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How to Make Batteries From Spare Change

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Step 1: See The Video!

What's a penny worth these days?  Not much, but could there be some free energy hidden inside your spare pennies? You'd be surprised! Watch the video to learn how you can put together stacks of pennies to form makeshift batteries that can drive small-current devices like LEDs and calculators.

Step 2: What Kind of Pennies?

Picture of What Kind of Pennies?
US pennies that are newer than 1982 will work for both of these experiments, because they're nearly 98% zinc.

For more information on US pennies, including what date ranges contained what ratios of copper and zinc, click here!
dudes1 month ago
What kind of led is that? My LEDs won't light up brightly at all. Help.
At 20mA (estimate green LED usage), that means your battery has over 7 Amp-hours! That could charge up a smartphone several times.
Actually I think he said 20 microamps or .02 MA. So more like .07 Amp-hours. So charging a smartphone... Maybe not.
Really? It's hard to believe. I'll have to give it a try sometime. :)
man u r so cool I love your you tube page
Fixitmyway4 months ago
Just a thought here, but if you were to drill some small holes in the pennies. Would that possibly increase your voltage or amps given the extra surface area in the zinc to react? Just a thought... Love your projects!
pokemech4 months ago
This would be a neat party trick.

you should be able to find pennies and cardboard almost anywhere, the LED might be the problem...
amazing
tealk8 months ago
i just made this battery. i used washer (i think they are zinc) used 75% copper 25% zinc coin ( its Serbian 1 rsd coin same as 2 cents in america )
it show from 4 coins,4 washers, 4 cardboard pieces, i got 3,9 V
i will make throwie with small red LED and i will follow how long can it last
tealk tealk8 months ago
because coins are copper my improvised battery last only 4-5 hours,.... tommorow i will try with only washers. and one with only coins
argha halder9 months ago
great instructable!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
theargha9 months ago
Is the led still lighted?
Bill WW9 months ago
Great and educational project - saw the YouTube version. I am always happy to see that kids get involved with learning about science (comment below).

Sheet copper is available commercially, so you don't have to use pennies. My friend is a sheet metal worker, he gave me scraps of .025" pure copper sheet.
wolfgang641 year ago
I did this with my eleven year old daughter last sunday and let her take it into school on Monday, after one freaked out phone call from the principals office and a lot little explanation (we live very close to Newtown CT) it was a smash hit her science class. Thank you. The only Problem is the science teacher wants to know what other tricks I have up my sleeve. P.S. I did give you full credit.
The King of Random (author)  wolfgang641 year ago
That's an awesome story! I love it, and thanks for the credit :D

Congratulations on your success with it!!
looks like you know your chemistry
I can do a few things but am always interested in learning more.
enojo.jon1 year ago
I would have loved to do this, its just too bad they have gotten rid of the penny in Canada...
The King of Random (author)  enojo.jon1 year ago
Yeah bummer. do you have anything else that's copper? It will work the same. Maybe some copper wire?
Hmff1 year ago
how many cells would you need to power a convenrtiona light bulb?
The King of Random (author)  Hmff1 year ago
You mean like a 100 watt lightbulb? Way too many to be practical in the least.
indigo4011 year ago
anything containing zinc will work which happens to be the main active ingredient in deodorant, So the story goes,
One day after updating my battery banks I put some deodorant on & by chance looked at the label seeing it contained zinc so I gave it a shot & it worked since then I've found hundreds of combinations.
The King of Random (author)  indigo4011 year ago
Very awesome! Your instructable deserves more views!
indigo4011 year ago
http://www.instructables.com/id/Speed-Stick-Power/

I made my first instructable based on the deodorant penny battery I made
The King of Random (author)  indigo4011 year ago
You are awesome :) Where did you get the idea for using deodorant? That is such a great idea!
indigo4011 year ago
it is rechargeable i tried with a 4.5 solar cell and upgraded the amount of pennies and deodorant to match the 4.5v of the cell to avoid overcharging either a potentiometer or battery charge controller or even a resistor would work. I have been experimenting with different deodorants, zinc based ointments, among other things as well
evingoz was
The King of Random (author)  indigo4011 year ago
I love where you're going with this! Where did you get the idea?

