A Solar Engine is a circuit that takes in and stores electrical energy from solar cells, and when a predetermined amount has accumulated, it switches on to drive a motor or other actuator.  A solar engine is not really an 'engine' in itself, but that is its name by established usage.  It does provide  motive  force, and does work in a repeating cycle, so the name is not a complete misnomer.  Its  virtue is that it provides usable mechanical energy when only meager or weak levels of sunlight, or artificial room light, are  present.  It harvests or gathers, as it were, bunches of low  grade energy until there is enough for an energy giving meal for a motor.  And when the motor has expended the serving of energy, the solar engine circuit goes back into its gathering mode.  It is an ideal way to intermittently power models, toys, or other small gadgets on very low light levels.

It is a great idea which was first thought up and reduced to practice by one Mark Tilden, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He came up with an elegantly simple two-transistor solar engine circuit that made tiny solar powered robots possible.

Since then, a number of enthusiasts have thought up solar engine circuits with various features and improvements. The one described herein has proven itself to be very versatile and robust.  It is named after the day on which its circuit diagram was finalized and entered into the author's Workshop Notebook, Easter Sunday, 2001.  Over the years since, the author has made and tested several dozen in various applications and settings.   It works well in low light or high, with large storage capacitors or small.  And the circuit uses only common discrete electronic components: diodes, transistors, resistors and a capacitor. 

This Instructable describes the basic Easter Engine circuit, how it works, construction suggestions, and shows some applications.   A basic familiarity with electronics and soldering up circuits is assumed.  If you haven't done anything like this but are eager to have a go, it would be well to first tackle something simpler.   You might try the The FLED Solar Engine in Instructables or the "Solar Powered Symet" described in the book "Junkbots, Bugbots, & Bots on Wheels", which is an excellent introduction to making projects such as this one. 

Step 1: Easter Engine Circuit

This is the schematic diagram for the Easter engine together with a list of the electronic components that make it up.  The design of the circuit was inspired by the "Micropower Solar Engine" by Ken Huntington and the "Suneater I" by Stephen Bolt. In common with them, the Easter engine has a two-transistor trigger-and-latch section, but with a slightly different resistor network interconnecting them.  This section consumes very little power in itself when activated, but allows enough current to be taken out to drive a single transistor that switches on a typical motor load.

Here is how the Easter engine works.  Solar cell SC slowly charges up the storage capacitor C1.  Transistors  Q1 and  Q2 form a latching trigger.   Q1 is triggered on when the voltage of C1  reaches the level of conductance through the diode string D1-D3.  With two diodes and one LED as shown in the diagram, the trigger voltage is about 2.3V, but more diodes can be inserted to raise this level if desired. 

When Q1 turns on, the base of Q2 is pulled up through R4 to turn it on also.  Once it is on, it maintains base current via R1 through Q1 to keep it on.  The two transistors are thus latched on until the supply voltage from C1 falls to around 1.3 or 1.4V.

