Picture of Film Canister Battery
Making a battery from film canisters, used wire, vinegar, and nails.

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Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
Film canisters
Safety goggles
Nails (zinc coated)
Wire Cutters
Alligator clips with wire
Scrap copper wire

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.
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holymoses1 month ago

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!


tech savvy2 years ago
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 :)
That's really interesting. I'll give it a try.
Cats Science Club (author)  tech savvy2 years ago
Thanks for the tip!
DJNeon682 years ago
I've been looking for a easy, fun, electrical experiment to teach my daughter about electricity. Thanks for sharing!
Cats Science Club (author)  DJNeon682 years ago
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)
Cats Science Club (author)  DJNeon682 years ago
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).
PhilKE3FL2 years ago
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.
MrLeg PhilKE3FL2 years ago
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.
Cats Science Club (author)  MrLeg2 years ago
Yes, please donate to your teachers!
Cats Science Club (author)  PhilKE3FL2 years ago
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!
Cats Science Club (author) 2 years ago
This was e-mailed to us and is being shared with permission.


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!
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!
Please try and let us know. Maybe do an instructable on it?
pehughes2 years ago

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!
Cats Science Club (author)  pehughes2 years ago
Thanks! We used coffee cups and plastic wrap across the top the first time we tried it. That worked too ;-)
james.m.k2 years ago
Cats Science Club (author)  james.m.k2 years ago
criggie2 years ago
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 ?
Cats Science Club (author)  criggie2 years ago
Have you tried it yet?
manuka2 years ago
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.
Cats Science Club (author)  manuka2 years ago
So true.

Cups and plastic wrap works well too.
cold fire2 years ago
u can make batteries in the same way with some limes ,just squeeze them a little before ;)
Cats Science Club (author)  cold fire2 years ago
I always had trouble with the lemons. Never got one to do much. Maybe I was not squeezing them. Thanks for the suggestion.
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.
Cats Science Club (author)  stoobers2 years ago
Learning is so much fun. Thanks!
Project 232 years ago
Cats Science Club (author)  Project 232 years ago
adillbeck2 years ago
If you have a larger volume of liquid, do you get more volts?
Or is it the same voltage with a longer life?
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!
Think this is possible by heating the vinegar a bit to boil off the water?
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.
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...
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 :/
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.

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.
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...
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
vettebob2 years ago
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.
Cats Science Club (author)  vettebob2 years ago
We used coffee cups and plastic wrap across the top the first time we tried it. That worked too ;-)
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