Picture of Ammo Can Power Pack
Electricity is everywhere.  Sometimes.  The idea came about between a few friends and myself to build a portable "power pack" so we could power our things wherever we go.

I ended up creating a contraption that housed a 12 volt battery, inverter, and battery charger inside a watertight ammo box.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
Large Electrical Components
-Power Inverter: Cobra CPI 480, 400 Watt ($26)
-12 Volt Deep Cycle Led Acid Battery: Factory Second 35Ah Sealed GEL Battery ($45)
-12 volt Battery Charger: Bass Pro Shops XPS i 5 ($72)

These parts are not too specific.  I listed what each part is, then what I used and the price I got it for.  All the things above I purchased on sale or with some discount (thrifty shopper).

Check online for an inverter, I found mine at amazon on sale at half price.

Get a Factory Second Battery.  It may sound like a bad thing, but to those of you who aren't too familiar, a factory second or 'blem' battery is one that is cosmetically damaged, but otherwise fine.  Buying a battery this way saves you at least half, which is upwards of $50.  Also, don't get a GEL battery like I did.  Get an AGM battery if you can.  GEL batteries take a special charger because they charge at a different voltage.

I lucked out with the battery charger.  I bought it in store with a 20% discount, and it charges GEL and Regular Led Acid / AGM batteries.

-Ammo Can: Find one that fits all your components. Mine is a long low 40 mm ammo can. 17" x 6.5" x 10.5"
-8 Gauge Wire: *It's important to have a heavy gauge wire to handle the large current load from the battery to inverter!*
-8 Gauge Ring Terminals
-Heavy Amperage Switch (Mine is a 50A from radioshack)
-40 Amp Marine Circuit Breaker
-1/8" Carriage Bolts, Nuts & Washers.
-1/2" Angle Iron
-1/2" Flat Aluminum Stock
-3/8" Threaded Rod
-3/8" Nuts
-1/4 20 Nuts & Bolts (Battery Terminals)
SOLARAMMO made it!25 days ago
I made something similar. Very fun, great learning experience.
Gelfling63 years ago
I've done similar, using a hacked UPS in a ammo box, connecting larger than usual batteries to the 12V side of the UPS, and adding a 12V cooling fan to the inverter side. The key, is keeping the transistors for the inverter circuit, cooled. (and I know this, by having burned-up a 300-aH UPS. ) Most of the larger UPS's use a pair of 12V batteries, which kind of defeats the portability, so look to make sure it has a single 12V battery, and a place to connect a 12V fan to blow directly onto the transistor array.

One suggestion, adding a solar panel array to supliment the power pack during the daylight hours, and only use the battery short-term during the night. Also remember, inverters are inherently brutal on batteries. I've killed 3 full-size car batteries in under a year, subjecting them to just a simple 100-watt inverter. You can imagine what the 300-aH UPS's really do to them.
I agree,a 15 watt solar panel for around fifty bucks will keep that battery charged in the summer months,and I think you can get by without a charge control as long as you dont go over 15 watts.It is a nice little project though.
Wally_Z4 years ago
Lol. "...DC is what comes from batteries (don't worry, it can kill you too)"

I couldn't help but laugh.
hbell Wally_Z4 years ago
yes, I was worried about not being killed by my 12v battery . . glad this has cleared things up :)
You all know that us an buy factory built versions of this don't you? booster packs and the like. just fit them with a deepcycle battery and you're rolling. there are even some with built-in inverters.
zcshiner (author)  alien2000496554 years ago
The commercial products similar to this are not what i was looking for. One, they have small batteries, and fitting a larger battery in the existing case wasn't practical. Two, they have very small inverters. 100 or 200 watts-ish. Three, mine is built much better, and designed to handle a much higher load more safely.
EvilMarker4 years ago
Where did you buy the battery?
zcshiner (author)  EvilMarker4 years ago
I purchased the battery at a battery wholesaler / factory outlet. Those are probably the only places you would be able to find a factory second battery. Pick a brand of battery, and look for outlet stores on their website.
Wal-mart has some pretty decent deepcycle batteries availble. for reasonble prices too.
did you put the plugs on the outside of the box or do you have to have the lid open when you plug something in???
zcshiner (author)  theatre_tech_guru4 years ago
The lid has to be open when you plug something in.

