Introduction: Film Canister Battery

Making a battery from film canisters, used wire, vinegar, and nails.

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Step 1: Materials

Film canisters
Vinegar
Safety goggles
Nails (zinc coated)
Wire Cutters
Alligator clips with wire
Scrap copper wire
Red LED

No film canisters? You can use a cup with plastic wrap over the top.  That is the way we did it the first time. Works almost as good. We also sell the film canisters at catsscience.com but you maybe able to get them cheaper from e-bay.

No alligator clips? We used old speaker wire that we found. It works fine.

Step 2: Getting Copper Wire

Old scrap pieces of Romex wire works great to get copper wire.  Just take the ground wire out. It is the one with no insulation directly on it.  Once you have the wire out, cut it into pieces a bit smaller then your nails.  Now that you have your pieces of copper wire, we suggest you bend them. This prevents the wire from slipping around and gives a good place for the clips to hook to.

Step 3: Making the Battery

Put on safety goggles. Take your film canister with the lid on it and using the nail, punch two holes into the lid.  Place one copper wire and one nail into each lid. Remove lids and add vinegar to canisters. Replace lids and clean any spills. We now should have close to .5 volts.

Step 4: Connecting Batteries

It will take 3 canisters hooked together to get us enough energy to light up the LED. We can see the light in a very dark room but to be able to get the LED to shine more or to use other colored LEDs you will need more "batteries".

Hook the "batteries" to one another by connecting the alligator clips. We will need to connect one canister to the other by copper wire to nail. The copper wire is acting as a positive and the the nail is acting as a negative. String 3 or more canisters together to get enough energy to light the LED.

Step 5: Other

Add a red LED to the 3 batteries.  You will need to be in a dark room to see the light. Now add another battery, and another. See any difference?  Try a yellow LED. What else could you run on these batteries?

We have had the red LED running for five days on the 4 batteries.  Still shining!

No film canisters? You can use a cup with plastic wrap over the top.  That is the way we did it the first time. Works almost as good. We also sell the film canisters at catsscience.com but you maybe able to get them cheaper from e-bay.

No alligator clips? We used old speaker wire that we found. It works fine.

Light not turning on? Try switching the connections to the legs of the LED. You may just have it backwards.

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Comments

author
tech savvy made it! (author)2013-07-27

nice instructable ,
just a little tip I thought I would share
if you add lemon juice or grapefruit juice and folic acid your power output will be even higher , I tested it out and the results were good it powered an led for about five months ,

once again nice job keep up the good work :)

author
dbuckley6 made it! (author)dbuckley62016-05-03

any idea how the folic acid contributes?

author
ebiehler made it! (author)ebiehler2015-03-16

That's really interesting. I'll give it a try.
thanks

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-07-27

Thanks for the tip!

author
holymoses made it! (author)2015-07-30

I used vinegar and copper and zinc-coated nails.

Voltage was 0.5 per canister but very low capacity, it only works for some small LED.

But after some time, around the zinc-nails something started oozing out, looking cool but makes no technical sense, anyone exactly knowing the chemistry about it? It only takes one day to show up again in that size after cleaning.

Looks like the Monolith Monster!

:-P

ooze1.jpgooze2.jpg
author
DJNeon68 made it! (author)2013-08-01

I've been looking for a easy, fun, electrical experiment to teach my daughter about electricity. Thanks for sharing!

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-08-23

Just curious- have you looked at the shake-a-can generator we posted? The battery gives DC and the shake-a-can gives AC (AC/DC Alternating Current / Direct Current)

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-08-05

Great to know you will be using this! Have you seen our shake-a-can generator? We think it is a really good one for alternating current and the batteries show direct current (AC/DC).

author
PhilKE3FL made it! (author)2013-08-02

This along with the little tip would make a great science project/experiment for 3rd or 4th graders! I think the biggest difficulty today would be in finding 35mm film canisters. I still have a few but not anywhere near enough for even one class' science project.

author
MrLeg made it! (author)MrLeg2013-08-06

Being a diabetic, I buy test strips for my glucose meter that come in a plastic can with a lid very much like a film canister. I've been saving for years so now I have bags of them. It's nice to be able to give away the canisters to my grade four students when we are done an experiment. So, if you know any diabetics, chances are they have plenty of these canisters laying around.