When both Q1 and Q2 are latched on, the base of the "power" transistor QP is pulled down through R3, turning it on to drive the motor M, or other load device.  Resistor R3 also limits the base current though QP, but the value shown is adequate to turn the load on hard enough for most purposes. If a current of more than say 200mA  to the load is desired, R3 can be reduced and a heavier duty transistor can be used for QP, such as a 2N2907. The values of the other resistors in the circuit were chosen (and tested) to  limit the current used by the latch to a low level.
<p>Hi Jim! I Awesome instructable. I successfully made the Easter Solar Engine following your great instructions and modified it slightly to use a 5V power source connected to a 10k potentiometer to be able to easily control how much voltage I was feeding to the circuit. So while I'm not using the Easter Solar Engine for it's energy gathering purposes, the analog voltage detector aspect using only discrete components is a perfect fit for the piece I'm working on. </p><p>Is there any way to have multiple loads that trigger at various levels? I've tried connecting two Easter circuits together that have different turn-on levels. They share the same power and ground but clearly that's not the way to go because it only turns on one load with unusually behavior. The first two pictures are the single circuit working well and the third pic is the failed attempt of connected two Easter circuits together.</p><p>Any insight would be greatly appreciated, Thanks!!</p>
<p>You can't do it like that, as the big capacitor is both the timing as the main storage element. And this circuit is basically &quot;current <br>fed&quot;, not voltage fed. Connecting it to a constant voltage will latch it<br> permanently on. To make it work you would need to</p><p>1. give each circuit it's own beefy capcitor</p><p>2. separate each circuit by giving them their own potentiometer.</p><p>Because of the current feed, I would remove the ground wire from the potentiometer.</p><p>All this is assuming unsynced. Now if your idea is to let them run in sync, no that would not work at all and would require quite a few some changes.</p>
<p>Thank you both for your replies! If by synced you mean having a single circuit that has multiple voltage trigger levels reading the voltage coming through a single variable resistor (the 10k Potentiometer in this case) that's actually exactly what I'd like to do if it's possible. Would you have any info, links or references that would help me in this quest? Thanks so much for your time you guys!!</p>
<p>I am confused about your goal. This circuit slowly fills the capacitor and then dumps it through the load (motor) until it is almost empty and the cycle starts over. The pot you added only regulates the charging time.</p><p>Compare it with a bucket filling with a trickle (your pot being the setting of the tap), and the rest of the circuit is basically designed to tip over the bucket when full. In that analogy, what exactly would you like to happen with that single bucket?</p>
<p>Apologies if I wasn't clear. I tried using your analogy but it ended up complicating the description of what I'm trying to do.</p><p>Imagine that I'm using a photocell as a switch. If a person puts their hand in front of the photocell making it dark, it would increase the voltage flowing to the storage capacitor/ &quot;bucket&quot;. I want to have three loads that trigger at three different voltage levels, let's say 2, 3 and 5 volts for the sake of this example. So if a person put their hand in front of the photocell for long enough, it would trigger the first load once the capacitor reached two volts and then would continue to charge the capacitor until it triggered the subsequent load at three volts. I realize that the first load triggering will drop the voltage in the cap but my assumption is that if the user holds their hand long enough in front of the photocell, that the voltage level in the storage capacitor will continue to rise and trigger the other loads since it's connected to a wall power supply.</p><p>Does this make more sense? In the end, I'm just trying to figure out the best way to have multiple loads trigger at different voltage levels.</p>
<p>This project is utterly unusable for what you're trying to do on probably all possible levels. Sorry. My advice would be google for something like a LED Vu meter and use a cheap LDR as sensing element. I hope this gives enough pointers. Have great fun with your project!</p>
<p>Thanks for your help.</p>
<p>Yoh-There is quite correct- &ldquo;You can't do it like that&quot;. You see, the Easter engine circuit is controlled by the voltage in its storage capacitor. If two are connected to one capacitor, the circuit with the lowest turn-on voltage will trigger before the other and draw down the voltage in the cap before the other has a chance to wake up. Follow Yoh-There&rsquo;s advice.</p>
<p>Hi, I made it! Thanks for your great instructable. I etched my own PCB as shown in the pictures. I managed to make it work by connecting 7 solar cells from old/new calculators and connected it in series with diode. I also used 2 capacitors in parallel with 2200 uF as the storage capacitor. For every 2 minutes the engine works nicely even inside my room. I used H3906 as an alternative for 2N3906 transistor and 1N4181 for 1N914 diode.</p>
