DIY Battery Pack for FPV (recycling 18650 Cells From a Laptop)

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About: I'm a highschooler who is interested in technology, science, and engineering. In my spare time I work on projects that allow me to learn new skills and concepts.

Old laptop cells can hold a charge long after your laptop goes kaput. Here's how to recycle those cells to make a general-purpose battery pack!

This battery pack is good for things like RC planes, quadcopters, FPV, and more (if your cells have the correct C rating)! It has a nominal voltage of 11.1v (equivalent of 3 cell), and has a capacity of 2700mAh. The weight is 143 grams, and flight-time on my 250 quadcopter is 4-7 minutes. The cells of the battery pack will determine the capacity and C rating of your battery pack; so you can use the techniques in this instructable to build better battery packs by using better cells.

This battery pack is also very safe; the balance connector makes sure that the cells do not get overcharged, and the shrink-wrap makes sure that the battery cells are not short circuited.

Step 1: Materials

Here's a list of all of the materials:

  • 3x 18650 Lithium-Ion cells
  • 29.5mm heat-shrink tubing
  • 55mm heat-shrink tubing
  • 1mm heat-shrink tubing
  • Electrical Tape
  • JST type connector (or connector of your choice)
  • JST-XH 4 pin connector
  • Solder
  • 5mm Tin Wire

Here's all the tools I used:

  • Soldering Iron
  • Heat-gun
  • Hot-glue gun
  • Flux Pen

Obtaining 18650 Cells:

18650 cells are very commonly found within old laptop batteries. Laptop batteries that contain 18650 cells are commonly 19mm or thicker, and/or have circular ridges which correspond to the shape of the 18650 cells. You can Google the part number of your battery pack to figure out if it contains 18650 cells or not.

If you do not have an old laptop battery lying around, you can always buy 18650 cells online. Here's an eBay search link. Beware of fake cells! Here's another instructable which goes over fake 18650 cells. Basically, if there is no weight of the cell in the description, the seller is not genuine!

Step 2: Prepare the Lithium-Ion Cells

Before actually building the pack, you want to make sure that your cells are clean and well insulated. 18650 type cells have a negative outer jacket and a positive tip. It's important to insulate these cells from each other to avoid a short circuit.

The insulation on my cells was a little bit too thin for my liking, so I decided to insulate them even more. I cut some 29.5mm diameter heat-shrink tubing to the size of the cell, adding about a centimeter extra. I used a heat-gun to shrink the wrapping over each of the three cells.

Step 3: Join the Cells Together

Align the cells like in the picture above, with the center cell being backwards. This alignment is necessary to connect the cells together. To keep the cells together, I wrapped the cells several times with electrical tape, then I hot glued the cells together. At this point, I also marked where the positive and negative ends of the battery pack would be.

Step 4: Connect the Cells in Series

Once your cells are physically held together, it's time to form the electrical connections between them. Cut two, 20mm strips of 5mm tin wire. These two bits of wire are going to connect the cells in the diagram above. Use a flux pen to clean the two tips of each strip of wire, then use your soldering iron to tin the two bits of wire.

Do the same thing with all of the contacts of the cells (clean with flux, then tin). Then, using pair of needle-nosed pliers, solder the two wires according to the diagram above. These wires connect the cells in series, that is, plus to minus, and minus to plus. If you measure the difference in voltage from one end of the chain to the other, you should get somewhere near 11.1 volts.

Step 5: Solder the JST Connector

In order to connect the battery pack to different things, you need to solder a connector of some sort to the battery pack. Use a soldering iron to solder a connector according to the diagram above. If the leads of your connector are not long enough, you may need to extend them by soldering another piece of wire to the connector, then using some small heat-shrink tubing to protect the extension.

Step 6: Solder the 4-PIN JST-XH Balance Connector

Charging the battery pack through the JST connector is possible, but it is not recommended. Over time, the voltage in each cell deviates, which may cause a non-balance charger to overcharge a cell. A much better way to charge a battery pack is through a JST-XH connector. A four pin connector is required: one for each cell + a connection to ground. Solder the connector to the battery pack according to the diagram above.

Step 7: Add Tape and Shrink-wrap

I wrapped the leads of the connectors in electrical tape in order to secure them to the battery pack. I also cut some 55mm heat-shrink tubing and shrunk it over the battery pack. This is going to protect the battery pack from short-circuiting due to contact with other metallic objects. Add some velcro, and you are done!

Step 8: Charge the Battery Pack

In order to charge the battery pack, you will need to know the max charging current. If you got your cells from a laptop battery, you may be able to Google the datasheet for your cells. I found my datasheet from the manufacturer: Panasonic. My datasheet suggested a max charging current of 1925 mAh. If you cannot find the datasheet for your cells, a conservative charging rate is: capacity / 2, where capacity if the capacity of your cells.

There are two main types of chargers, "dumb" chargers, and "smart" chargers. Dumb chargers charge at a constant max current. You cannot change the max current on a dumb chargers. Smart chargers have an adjustable current limit. Whether you have a smart or a dumb charger, you must not charge your cells above the max charging current for your cells.

To charge your battery pack, just connect the balance lead to your charger, and if necessary, connect the main power connector as well. Set the voltage to 3 cell (11.1v), then set the max charging current (if available) and begin charging.

Step 9: Use the Battery Pack!

To use this battery pack, just plug in the JST connector to anything that needs power! I use this battery pack for my 250 size quadcopter, and FPV station. I do not know the C rating or internal resistance of the battery, but I can fly my quadcopter without them getting too hot. Use your battery pack at your own risk!