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-08-07

Yes, please donate to your teachers!

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-08-05

We have seen many kids from 4th through 8th enjoy this. Including ourselves ;-)

Film canisters can be bought from us at catsscience.com or perhaps cheaper from e-bay.

To keep it free though, just use cups and plastic wrap over the top.

If you are doing this in a classroom, ask for donations of old coffee cups and one roll of plastic wrap. Many people are happy to get rid of a cup or two. Students can make their own battery and then connect it to another, then another.

Have fun with it!

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)2013-08-06

This was e-mailed to us and is being shared with permission.

Hello

I smiled when I saw your Film Canister Battery on Instructables. Recently I purchased from a Charity Shop, a "Science Museum Kit" of a Clock powered by such a battery.
I was not best pleased when I found the battery did not last very long so started some experiments with different types of vinegar from "Very Cheap" to the "Distilled White" as illustrated in Instructables.

I cannot now remember the exact results but, Very Cheap Vinegar produced around 0.5 volt less than the Distilled Vinegar and, due to electrolosis, what I can only describe as "Dirt" build-up on the copper/zinc electrodes, the voltage from the very cheap vinegar fell to near zero in around a day whereas the one with Distilled Vinegar lasted much longer.

So, hoping that's a bit of "Interesting Information" and could be the basis of experiments for your members?

Regards, Aleyn D Lester, UK, aged 63 and still experimenting!

author
stephenfitton made it! (author)2013-08-04

Stuck for canisters just plug and play with same metals by putting into juicy lemons.
One I haven't tried but should work is put an aluminum rod into a steel tube surrounded with silicon sealant . the aluminum should corrode at an excessive rate making Electricity.
If this wont work I have sold you a LEMON!

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-08-05

Please try and let us know. Maybe do an instructable on it?

author
pehughes made it! (author)2013-08-01

CatScience-

Great experiment!
I have to agree with VetteBob, film canisters are getting few. Prescription bottles with the poptop are great! But you have to ask the pharmacist for the poptop - otherwise they use the really difficult "child-proof"(adult proof!).
These basics should never escape us!
Thanks!

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-08-05

Thanks! We used coffee cups and plastic wrap across the top the first time we tried it. That worked too ;-)

author
james.m.k made it! (author)2013-08-01

Neat!

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-08-05

Thanks!

author
criggie made it! (author)2013-08-01

So if the electrolyte is not used up - would it be possible to put multiple anodes and cathodes in the same container? Then wire a nail to a copper wire to a nail ... making one larger battery rather than a bunch of cells wired together to be a battery ?

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-08-05

Have you tried it yet?

author
manuka made it! (author)2013-08-01

Timeless science! Copper and galvanised (zinc coated) nails are ideal electrodes, as they form a so called Daniel cell generating 1.1 Volt. Todays's digital camera age however means 35mm film canisters are increasingly hard to find...

The conductive electrolyte can be almost anything handy that's cheap & mess free. Small potatoes suit well, & additionally they'll firmly hold the electrodes for close spacing to give higher current outputs. Two in series should just provide enough current to light a modern ultrabright red LED. These typically light with under a mA current draw.

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-08-05

So true.

Cups and plastic wrap works well too.

author
cold fire made it! (author)2013-07-27

u can make batteries in the same way with some limes ,just squeeze them a little before ;)

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-07-28

I always had trouble with the lemons. Never got one to do much. Maybe I was not squeezing them. Thanks for the suggestion.

author
stoobers made it! (author)stoobers2013-08-01

You don't need lemons. You need an electrolyte (a salt bridge) or an acid. Or both. Either way, this worked out pretty well. I will try it.

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-08-05

Learning is so much fun. Thanks!

author
Project 23 made it! (author)2013-07-29

https://www.instructables.com/community/Instructables-android-ios-app-improvement-idea/

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-08-05

?

author
adillbeck made it! (author)2013-08-01

If you have a larger volume of liquid, do you get more volts?
Or is it the same voltage with a longer life?

author
Mig Welder made it! (author)Mig Welder2013-08-01

It's actually concentration that affects the electric potential you get and the life of the battery is determined by the size of the anode and the cathode.