I feel like I have a million things going on right now, but I want to try this sometime for myself. I know you went over the basics, but what would you say are the basic step by step? I'm not familiar with vinegar paper.
indigo4011 year ago
This works for sure, if you want to add the cool factor use speed stick deodorant, pennies, vinegar paper, and tin foil. it takes about 10 pennies per led and works for 3 months running on the 1st

(i believe any deodorant with zinc anything will work. The solid white kind works best in a clump on a penny. Nickels work too, 6 per volt
The King of Random (author)  indigo4011 year ago
Interesting idea! With the suspended zinc particles, do you suppose the battery could be re-chargable?
TaffGoch1 year ago
I'm assuming that the pennies must be copper pennies, which are no longer minted.

If a penny has a date before 1982, it is made of 95% copper. If the date is 1983 or later, it is made of 97.5% zinc and plated with a thin copper coating.

Is the copper-coated penny sufficient, or must the penny be pre-1983 copper?
The King of Random (author)  TaffGoch1 year ago
I think any penny will work. These were of the 2.5% copper variety (copper plated only).
This could make a very nice science project for high-school-ers :)
I agree! :D
At 20mA (estimate green LED usage), that means your battery has over 7 Amp-hours! That could charge up a smartphone several times.
At 20mA (estimate green LED usage), that means your battery has over 7 Amp-hours! That could charge up a smartphone several times.
At 20mA (estimate green LED usage), that means your battery has over 7 Amp-hours! That could charge up a smartphone several times.
At 20mA (estimate green LED usage), that means your battery has over 7 Amp-hours! That could charge up a smartphone several times.
At 20mA (estimate green LED usage), that means your battery has over 7 Amp-hours! That could charge up a smartphone several times.
At 20mA (estimate green LED usage), that means your battery has over 7 Amp-hours! That could charge up a smartphone several times.
mikenaly1 year ago
Have to ask. You blot the cardboard to remove excess moisture. What is the reason for this, and would submerging the cells in the vinegar short them out, or allow for a greater amount of electrolyte to power the battery?
The King of Random (author)  mikenaly1 year ago
You are right in your thinking. The cells short out if the electrolyte or cardboard pieces touch other cells. The reason for blotting out excess moisture is to prevent the vinegar from dripping down and interfering with other cells. Thanks for asking!
alzie1 year ago
Very cute.
Great learning execize.
I remember doing this as a kid with my dad decades ago.
This and wire on nails electromagnets
got me into engineering for better and worse.

Actually, corrugated cardboard has much less conduction path
due to the air spaces.
This results in higher internal resistance and lower max current than
youd otherwise have.
A much better cardboard would the cereal box variety,
no air spaces.
Any fuzzy porous stuff that can hold a fair amount of electrolyte will work well.
The King of Random (author)  alzie1 year ago
Thanks again. You must have had a cool dad. Was he an engineer as well?
Thanx, but no he wasnt. He could / should have been.
He was just a frustrated customer service rep for the local electric co.
We wanted him to quit and go into some thing techie, even at less pay, but
you know the work ethic from 50 yrz ago.
I m eternally grateful for the nurturing that he provided me.
The King of Random (author)  alzie1 year ago
Yes, for better or worse as you say, it seems you find a lot of purpose and value in the sciences :)
Right, never a dull moment.
Got enough projects lined up for 3 life times.
Creativity is our savior!
The King of Random (author)  alzie1 year ago
If you have suggestions on fun projects I could try, I'm always interested. Especially the ones that have to do with generating, storing and converting power with things around the house :)
Yeah, I m always fascinated with induction, magnets and coils, etc.
You might try messing around with old hard drive head positioners.
Use the older 12V variety, not the 5V only models.
I believe that you can light leds by connecting them to the coil and
wiggling the head arm back and forth
to generate low frequency AC.
Makes a great demonstrator.

Also, stepper motors do a fine job of generating AC.
Use the higher voltage type so that
you dont have to spin em so fast.
I have a 24V stepper from an old printer that
in combination with a voltage doubler ckt for each winding,
then put the resulting DC's in series, gives a few hundred volts!
The capacitor storage of the doublers makes nice sparks.
Ya dont want to touch it!