So here's how to build a recycled 18650 battery pack! If you liked this instructable, check out my electric longboard!

2 People Made This Project!

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50 Discussions

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Hassan Omari

3 years ago

thank you, always wondered what's inside those batteries, geat instructable (y)

1 reply
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the_phantom_boy

2 years ago

Is it possible to use a single 18650 battery, in a JJRC H31, instead of that tiny li-po 3.7v 400mAh battery?

or... an old smartphone battery, since it is lighter than 18650 cells?

4 replies
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the_phantom_boygarzo

Reply 7 months ago

I have no idea.
Its those cheap batteries from ebay.

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garzothe_phantom_boy

Reply 7 months ago

Unless you can measure with a tester the current on full throttle then i've no idea either.

The 400mAh battery should be at least 5-10C, which means that it could provide from 2A to 4A, but 70C lipos do exist and are quite common (70C means that they can deliver 28 amps!).

Smartphone batteries can't handle that much current (not even 3A) they are designed to provide little current (about 2-300mAh) for long time. Plus, they have a BMS circuit that will prevent you from drain a lot of current.
"18650" only define the battery size, not it's "power".
Old laptop scavenged 18650 batteries? I really doubt that they will do a god job,
New 18650 batteries with high discharge rate (20A)? I really suppose that they will work, since it's an effective way to build long range battery packs for drones today. They store more energy per grams than the li-po.

You can have a look here for one of the best 18650 for long range drones https://www.banggood.com/it/1pcs-NCR18650B-3400mAH...

or here for more cheaper yet overall valid cells https://www.banggood.com/it/4PCS-Samsung-INR18650-...

PS: do not trust anyone that tries to sell 18650 batteries with more than 3500-3700 mAh OR that doesn't report the weight of the battery: it's just scam.

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the_phantom_boygarzo

Reply 7 months ago

First of all thank you for your detailed reply.

Second... i did manage to harvest a lot good conditioned cells from bad laptop batteries.
I am familliar with the weight thing and the maximum mAh that 18650 can store, but so far i didnt need to do any purchace.
I am 105% covered from the harvested batteries. The best of those are around ~2000-2100mAh, so... pretty good.

But i didnt go with the 18650 solution.
I simply bought a few more lipo batteries, since i gave the drone to a kid and that was it.
I think that after those 2 years, some of those cheap lipo's are still working! :P

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garzo

7 months ago

Please advice people at the beginning of this -ible about NOT to use these packs to power a quad, you really shouldn't.

18650 cells from laptops "could" be used for planes but definitely not for quads.

You have a 250mm frame, i guess that you are using at least 12A motors/esc. With 4 motors you have a max 48A if full throttle (and, btw, 12A esc could use more that 12A for few seconds).

Did you checked the datasheet you attached? If you are really using the batteries that you claimed to use (panasonic) you shouldn't ever adsorbe more than 2C = 5.4A from your battery pack. See the "discharge charateristic by rate of discharge" in the image you posted: with only 2C discharge rate you will immediately sag the voltage from 4.2 to 3.5, imagine what voltage drop you could have adsorbing 25-30A. You would be in a dangerous zone.

There's no way that you can properly fly a 250 quad with 3s1p battery pack made from these panasonic cell. You are using other batteries (maybe the e-cig 18650, which could be rated for 20-25A) or you are not flying safely and/or properly the quad.

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maniacse

3 years ago on Step 8

Just to point it out: do not mess charging current and capacity. Obviously, you know more then me about those, so make this ibble perfect, not just average. Also, I remember something about charging with 1/10 of capacity, but maybe it is for LiPol baterries. Also another point: your charger looks like smart one, do you have also balanced LiIon charge mode? I am not sure, if LiPol charging mode characteristic fits with LiIon batteries.

1 reply
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garzomaniacse

Reply 7 months ago

1/10C charge current was the standard suggestion for the old Pb batteries, you can't be wrong with this current but now you can easily charge faster without issue (for both safety and battery life). Lipo can be usually charged with multiple of C and not fraction (i have 90C batteries, charge them at 2-3C means nothing for them). The charger is smart, it can balance, and it's also programmable.

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manuel bernal

3 years ago

I made my own packages whit this PVC coating, for my ESP8266 project. The result is very tough and neat. You only have to dip the battery and wait around one hour to have it dry

1 reply
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garzomanuel bernal

Reply 7 months ago

Can you share a link to see the outcome?

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garzobalamurugans1

Reply 7 months ago

it depends on the 18650 chemistry, if it's a 3.7V it "could" be rechargable with the lipo charger (it still depends on the lipo charger specs/configuration), if it's a 3.6V it shouldnt be charged with a lipo charger (unless you configure it, which is possibile with most chargers).

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MecreeL

2 years ago

I'd like to know if it's possible to connect two 18650 packs which i bought from http://www.dnkpower.com/battery-solution/lithium-ion-battery-pack/ in series to double the voltage?

can anyone help me

1 reply
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garzoMecreeL

Reply 7 months ago

Yes, you can like every other battery pack, but if the two packs are not identical (same cycle number, same cell...) you will have the weaker pack degrading the performance of the stronger pack.

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smohammad1

2 years ago

Do I need any additional protection circuit for that? I want to charge them ith IMAX B3 PRO

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PatrickN39

2 years ago

Very nice tutorial, well explained and nice diagrams for the connectors!