I'd be interested to try what kind of voltage increase would be obtained with a more concentrated solution!

author
Crooks4Hire made it! (author)Crooks4Hire2013-08-01

Think this is possible by heating the vinegar a bit to boil off the water?

author
Mig Welder made it! (author)Mig Welder2013-08-01

adillbeck: Exactly, the electrolyte isn't a consumable.

Crooks4Hire: You could do that, or just make it as concentrated as you want with water and some table salt. The key is that there's ions in solution.

author
adillbeck made it! (author)adillbeck2013-08-01

So, really ignorant question...
What stops this from working with any battery?
If I had say an electric car battery with removable anode and cathode, why couldn't I just drive till the battery ran low, pull over, swap out the the terminal and take off again. Then stop at a service station later and recycle them.

I'm sure it's a lot more complicated than this. Lots and lots of cells, so lots and lots of terminals to swap, but still...

author
Mig Welder made it! (author)Mig Welder2013-08-01

Well, electric cars these days use lead acid batteries, and either a lot of them, or a huge one. This means that you would have to dismantle all the batteries, swap in new lead oxide and solid lead plates in and, in this case, add more electrolyte (sulfuric acid). I'm sure I don't have to mention all the hazards and complications with doing that lol. With a regular car with a dead battery, that might be an option, but you'd still have to swap out the spent lead sulfate plates and put in new lead oxide and lead metal ones. That's not to mention the fact that batteries are usually sealed to prevent people from opening them up. In the end, it turns out it's easier just to run current through them to get the reaction running again.
If cars ran on galvanic cells, that might be a viable option but I don't think galvanic cells are capable of providing enough cranking amps to the starter motor to get a car going :/

author
Crooks4Hire made it! (author)Crooks4Hire2013-08-02

I'm pretty sure that hybrids and fully-electric cars use lithium-ion batteries over lead-acids. Li-ions are sealed, much lighter, and last longer than lead-acids.

author
Mig Welder made it! (author)Mig Welder2013-08-01

Sorry, the life would be determined by the size of just the anode since its the one that's losing mass. The cathode is actually gaining mass so it wouldn't have a bearing on duration.

author
adillbeck made it! (author)adillbeck2013-08-01

So, if you simply swapped out the anode and cathode but kept the same vinegar then the battery would be recharged, so to speak?
I may have to experiment with this a bit...

author
KROKKENOSTER made it! (author)2013-08-02

The old Voltaic cell revisited for the zinc we used old "Ignitor" batteries but dead D cells should give more zinc These Eveready Ignitors were plentiful when I started with these things as they were used for old farm telephones and as the battery used to start model airplanes" engines

author
vettebob made it! (author)2013-08-01

Film canisters are pretty rare these days. Use prescription pill bottles. If you don't have any, the pharmacist would probably sell you some cheap.

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-08-01

We used coffee cups and plastic wrap across the top the first time we tried it. That worked too ;-)

author
garywpalmer made it! (author)2013-07-28

Really nice instructable. Put together very well. I may do this with my grandsons because it's really good science project. As a side note, you could be a hand model. Thanks for creating this.

author
bryan3141 made it! (author)bryan31412013-08-01

While grandsons are filled with really good electrolytes, they will probably complain (possibly loudly) about having nails and copper wires jammed into them.

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-07-29

Thanks for the comments and the laugh!

author
manuka made it! (author)2013-08-01

Timeless science! Copper and galvanised (zinc coated) nails are ideal electrodes, as they form a so called Daniel cell generating 1.1 Volt.

Todays's digital camera age however means 35mm film canisters are increasingly hard to find. However the conductive electrolyte can be almost anything handy that's cheap & mess free. Small potatoes suit well, & additionally they'll firmly hold the electrodes for close spacing to give higher current outputs. Two in series should just provide enough current to light a modern ultrabright red LED. These typically light with under a mA current draw.

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)2013-07-30

Please vote for us.

author
crjeea made it! (author)2013-07-28

It has been a while since I did this :D
Sanding the conductors to increase their surface area and coiling the wire extra will decrease the resistance and allow you to draw more current and so give you a higher wattage.

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-07-28

Great idea. Thanks!

author
Ronald Joseph made it! (author)2013-07-27

Great idea! Nice pics. Easy to follow.

author
Cats Science Club made it! (author)Cats Science Club2013-07-27

Thank you!

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