5A combined (recommended: not more than 2.0A per port, as that is their max. specification)
- Charging input: 5V/3A micro USB (approx. 4h from empty to full charge). It will charge on any USB port, possibly slowly. You can charge while using the power bank (e.g. if you want to use it as a UPS). Note that this is limited to about 13-14W max. on a suitable charger, or about 4.5W max. on most USB ports (limited to 1A).
- Capacity: 48Wh (43Wh usable)
- Weight: 317g
- Size: 25x82x114mm
- Bare PCB: €5
- Assembled PCB: €29
- Full 48Wh kit: €69
- Fully assembled unit: €99
The reference implementation can be bought as a kit for €69, or just the assembled PCB with no enclosure or batteries can be bought for €29. Lead time is 4 weeks. If the design proves successful, I will put it on tindie.com as a readily available product. In the meantime, please e-mail me if you’re interested in a unit.
Read more: Open source 12V powerbank