BTW your vid production quality is excellent.
The King of Random (author)  alzie1 year ago
Thanks for the ideas, and for your compliment on my videos. I appreciate that very much :)
J-Five1 year ago
I'm guessing it's because of copper and zinc chemical reaction. Plus that's very ingenious!
The King of Random (author)  J-Five1 year ago
You'd be right! It's a redox reaction between the dissimilar metals. I'm glad you liked it! :)
Plus, I seen something like this done with dimes and pennies.
The King of Random (author)  J-Five1 year ago
I think that would work as well! I haven't tried it, but I might next time I get a chance :)
Just using your common cents.
The King of Random (author)  J-Five1 year ago
lol - good one ;)
Thanks, I read on-line one penny and dime cell, is equal to 0.04 Volts
The King of Random (author)  J-Five1 year ago
I'll have to give that a try. It looks like a dime is copper with a nickel coating. Thanks!
jjohnson951 year ago
What is the project with the two screws on opposite sides that arc in the middle? Is there a video for that one?
The King of Random (author)  jjohnson951 year ago
That will most likely be for a plasma speaker
alzie1 year ago
Hmmm . . . this gets me to thinking -
An ancient Rechargeable cell is nickle / iron with
a potassium hydroxide electrolyte which
can be gotten from a regular alkaline cell.
This doesnt permanently use up the materials.
Theyre gotten back when recharged.
We d only have to replenish the water once in a while when
it dries out or is electrolyzed by over charging.
The King of Random (author)  alzie1 year ago
Thanks for your comment!

I'm curious on what you're suggesting? Making a battery with nickel and iron as the metals, and soaking the cardboard in a KOH solution to form a crude rechargeable battery?
Yes, exactly.

I might have my facts wrong, but
i think it was edison & co. that developed it.
Yup, it was:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edison_battery
Could make for an interesting hobby rechargeable.
The King of Random (author)  alzie1 year ago
Definitely! Thanks for the suggestion and the link :)
baltika1 year ago
Very cool stuff! I especially enjoyed the videos about salvaging a microwave oven and using the transformer to melt metal.
The King of Random (author)  baltika1 year ago
Awesome! I'm glad you liked that, and thanks for letting me know :)
korlich1 year ago
Very cool. You should show how to make this charge a cell phone! :)
The King of Random (author)  korlich1 year ago
Thanks! To charge a cell phone you would need a lot of pennies!! But I have another video on charging a cell phone. Check this out:

http://youtu.be/hCxmn1ERbXc
Awesome! Sharing on FB :)
The King of Random (author)  korlich1 year ago
Thank you very much :D
tiger125061 year ago
After the 16 days, did you check to see if the cardboard had dried out? Perhaps it quit because your electrolyte finally dried out.

Also, note that you could limit the current on your LED with a resistor (as you should be doing anyway) which should increase the run-time also.
The King of Random (author)  tiger125061 year ago
You're right, a resistor would make it last longer! At the expense of a brighter light. Thanks for your suggestions!
braymond31 year ago
I know.......I must be bored, but this is pretty cool!
The King of Random (author)  braymond31 year ago
:) Thanks
razamatraz1 year ago
I'm curious, after the LED finally quit was there metal degradation or did the electrolyte just dry out? Could you have re-energized it by just wetting the cardboard again or would you need to replace the electrodes (pennies)?
scott51341 year ago
fNice video, for nice round cardboard stock, you can order shotgun shell shot cards, nice round and thin, get mine at www.grafs.com
I would think those wouldn't absorb enough of the vinegar to make a very long lasting battery (at least compared to corrugated cardboard)
The King of Random (author)  scott51341 year ago
Cool idea! Thanks!
Dude, very nice. Spare penny and some sandpaper in a survival kit, for sure....oh, and vinegar, lol.
You could probably make it work with pee...
lol, that's creative. Have you tried it?
Haha nice :)
just inspired me to try something! great video totaly blown away. how long did it take for that led to die?
Thank you! I'm glad you liked it, and the LED was on for nearly 2-1/2 weeks!!
*LOL* EXCELLENT video! It put a big grin on my face.

Do you think the penny-battery died because the vinegar dried up?
The King of Random (author)  Jawz20011 year ago
Thank you :) It may have died because the vinegar dried up, or because the reaction was complete and no more electrons could flow. Very similar to a AA battery.
Thats incredible! So its definitely cheaper to make a battery then it is to buy one lol. I plan on doing something with this, im kicking myself for not realizing that Pennies have zinc lol. again great vid!
I'm glad you liked it! One thing to keep in mind is that there isn't a whole lot of power from these batteries. The voltage may be great, but it's only producing 1-2 milli-amps (at most) whereas a AA battery may have 3-6 amps.
S U P E R !!!!!
Thank you!
god10661 year ago
Any idea if this would work with English pennies? I'm in the UK and don't know much about the nickel contents of our pennies lol
Thetis god10661 year ago
Sadly UK pennies and 2p pieces are now made of copper plated steel. They used to be copper, so you could look for some old ones. Just test them with a magnet.
The King of Random (author)  Thetis1 year ago
Copper plated should work.
Not sure of the composition of English pennies either, but if the surface is copper (or sufficiently like copper) you can use the trick of using zinc washers (galvanized washers) to work with the pennies, along with the vinegar soaked cardboard (or even vinegar soaked pieces of paper towel) to build the pile) and see what you get. Remember to be consistent in the order of your pile. In the video it was zinc washer - vinegar soaked cardboard, penny, zinc washer... until you get to the top of the stack where you end with the penny.