<p>Congratulations Mychael14 !!! I really like the elegant geometric design of your PCB !!!</p>
<p>Thanks! I just realized that etching PCB is much cheaper than buying boards although you will add extra work in designing. ;)</p>
I have 10000 uF 25v now. It's big. ;-)
<p>Great instructable! Thank you!</p>
Hi, how can i connect two of these together? Is it possible to use one capacitor for power while the other charges and then switch back again? Thanks for the great info too!
<p>Made one with 1N4001 diodes, and used different resistors in series to get the correct values, works nicely!</p>
<p>Nice Job !!! I like the way you used those tiny resistors on the backside. Thanks for sending along the photos.</p>
<p>I am not sure which way to put in the diode an led. Maybe you could clearify? thanks</p>
<p>The schematic in Step 1 is clear on these points. You just have to distinguish the anode from the cathode ends on the diodes and leds you want to use. The cathode end of a diode is usually marked with a band. The cathode side of an led is usually indicated by a flat portion on the lens.<br>The references cited in the Intro step will be very helpful for questions such as these. In any event, put the circuit together on a solderless breadboard to make sure everything is working correctly before you warm up the soldering iron.</p>
<p>oh fun now to see if i can combine that circut with a crystal battery to make it build a larger cap for a flashlight.</p>
<p>what are the equipments to make this? can u give me the list?</p>
<p>My daughter and I made this circuit together on a breadboard. It worked well. We tried it with a vibrating motor from a cell-phone and found we needed to raise to turn-off voltage since the motor stopped spinning around 1.8V. You already had instructions for doing that on your nicely documented design. Thanks so much for this nice and well documented post.</p>
<p>It's so good to hear from a Father and daughter working together on a gadget like this ! Thank you for letting us know !!</p>
<p>I was this article today on Reddit : <a href="http://www.ohgizmo.com/2010/01/09/ces2010-rca-airnergy-charger-harvests-electricity-from-wifi/" rel="nofollow">http://www.ohgizmo.com/2010/01/09/ces2010-rca-airn...</a> I think that with your Easter engine design combined the information found here: <a href="http://hight3ch.com/free-electricity-from-thin-air/" rel="nofollow">http://hight3ch.com/free-electricity-from-thin-air...</a> this could make a nice home made cell phone charger. What do you think?</p>
Hi Tinker Jim. Awesome project. I'm working on a circuit to run nitinol SMA wires. A question: Does the power to the load flow from the solar panel or from the capacitor?
The solar cell and the capacitor are connected in parallel, so when transistor QP turns on, both deliver power to the load. However, unless the solar cell is relatively large or in bright sunlight, most of the power driving the load will come from the capacitor.
Understood. Thank you for the reply!
Hi TinkerJim, <br> <br>Thanks a lot for this I'ble! I spent the last days building solar engines, and yours gave me the final push to start it. I tried your circuit first of course. Later I built the &quot;original&quot; Sun Eater I (and it turned out it was made by a fellow countryman of mine :-)). <br> <br>When comparing, I find the Sun Eater more efficient (&quot;lively&quot;) than your circuit, but has more components as a trade-off. Is that your finding too? <br> <br>Anyways, thanks a lot for your very well documented I'ble! <br> <br>Ynze
Thank you for your comments on the Easter Solar Engine. I too made a SunEater and was very much pleased with it (in fact it was the inspiration for the Easter engine as mentioned in the Instructable) and it is still working daily on a windowsill! <br> <br>As to your queries regarding &quot;efficiency&quot; and/or &quot;liveliness&quot;, the two terms can take in quite a few different meanings. Efficiency would most precisely mean the ratio of energy delivered to the motor to the energy collected in the storage capacitor from the solar cell This is easy to quantify. But the word could also be used more loosely to refer to how short the operating cycle seems to be, that is, how frequently the device activates and goes through its on-off cycles. The word &quot;lively&quot; could also very well refer to this activation frequency. Or more simply,liveliness could mean the rapidity or strength of the way the motor snaps into action when it does turn on. These are quite different things, but we are apt to use the words &quot;efficient&quot; and &quot;lively&quot; for any or all of these characteristics in an interchangeable casual way. <br> <br>The most important condition in attempting to make any sort of general comparative declaration, is that both circuits must be set up to have the same turn-on and turn-off voltages. Otherwise, the energy exchanges with the storage capacitor could be too different to draw any meaningful conclusions. This is most important because the energy stored in a capacitor is proportional to the square of the voltage across its terminals: Es = (1/2)&bull; C &bull; (V^2). Thus a small difference in voltage represents a much larger difference in energies. <br> <br>Now if both