Picture of Travel AA Solar Charger - Altoids!

I do a lot of camping in the summer and like to travel light. I also love taking photos and hate it when my batteries die right before I take an awesome photo.

Thus I decided to design a little battery recharger that was small, light weight, and cute. Ok, the cute part wasn't the original idea but who can argue with cute?

Cost: $5
Time: 20 Minutes
Difficulty: Very Easy

Step 1: What you need

Picture of What you need

4V or greater solar cell
AA or AAA battery holder
1N914 Blocking Diode
Altoids Tin to house it in (or whatever)

Soldering Iron

All the supplies for this project can be found at my website, BrownDogGadgets. 90% of the money goes to me making more projects, the other 10% goes for dog treats and the occasional stuffed frog toy.

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sjean320 days ago
so my issue was trying to also attach a crank charger to the battery unit provided in my kit.
the question is: Is it possible to just splice in a secondary power source into the battery compartment, or would I need a resistor for that?
oh I bought your 3d printed case kit.
LaurelJ2 months ago

where can you get the solar panel?

swb035 months ago

Hi Josh,

I am a beginner in electronics and for my school project I am making this really cool Altoids Solar Charger based off the instructable. The whole reason I am doing it is to make it based off a schematic. Is there any way you have a schematic for this project because I really need one, so I can order the kit and make it. Get back to me as soon as possible.


swb03 swb035 months ago

Forgot to add that in the schematic that is it possible to add a usb port to charge phones?

lovatatic_ made it!6 months ago
I built this for my science fair project and now I'm going to the county fair.
frogier3 years ago
Hi, is there a way this could work as a charger for a Macbook??

You could charge a chromebook, though, I believe those are 5v. You would need a long time and lots of batteries, though.

JoshuaZimmerman (author)  frogier3 years ago
You'd need a lot more voltage and amperage for that to happen.

That's a "big scale" solar project, unlike this small scale solar project.
ThatCatMan2 years ago
I am not very good with circuits, as I don't know much at all about it, but could you just make 2 parallel circuits, one for AA, and one for AAA, hook both of them to the same panel, and have a switch to go from charging your AA to your AAA instantly?
I would do this, but I haven't gotten my solar panel collection yet.

Yes, you could. A couple of things to keep in mind:

The AAA batteries AND AA batteries must be the same voltage, and both rechargeable. The switch should be a three way toggle.

Here's a schematic:


Solar Schematic.jpg
JCG51 year ago
How could you add a switch
tmz1313 JCG57 months ago
put a switch between solar panel +, and battery + that will cut the solar panel from the battery
ThaiM7 months ago

I have made on of these kits but when I plug my phone in, the battery from my phone drains instead of charging the phone. Any help would be nice. THank you

tim4par1 year ago

Is there a simple way to install an LED so I can know if the battery is charged? I'm sure there is, but not sure how! Any suggestions? Love the AA charger in the sealable tupperware box! Works great!

Prof.Jon4 years ago
I got your kit in the mail today and I'll be soldering it up this weekend. I just read through the instructable and at the end you have that aside about getting crazy and adding a charge indicator or test light. I'm new to electronics. How would I go about doing that?
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  Prof.Jon4 years ago
Add an LED into the mix so that it's parallel with the solar cell, but also wire a button in so that the LED isn't always on. Use a blue LED which requires 3.6V power. As your batteries can't power it it would have to run off the solar cell.

Push the button and see if there is enough power coming in.

I'm sure there is a better way, like using some sort of voltage trigger, but I like keeping things very uncomplicated.