Placing a GFCI plug on the exterior was originally in the plan, but I was worried about the heat buildup inside the box, especially when so close to the battery.  So I ended up making a lid open during operation sort of setup.
Just install a high CFM PC case fan, thos are cheapon power useage, and chet to buy. the most exspensive one I've seen was about $5.
what if you add a small 12v computer fan i dont think .28 amps or so its too much to keep it cool? what do you think?
account3r25 years ago
Yeah, 6 miliamps (mA) can kill you.
Actually 0.002 milliamps can stop a human heart, I learned that at MIT. During my first year of class.
zcshiner (author)  account3r25 years ago
I corrected my decimal places. I forgot a zero, and accidentally had 60mA. Thanks for pointing it out.
sorry if this pops up twice but that is highly improble the caceing wold be pritty screwd
A: the batery would stop working
B: the acid would boil and make the case burst and spit hot acid
actually 0.5 mA across the heart can kill a person.
really? ok thanks.
depends it could be 0.5 mA but a million volts that can kill you ac or dc
Wally_Z4 years ago
I read something about you using a fan, what you could do is cut mounting holes and slots in the top of the box to mount a fan, or maybe have externally mounted plugs for power and maybe an external retractable charging plug so the box almost never has to be opened.
ilongsworth4 years ago
how long do the back up power last
That depend on the battery used and what its powering. Figure out how many amp hours (Ah) the battery is and how many amps are used to power your device. For example a 20 Ah battery can power a device that takes 1 amp for 20 hours. Its just division. Throwing the inverter in the mix might change that a bit, not sure. I've never used one.
tbt10f4 years ago
You should put up an instructible on how perpetual motion/energy is impossible.
account3r25 years ago
I heard that a car battery can get like 1000+ degrees
not sure that thats corect they usialy melt by then or burst and spray acid every whear
EvilMarker4 years ago
can i use a 25 amp switch
zcshiner (author)  EvilMarker4 years ago
If you recall from the math section, 400 watts / 12 volts = ~33.3 amps. You can use the 25 amp switch if you want, but if you run the inverter at full load (which is easier than you think) you will melt your switch. Or worse, start a fire. So to be safe, you want at least a 40 amp (at 12v or greater) switch.
I will be useing a 200watt inverter
zcshiner (author)  EvilMarker4 years ago
Then that's perfectly fine. ~16.6 amps is well under a 25 amp rating.
EvilMarker4 years ago
where do you get the 1/8 carriage bolts
zcshiner (author)  EvilMarker4 years ago
Hardware store.
EvilMarker4 years ago
Do i have to have that charger thing
zcshiner (author)  EvilMarker4 years ago
No, but this isn't much use without one. The whole idea of the project was to design a self contained power pack. You could use an 'external' charger, but if you forget to bring it and drain you battery, your done.
Very nice
Is it possible to plug the battery charger into the inverter while everything is turned on so that you don't have to recharge it from the grid?
zcshiner (author)  bmrodgers33654 years ago
Yes, it is possible, but impractical. What you are thinking of (if I'm following you correctly), is a form of perpetual energy, which is physically impossible.

It goes like so.  The battery powers the inverter.  The inverter powers the battery charger. The battery charger charges the battery.  Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

However, things get hot.  That energy has to come from somewhere.  Specifically this energy comes from the inefficiencies in the inverter and charger.  Inside the manual itself it has under the specs: "Efficiency (full load, 12V).. > 83%".

That means that it looses 17% of its energy in the conversion between 12v and 120v alone.