solar engines are set up with the exact same turn-on and turn-off voltages, then they will be practically equally &quot;lively&quot;. First, they will both collect solar energy for the same time before firing; this is because both circuits pass no current until the trigger strings conduct and turn on the first transistor. They will not run a load for exactly the same time, but if both have the same turn-off voltages, the difference will be small in typical applications. The difference arises precisely because the SunEater has a dual transistor output switch; these are set up as a complimentary pair which functions as a very high gain transistor. Hence, only a tiny current is needed to turn the pair on and they turn on hard (this could also be the &quot;liveliness&quot; you are impressed with). The single output transistor of the Easter Solar engine takes more current in the circuitry to turn a motor on (e.g. at 2.9V turn-on, the 3.3K resistor passes about 0.5mA into the base - note that this resistor can be increased to give a softer run to the motor, or decreased to give a more jolting or lively start). <br> <br>Now, if the current draw of the output device for the two solar engines were the same and say constant, the SunEater would yield more on-time because less current is used in its circuitry to keep it on, making more available for the load to use up. But then on the other hand, the Easter Solar engine would go through its charge-run cycle more often than the SunEater! <br> <br>Alas, the situation with a motor as the load is far more complicated! When a motor at rest is switched on from a voltage source, it takes a lot of instantaneous current, and then less and less as it gains speed. A capacitor is more than willing, eager in fact, to supply its energy at high current levels, so a lot of energy can be used up just in getting things moving. This would shorten the on-time. <br>
Can you provide some websites that stock the SIP's? Thank you!
All the major electronics supply houses carry them, and I think many of the specialty and surplus electronics sellers do also.
what kind of electronic can i find those kind of capacitors?
Most stuff have big enough caps to work in this.<br>Look for old VCRs, Tape players, ect.<br>The audio amps inside of these most of the time have big capacitors.<br>It looks like in the first picture he is using a super cap.<br>Just use any caps that say &quot;1000uf&quot; or bigger.
Where are some videos of these working?
I haven't made videos of these working.
As I am pretty much a beginner at electronics I was wondering: <br><br>Is their any way to make a more simple trigger which uses less components?<br> I want to be able to adapt it to suit my, simpler, needs and I don't really understand some of the circuit. <br><br>Thanks in advance to who-ever answers.
You can find a lot of straightforward information on various solar engine circuits at the following site:<br><br>http://library.solarbotics.net/circuits/se_t1.html<br><br>
Also, the book I mentioned in the Easter Engine Instructable,<br><br> &quot;Junkbots, Bugbots, &amp; Bots on Wheels&quot; by Dave Hrynkiw &amp; Mark W. Tilden<br><br>is a very good one for beginners in Beam Technology. <br> <br>Another good introductory book in more general robot making is <br><br>&quot;Robot Building for Beginners&quot; by David Cook.<br><br>And for a hands-on introduction to making electronics gadgets of all kinds, you couldn't do better than<br><br>&quot;Make: Electronics&quot; by Charles Platt.
Wow this is great! I can't wait to build one of my own, won't be for a while though cause my allowance is only 5 bucks a month :/<br><br>I'm making a new ible based off this!
cool. I might try that with an earth battery also.
Earth batteries should be a suitable source from which an Easter Solar Engine could collect usable energy. You'll need enough earth batteries hooked in series to offer a voltage slightly higher than the turn-on voltage of the Easter engine.
Did some experiments and was surprised at the amount of voltage generated. A whole backyard of cells might be very interesting. Have to go get some resistors tomorrow and build the engine.
haha look at that old school led in pic #4.<br /> <br /> Ok so, just in general what type of diodes can you use for this?? How do you figure out the voltage required for diodes??&nbsp;Sorry I'm noob!
Instead of being thrown out as being too dim and unwanted, the old LEDs are quite happy to be put to work in trigger strings!<br /> <br /> The very common small signal diode 1N914 are the ones I use.&nbsp; They work fine for this low voltage low current application.<br />
Let me start by saying this is gadget with so many uses it's amazing. I'm also a noob so I have to ask. How can I tell the voltage of a random LED I find in old electronics? What can of test can I do to an LED?
To test LEDs for Easter Engine use, I just make up the whole circuit first on a solderless breadboard. With a Volt meter hooked up to the storage capacitor, I just note when the engine circuit cycles on and off. If it's not what is wanted, I just plug in a different LED or two.
subscribed!! 5 star! great project, man!
Thanks !
such a nice job friend

About This Instructable




Bio: Emeritus Professor of Mathematics.
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