How would you make the button?

skiaruto2 years ago
Can I put normal batteries in, and make sure the solar panel isn't getting light
geekturtle2 years ago
Thanks, my 12 yo daughter was able to do this project, so she learned the basics of soldiering and how to use some other tools.
ottoman03312 years ago
Im working on a charger using a 9 volt 42 mA solar panel. I want to set it up so that I can charge AA or AAA batteries ( will probably use a connector so that I can swap out battery holders. I plan on charging around 4AA at a time around 6v. What do I need to do to keep my batteries from overcharging?
Forgot to add that I also want to be able to use this as a usb charger for a phone. Can I use one system for this or do I need 2 diff systems?
SeedRally3 years ago
Instead of using the blocking diode, do you think it would be just as efficient to use an LED and a resistor? That way we could visible see if there is enough voltage going through the circuit?
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  SeedRally3 years ago
An LED would drop the voltage way too much. Good idea, but not in this situation.
excuse me for my ignorance, but is this the correct type of diode?

100V 200mA High Conductance Fast Diode:

If we wanted to decrease the time it takes to charge our batteries, would be be better off increasing the voltage or current output of our solar cells?
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  solarstudent3 years ago
Current. Current charged up the amps, you just need a certain minimum level of voltage to get the batteries to charge.

So adding a second 4V solar cell you could either get 8V 60mA or 4V 120mA.

To charge in lower light, you'd want to go for 8V 60mA.

To charge up the batteries faster, you want 4V 120mA.
If I wanted to use this design to charge 4 batteries is it as easy as doubling all the requirements?
i.e. need at least 7V

also, with the 10% of battery capacity rule: is it only 10% of one battery, or 10% of the sum of the batteries current capacities.
i.e. 10% 1 battery @2000 mah = 200 mah
10% 4 batteries @2000 mah = 800 mah or is it still 200 mah?

Your Instructables are amazing! keep up the good work!
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  solarstudent4 years ago
10% of the capacity of the battery system.

How you wire them up determines their capacity.

Hook them up in Parallel and you keep adding capacity. 1 AA is 2,000mA. 2 AA in Parallel is 4,000mA. 3 AA in Parallel is 6,000mA.
Citymanins4 years ago
What about useability of the mobily charger? What time is it need for full charging of a phone?
As the author says, but 1 more comment:

use this to charge your AA's...
... then use your AA's - with a MintyBoost circuit - to charge your iPhone.
As long as you get your AA's charged, this -will- work.
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  Citymanins4 years ago
It's a battery charger, not a phone charger. Just AA and AAA batteries.

Depending on how low your batteries are it can take anywhere from 5 - 10 hours of sunlight. The way I use it is that I have a spare set of batteries stored in the tin, then swap out my "dead" batteries with those spare and then charge the "dead" ones up. By the time my spares are used up my "dead" are all charged.
nida224 years ago
hi i have an idea if you just use the regulator and then simply connect the battery
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  nida224 years ago
The design honestly can't get more simple than this. Trust me.
What about larger batteries such as the batt packs for power tools? I work on a Halloween layout set in the backwoods area where it's kind of difficult to run power.
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  javajunkie19764 years ago
That depends on the type of battery. Lithium Iron Batteries need "smart" controllers to charge them up. Ni-Cad and NiMh batteries don't, as long as you trickle charge them.

You could always build a 6V power system using a 9V Solar Panel (say around 3 watt)_, a cheap charge controller, and a big 6V battery.
edsilvestre4 years ago
what are the elements in making solar cell so i can make my own?
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  edsilvestre4 years ago
Look around instructables, I know I saw someone showing how to make your own solar cells.

Though if you want to use them in projects I would suggest not doing so. The ones you make are going to be very very poor compared to even the cheapest factory made ones. Shoot, you can get them for free if you can find someone throwing out old garden lights.

Though I've seen quite a few places selling new solar graden lights for less than $3, which is darned cheap for a solar cell + LED + circuit + rechargeable battery. You might as well buy one and gut it.
jeffreyshi4 years ago
Could you charge a Nintendo 3DS with this?
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  jeffreyshi4 years ago
The 3DS doesn't run on AA batteries, so no. What you could use is a AA to USB converter. Like what I use with my Altoids Solar USB Charger.  I also have a kit for that as well if you'd rather build it yourself.

Then you'd just need a USB cable to hook into your 3DS.  I've seen them before, so I know you can find them.
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