Picture of Solar charging e-reader.
Hi, I made this instructable to show how to add some solar cells to your e-reader, so that you will never need to charge it again.

Update: I replaced the Schottky diode with a MAX1555 Li-Ion cell charging IC. Thanks go to moldboy and Kohaku for their input on making the charging circuit safer.

What you need :

  • An e-reader,  I use a first gen Kobo, but I'm sure this is also possible with any other.
  • Some solar panels,  like these. Perfect size and voltage and decent power too.
  • A Schottky diode , you can get this at any shop that sells electronic parts. You need a diode to prevent discharge of the battery. The advantage of using a Schottky diode is the lower voltage drop.
  • A MAX1551 or MAX1555 IC. They operate with no external FETs or diodes, and accept operating input voltages up to 7V, so very easy to implement. Here is a datasheet. I ordered a sample from the manufacturer.
  • A SOT23 to DIP breakout board. You need this, because it's quite hard to solder wires directly to the MAX1551/1555, since it's so small. I got this from eBay.
  • A small capacitor, to make life a little easier for our MAX1551/1555. I used a ceramic one I had laying around.
  • Some wires, a soldering iron, solder, a dremel and padded double sided tape. A multi-meter can also come in handy.

Here are some minor technical details:
This e-reader (as most of them are) is powered by a 3.7V li-ion polymer battery. These kinds of batteries need pretty tricky charging curves: fast at first and trickle charge till full, then the current stops, since over charging can be dangerous. For this reason I replaced the Schottky diode I used before with a MAX1555 charging IC. A Schottky diode also works, but it can damage the battery in certain circumstances.
The specifications of these solar panels claim that they can do 80mA, but after some measurements I came to the conclusion that in reality they will only reach about 50mA. Adding the two panels together we come to 100mA. This means that they should be able to charge the battery from nothing to full in about 10 hours. However, the charging current is controlled by an IC and will be lower during the later half of the charging cycle.

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DoWatt3 years ago
At a rough calculation, the 1000mAh battery in the Kobo would take just over 6 hours to recharge using the 2 panels you reference. Do you find this practically?
flapke (author)  DoWatt3 years ago
I'm not sure how long it takes exactly, since it would be a bit hard to practically measure (empty the battery, put the device in homogeneous sunlight for x hours till full).
However, if I leave the e-reader on the windowsill (south side) when I'm not using it, the battery does not run out. I even tried to empty the battery once and run it on just the panels and this does work as long as the panels are facing the sun directly.
bitbangr4 years ago
I have a thought....Amazon makes a cover for the Kindle 3 that connects to the battery to allow you to power a built-in light. I wonder if you could tap into that and build all the goodness into the cover, avoiding opening the reader at all.
lhospadaruk4 years ago
Why not just wire the solar panel to the USB power and let the built-in charging hardware handle things?
flapke (author)  lhospadaruk4 years ago
Because if you apply 5V to the USB connector, the Kobo turns on or goes into charging/mass storage mode if it's already on. It would be pretty annoying to get interrupted every time a little light falls on your e-reader, not to mention that it would be less efficient.
It might be possible to do this to other e-readers, though.
That's definately true, I thought at first that maybe it only goes to usb mode when it can actually talk to a usb host, not just when it gets usb power, but that's not the case.
In that case, couldn't you just have some kind of cover on the solar panels so that they're in the dark while you're using the ereader, and then you open the cover when you want to charge it?
ewookie flapke4 years ago
i don't think he intended to leave it plugged in...just when charging. it is stupidly inefficient that these type devices turn themselves on when you plug them in to charge.
Satka4 years ago
Thanks for this great instructable, very clear and detailed.

It make me want to solar power more things now :)
clark9814 years ago
Ya You're right. Besides, the nook's internals are under a grey panel, and are WAY MORE complicated than Kobo's, and I would go to juvy if B&N found out I totally hacked my nook. Oh Well.
clark9814 years ago
Does it work with nook 1st edition, because i dont want to ruin my nook. I save up all my birthday money and allowance to buy it myself.
flapke (author)  clark9814 years ago
It probably would, but I don't think you should mess with stuff you can't afford to replace.
stakahashi4 years ago
I really like how professional this turned out. The only downside I see is that you have to leave your e-reader out in the hot sun. I could never do that to my beautiful kindle.
jeoncs4 years ago
Awesome job this is epic for any e-ink based reader since they use so little battery. For people afraid of voiding a warranty it wouldn't be too much effort to get one of the cheap silicone skins and a usb cable to stick to it too.
Kohaku4 years ago
i would look at replacing the Schottky diode with a MAX1551 IC which is designed to safely charge lithium cells.
flapke (author)  Kohaku4 years ago
Thanks, I'll look into it :)
moldboy flapke4 years ago
Yeah that would be better than the method I described. The other thing you might look at doing is simply connecting the the power and ground to the USB port as it provides the charging circuit through a MAX1551 or similar. The only problem would be having the USB and solar connected at the same time, so be sure to still include the Schottky and probably only plug in USB with the device on its back.

