Steam Powered USB Charger





Introduction: Steam Powered USB Charger

This is a little project I made to charge up my iPod using a toy steam engine, though you could use it to charge any USB device.

I coupled a Lego Technic Motor to a Jensen #75 steam engine to make a crude generator. From there I built a 5V regulator circuit and soldered in a female USB connection to power any USB device. Since I wanted to use it to charge my iPod, I put in a diode and a .5 amp fuse to provide some circuit protection.

This is a good approximation of power is normally generated. Also, this is a good DIY power generation project, though its not very practical.

Step 1: Obtain a Steam Engine

The first step is to get a steam engine. you can buy kits or complete engines from Some of them can get pretty expensive though. For this project I used a Jensen #75 engine though others would probably work too. I tried to get an estimate of how many watts a little engine like this puts out, but even the manufactuers didn't have a good idea. Based on the amount of output power and some efficiency estimates, I guess about 10 watts.

Step 2: Couple the Lego Motor and Flywheel

This was one of the hardest steps. I experimented with wood and other ideas but eventually it turned out to be the simplest way. I just used a big lego 'plate' and jammed it beneath the little stand that the engine sits. The best part is that its adjustable, just move the red piece to change how far away the lego motor is from the flywheel.

I experimented with a couple different ways to couple the flywheel with the lego motor. However, just using a rubber band worked fine.

Step 3: Make USB Voltage Regulator

This was the most intensive step, you need to be able to solder to complete this. The circuit diagram is attached below. I had a spare UV LED so I used that, though any LED will work to give you indication that your circuit is working.

Since I was going to use this on sensitive electronics, I added several capacitors on the input. The data sheet recommends .33uF but I just used 3 .1uF caps in parallel to achieve this. The output also has a cap on it to smooth the output. I found the output is a rock steady 5.025V. I also added a diode at the very beginning to ensure the iPod battery doesn't try to turn the motor. Additionally, there is a 1/2 amp fuse since the max rating of USB devices are 500mA.

Step 4: Enjoy

Now you just need to hook everything up and enjoy the sound of a steam engine powering your ipod.

here are some videos of it in action



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    16 Discussions

    to quote you"not very practical"; to quote me"oh my freaking god this guy has a steam powered charger for his phone!!!!"
    my momma always said "awesome is as awesome does"

    Maybe but what is it? (They usually run on solid fuel) We may never know...


    methylated spirits can be run in thease engines its a purple liquid and gets very hot so thats what burnt the paint

    very cool and almost free you can charge with candle and water
    the only next step would be a pocket sized one

    may not be a free as solar but still cool

    My father has an old steam engine that used to look similar to the one you have here, but some of the parts are missing, such as the piston, and most of the original base and firebox...I built a new firebox and base, and the steam line from the boiler to the piston cylinder was replaced with a piece of  *I think* 3/8" copper gas line from an old car, although I haven't figured up a reliable piston replacement, I still need to find a way to make a better seal between the cylinder and the block the steam line hooks into next to the flywheel. Now, back to what I was commenting for--on my father's old steam engine, there is also a pulley attached to the axle for the flywheel, and on a model as such, one could probably get away with using a bicycle dynamo as the "turbine" in such a set-up, and depending on the style of the dynamo, it may even look like an authentic, early steam powered generator. The bicycle dynamo I have is ~6V, and (I think) ~3W (Maybe it's 0.3W?? Either way, there's a 3 in there somewhere for the watts...)

    It could be practical for extended power outages, using it to charge up things like cell phones, USB re-chargeable batter powered devices, things like that...

    have you tried making the same thing but using the battery pack and gearing it up? Nice Instructable

    I like the Lego man at the control desk touch! Damn Cool Instructable!

    THAT is AWESOME! you gotta post a video of it in action

    haha I was contemplating building this, until I saw the price on the steam engines.