Another variation would be to use two common coins with different surface characteristics. In the US that may be a dime and a penny, or a penny and a nickle. This would not work with similar metal coinage, say dimes and quarters, or half dollars, but the 'gold' dollars available in the US may work well with quarters.
The King of Random (author)  rusty01011 year ago
Thanks for your comment Rusty0101!
The King of Random (author)  god10661 year ago
Give this link a a try and see if it helps?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penny_(English_coin)

Also, I agree with rusty0101 that using the zinc washer method is better because then if there are any issues with currency defacement you should be safe.

Best of luck!
yabby1 year ago
I really enjoyed watching and thinking about this video.
Moreover I can't wait to show the kids and teach a little about the true "chemical" value of coins. But first, off to Khan Academy to understand Redox better.
www.khanacademy.org/science/chemistry/oxidation-reduction/v/galvanic-cells
Your site is excellent!!!
cheers
Ivan
The King of Random (author)  yabby1 year ago
Excellent Ivan! Thanks for your feedback :)
nice! what else can we do after light off?
Spend the pennies?
ceanes1 year ago
cool
The King of Random (author)  ceanes1 year ago
Thanks!
sunshiine1 year ago
Thanks so much for sharing this! I am doing this, maybe very soon. It was a very interesting and informative instructable! Have a splendorous day!
sunshiine
The King of Random (author)  sunshiine1 year ago
Thanks for your comment Sunshiine! I'm wishing you the best with your experiments!!
Thanks! I love using lights in my instructables and have a hard time finding one that will work for me, that is cheap. If I can make my own battery to connect the light to; I can make something awesome and compete with all of you guys! I learned a few things from this instructable and hope to prove it! Wished there were more hours in a day! Thanks again!
sunshiine
Your instructable is very educational, interesting and AWESOME!! This is a great Macgyverism for emergency situations. Thanks for sharing!!
Thank you for appreciating! :)
You are welcome!
I checked out your channel and your projects are fantastic! Nice work!
Thanks a lot!!!

I love your videos. Someday, I want to make my videos as professional as yours!
If you do, be prepared to devote most of your time to it. lol
Yes, that's the problem...
Indeed!
blodefood1 year ago
Very cool! Collect those pennies as they will be phased out at the end of the year in Canada.
Keithr6061 year ago
Grant,
Do you make instructables full time? I think your You Tube channel could be produced for TV or something. Your good. Just wondering, you amaze me, on how much of this stuff you know. College degree?

Thank you for doing this for us and keep them coming.

Great work!!!!!
The King of Random (author)  Keithr6061 year ago
Hi Keith!

Thanks for a nice comment. I am making these projects full time .. as a hobby. And like any hobby, it costs me more than I make .. but it's fun :D

I do have 2 real jobs, but I work the night shift and that gives me free time during the days to mess around.

Thanks again for your compliments. No college degree .. just tinkering.
god10661 year ago
Another couple of questions ;) Is there any easy way of connect more than one of these batteries together? And does an increasing number of pennies mean higher milliamps? Basically, what's the best way to get more milliamps? Because it would be really interesting to see exactly what the limits of this are. Could you potentially power a guitar pedal? Or game boy etc.
The King of Random (author)  god10661 year ago
Thanks for asking! You can easily connect multiple batteries in parallel by placing them all on a sheet of aluminum, and then a metal or aluminum sheet on the top. This will increase the milliamps. Stacking the pennies higher will increase voltage. The amount of electricity you can generate is only limited by how much metal you have.
Paesan1 year ago
Brilliant!
The King of Random (author)  Paesan1 year ago
Thank you :)
Petergottm1 year ago
That's really cool!!!
The King of Random (author)  Petergottm1 year ago
Thank you!
jamob1 year ago
That LED stop glowing yet? Lol
The King of Random (author)  jamob1 year ago
Haha, yes finally!!
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