It would be possible to cut a trace and add an inline diode to the USB as well but that might cause a voltage drop and prevent the charger from working. (Though it could be specified at 4.5V and USB is typicaly 5 so a 0.3 drop diod would be doable as well. I have a kindle not a kobo so I can't say for sure how easy that would be. You may have to use surface mount parts to make everything fit better, but there isn't any challenge there. In fact you can probably find a dual Schottky diode in a small SOT package that would allow you to separate the USB and Solar but still have them both power the charger circuit.
flapke (author)  moldboy4 years ago
Powering the USB port is what I tried before this. The problem with that is that this ereader turns on every time it detects 5V, so that it can go into mass storage mode. So this kind of defeats the purpose if it uses power every time the slightest bit of light hits the panels.
I'll see if I can find a MAX1551/1555.
flapke (author)  flapke4 years ago
Alright, I replaced the diode with a MAX1555 IC and updated the instructable :)
bobgdolly4 years ago
Could you make this work using normal charging port ? without opening the unit .
flapke (author)  bobgdolly4 years ago
Not really. The ereader turns on when it detects 5V on the USB port and if you're reading, it goes into mass storage mode.
A slightly less invasive method would be to add a charging socket and attach the solar panels on the outside of the casing.
The Kobo has a separate mini rca charging port, it cannot be charged thru the usb .
flapke (author)  bobgdolly4 years ago
That's not true.
Your wrong ! I plug the trans. in to the wall the other goes into the charging port NOT THE USB!!!!!!
flapke (author)  bobgdolly4 years ago
All I see is a USB port.
Thats what you have , I must have a earlier version, mine does have two ports one usb one charging, Would you know if I could do the solar thru the charging port ? and can you let me know how to do it ? Thanks for all your time.
flapke (author)  bobgdolly4 years ago
The version I have is actually the first, maybe you have a Sony. But ok, making a solar charger for that kind of port is even easier, all you have to do is make a plug at the end of the wires and plug it in. You can stick the solar panels to the back of your e-reader, or to a cover. There is no danger of overcharging, since the e-reader will have circuitry protecting the battery connected to the charging socket.
Thanks for your your input, I thought that might be the solution , the reader is a Kobo Literati, I have a Nook that I use more often but I use the Literati for nighttime reading because it's back lit. I think I'll make a solar charger with batteries to extend the reading time. Thanks again. Bob
Gocho4 years ago
Nice Job!

I can't wait to see the improved version with the circuit to save the battery.

How many lifetime would have the Solar Cells?
Is not detailed in the DX web. Maybe in the attached docs.
flapke (author)  Gocho4 years ago
No idea about the lifetime, but surely it's longer than the ereader :P
Gocho flapke4 years ago
Good point :)
dark sponge4 years ago
Great concept, really similar to my solar DS. After making that, I realized how it was actually bad for the battery and potentially dangerous. You can add a charge protection circuit (I have a link in the materials list of the updated version) for really cheap and save the battery and a potential disaster, especially with your solar cell at 5.5 volts. The updated version is here:


I don't want to seem like a spammer, I just want to prevent a battery disaster :-)
flapke (author)  dark sponge4 years ago
Hey, thanks for the comment :) People already pointed out that this could be bad for the battery, so I ordered parts to save the battery (see below).
Maybe I should apply this same mod to my DS! :)
bojopopo4 years ago
great design! looks awesome, just got new kindle, so wont be gutting it just yet, but its fun to think about haha!
eandresen4 years ago
That battery looks like a LiPo
flapke (author)  eandresen4 years ago
You are correct, sir.
illuminatis4 years ago
Aren't you worried about cracking the LCD by leaving out in the sun?
Most e-readers have an electronic ink screen, which is ink that is arranged electronically into letters or numbers or whatever.
sqeeek4 years ago
I've done something similar with an old Palm. The easiest way for me to do it was to wire the power source (solar/batteries/whatever) to the 5v part of a USB cable, then hook a USB female side to the other two, magnet that on the side...

Then when I want to hook up my Palm to my computer, I plug it straight into the computer or USB extension cord. Don't have to worry about discharge, and don't have to remember to bring my USB cord anywhere :)

Cool instructable.
Looks good,but how to use it still not understand...
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