So to answer your question in short:  Yes it is possible to plug it in, but it still has to be charged via other means (grid, vehicle, solar, renewable... etc.)
Thanks for the answer. I am trying to build this for camping where thier is no electricity for miles and was wondering if i could plug it straight into the inverter or if i could use a second battery and a more powerful and efficient inverter so that while one battery is powering the inverter the other is charging. Wouldd that work instead of having just one battery?
zcshiner (author)  bmrodgers33654 years ago
You only have so much power no matter how you look at it. There is no way to pull energy out of nowhere. Once it is used powering something, it's gone.

Your best bet, depending on how long you want to run, and how much power you need to draw, is to get many large batteries.  The more batteries you have the larger your reserve is, and the longer you will last.
thats a clean looking setup there.
zcshiner (author)  unaffiliatedperson4 years ago
Why thank you. That was my goal; something that I could load up, be rugged, and completely self contained.
CircuitBoy4 years ago
Youve got a pretty basic idea here.. Is there anyway to make a hand crank for it instead of having to charge it on the grid power? If this hand crank was added this could be something that you could manufacture i would instanty buy one

i built it it works great i just dont like the idea of having to "Charge" it

Thanks anyways

zcshiner (author)  CircuitBoy4 years ago
A hand crank would work, it would just be impractical.

Using this charge calculator, a 35000mAh battery charging at the 6000mA that my charger outputs should take 7 hrs (at 20% ~typical energy loss).

Using a human power generator and cranking by hand only produces 35watts ~typical.  Thats ~3000mA.  Running at that rate, it would take 14hrs to fully charge the battery.

A hand crank is better suited for smaller scale power usage.

Also, you said that you built one yourself.  I would love to see pictures of it.
I will Attempt To i first have to buy a camera as my soildering iron fell into my lens whn i was testing infered LEDs
iPodGuy4 years ago
Well, I'm nearly done making mine. I had to put it inside of a small cooler, but instead of a wall charger, I used a solar panel and charge controller. All the electronics work fine and I'm charging it up now. Pics to follow once I put all the finishing touches on it.
zcshiner (author)  iPodGuy4 years ago
The lid has to be open when you plug something in.

Placing a GFCI plug on the exterior was originally in the plan, but I was worried about the heat buildup inside the box, especially when so close to the battery.  So I ended up making a lid open during operation sort of setup.
that makes sense i think if i am going to do this i will put in a bigger ammo box.
what size was your box?
zcshiner (author)  theatre_tech_guru4 years ago
My box was a 40mm Long Low.

I purchased it here http://www.midwayusa.com/viewproduct/?productnumber=262232
iPodGuy5 years ago
I know I've already commented, but I really really like this instructable. I've got an extra 50cal ammo can that would be perfect. One thing that I think would make this i'ble even better would be a step concerning renewable energy - using a charge controller with a solar panel or turbine, etc. Even just an extra schematic. Harbor Freight's got 25W solar panels with built-in diode for about $175 and I'd like to incorporate that into mine.
zcshiner (author)  iPodGuy5 years ago
I have been reading a bunch of stuff about renewable energy (wind and solar), but wind isn't a viable option where i'm at. Solar is cool but expensive (at least on a high school kid's budget).

I saw this article posted to Make yesterday and thought that it was a good idea. http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2010/08/micro-hydro-electric_bucket_project.html I live near a stream and this would work very well for me.  It would not be to hard to walk across the road to harvest and store ~400watts of energy.

Also, your idea about a renewable energy step is a good idea.  I think I may work on a step for just that now.

Lastly, If you do end up making something similar to this yourself, be sure to post a comment about it.  I would love to see it.
I'll be sure to share my results. I'm having a hard time finding a battery similar to yours. The charge controller I'm going to use can handle both lead-acid and GEL batteries, but the only GEL's I can locate are max 10Ah and the deep cycle lead-acids are humongous for a 50 cal ammo can. Do you think that's sufficient? I see that yours was 35Ah. The waterwheel idea sounds pretty cool. Have the wheel and some bike gears/chains spin an alternator or something.
If you are willing to sacrifice the ammo can requirement, deep cycle wet cells give you a lot more bang for the buck. I think my Group 27 deep cycle was around $80 (or was it up to $100) from Walmart, and it's rated around 110-120 Ah. A battery box for it was another $10. A fuse holder, 10 gauge wires, and Anderson Powerpole connectors ran me another $10-20.
zcshiner (author)  iPodGuy5 years ago
I found my battery at a battery manufacture outlet. That's where they sell 2nd batteries that you can get a very good deal on. Also, I would recommend getting an AGM battery. GEL batteries are more of a pain to work with, and AGM batteries charge and function just the same as a standard Led Acid battery, but they are sealed.

This page has a bunch of stuff about the differences between the two types. http://www.batterystuff.com/tutorial_battery_gel_agm.html

Also, be sure to get a Sealed battery.  They can be oriented in any position (upsidown) without the risk of spills or something nasty happening with the acid.  Which would be bad if they box decided to fall over during transit.
Well, I did find the battery you used - it's the same type used in electric wheelchairs and scooters. However, I went with a less expensive option - a battery for waverunners. 12V but 19Ah instead of your 35. It's lead-acid. I picked up an inverter and charge regulator today and ordered a 15V solar panel. I can't pack it all into a 50cal ammo can, so I used a small cooler which was the next best thing. If I ever find an ammo can that's right for the job, I'll be making the switch. Pics to come when I'm finished. Thanks!
sparktech5 years ago
hey two things great job on this instructable ive been looking for something like this because i am in boyscouts and would like to charge devices on long campouts where we dont move much but dont have power. second i am tossing this up for anyone and everyone do you think it is possible to have a battery got to an invrter that has two wall plugs one charges whatever your charging but the other charged the battery back up? s you might need two batteries one idle and when the one dies it turns off and the second comes on and charges the other? or a solar panel to charge the battery? also how long does the battery you have in there last? Keep up the good work
zcshiner (author)  sparktech5 years ago
It's really inefficient to charge a battery from a battery. If you were to do that ,it would have to go through a bunch of transformations, each of which loosing energy. The inverter itself is only 88% efficient (according to the manual).

You can hook two batteries in parallel, so you have double the capacity.  With that setup, both batteries would drain at the same time, but half as fast.

Solar is a good idea, and easy to do.  You only have to hook the solar panels to a charge controller and from the controller to the batteries.  They won't provide enough power to run anything themselves, but a large-ish panel should provide enough power to charge the batteries during the day for use later.

Battery life depends on what you are running.  I have a 35Ah battery inside, and powering a large fan I got approximately 2 hrs of continuous run time.  Obviously using a larger battery or running smaller loads will give you longer run time.

Hope this helps.
uldics5 years ago
Great ins! Have been thinking for something like this for ages. Wouldnt it be much cheaper, if you just took an UPS, removed the beeper and thats it? It has charger, battery and inverter, suppose the price would be 3 times lower.
zcshiner (author)  uldics5 years ago
The price would be much lower yes, but I was going for portability and durability. Plus I like building things. The other issue is that most home UPS's (at least mine) have a tiny battery. My UPS I think has a 6 or 7 Ah battery. The big hulking battery in my power pack is a 35Ah. 5 times more capacity at 6 times the weight. :)
gold125 years ago
I MADE ONE OF THOS just smaller http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXqHMytsa_4
jptrue5 years ago
Great idea. In addition, it would be very easy to add a solar panel and charge controller to the rig. Then you could recharge it anywhere with sun.
zcshiner (author)  jptrue5 years ago
After I returned from my trip, I found out that the one guy I know was willing to lend me a large solar panel, and charge controller that he had around. That would have saved me a bunch of trips with a heavy battery pack.
iPodGuy5 years ago
Well done!
knife1415 years ago
Nice idea, & nice instructable!
zcshiner (author)  knife1415 years ago
Thanks! My goal was to document it pretty thoroughly, and explain everything.