Introduction: 1 Watt LED Joule Thief

About: My name is Allison and I am an engineer co-op student working for Eastern Voltage Research creating fun and exciting educational kits for students and amateurs.

* The kit purchasing info can be found here:

As i had some free time this summer, I decided to bring back some of the popular designs i had created almost ten years ago with my recreational lighting company, Space Cat Advanced Lighting Systems.  Around ten years ago when Luxeon LEDs were first hitting the market, I designed a 1 Watt LED driver circuit which uilized the Luxeon STAR-O LED which operated at 3V (it was a red LED) and 350mA.  This was designed to be used for caving applications and powered via a single AA battery.  The original assembly looked almost the same as this new design (used the same battery clips) but was about 1/2" longer to accomodate the larger LUXEON LED module.  The exposed circuitry was also conformal coated for moisture protection.  The circuit worked extremely well, although the LUXEON LED was quite large.  So the first thing I did when redesigning my existing circuit was to use a smaller LED - in this case a Cree 1W X-Lamp, and to reduce the overall size of the board.  The original size of the board had the same width, but was slightly longer (1/2") to accomodate the LUXEON LED.  With the smaller Cree 1W LED, i was able to make the board the smallest size possible equal to the size of a single AA battery. 

The original name for the LED driver i designed was the Hyperkatz LED Driver.  However for this version I simply renamed it to a more generic Joule Thief name - as everyone and their grandmother seems to be calling any low voltage LED circuits Joule Thiefs regardless of how they are driven or how efficient they are.  We also made some potted units of this same driver for another recreational lighting company as prototypes back in 2004.  I've attached some photos of those original potted prototypes.  The only difference with those, was that there was no switch and the LED had to be attached externally.

So back to this old 1W LED drive circuit.  The circuit utilizes an programmable boost controller IC which operates from a single AA battery and utilizes a boost switching converter topology to boost the battery voltage of the single AA (down to 0.8V) up to approx. 4V to power the 1W Cree LED.  Although not a Joule Thief in the traditional sense, it still will operate from a drained AA battery down to a voltage of 0.8V, although this circuit works best with a fresh AA battery.

This particular Joule Thief is designed for 1W White Cree LEDs, but can work for any number of high current LEDs.  The boost circuit is designed to regulate LED current at 350mA or less.  The onboard potentiometer can be used to vary the output LED current and therefore the brightness of the LED.

Step 1: Features

Here are some of the features of the 1W Joule Thief circuit:
  • Operating Voltage Rnage - >0.8V (I recommend using a fresh AA battery for maximum performance however)
  • ON/OFF switch
  • Operates from a single AA battery
  • EXTREMELY Bright 1 Watt Cree X-Lamp LED (These are INTENSELY BRIGHT)
  • Cree X-Lamps come in cool and warm white LEDs.
  • Adjustable brightness levels via onboard potentiometer
  • Soft-Start and Soft-Turn Off
  • Utilizes compact SMT technology

Step 2: Technical Information

The principle of operation is very simple.  The circuit is a basic boost switching converter that converts a lower voltage to a higher voltage through the use of switch and inductor.


The Joule Thief circuit uses a programmable boost converter IC. The boost converter is advertised as a 350mA LED Driver, although it’s really just a simple boost controller IC without an external voltage feedback input. The circuit is powered via a single 1.5V AA battery.   L1 is the 3.3uH boost inductor while C2 is a 4.7uF ceramic capacitor used as the boost output filter which provides a DC voltage to the 1W Cree LED.  Potentiometer R2 is used to vary the output brightness of the LED, while C1 is added to provide soft turn-on and turn-off of the LED.

Parts List:
  • (2) Resistor, 0.0 ohm, 0805 (R1,R3)
  • (1) Potentiometer, 1Meg (R2)
  • (1) Capacitor, 1uF, 0805 (C1)
  • (1) Capacitor, 4.7uF, 1206 (C2)
  • (1) Cree 1W LED (D1)
  • (1) Inductor, 3.3uH, 2.5A (L1)
  • (1) Programmable Boost Controller IC
  • (1) Switch
  • (2) AA Battery Clips

Step 3: Assembly

Assembly is very simple and straightforward.  Simply follow the attached instructions and solder parts to the PCB board.  Be sure that the LED and Programmable Boost Controller IC are soldered with the proper orientation.  The complete manual and assembly guide is shown here as a PDF document.  It includes full instructions.

Step 4: Performance

The 1W Joule Thief circuit works extremely well.  Words simply cannot describe how bright this thing is.  Its like holding a welding torch in the palm of your hand.  It will easily light up an entire room if dark and works great as a flashlight when hiking or camping.  The kids love these things! 

Step 5: PCB and Kit

This circuit can be easily built on a breadboard or if you are handy, you can also etch your own.

Complete Kit and details here:

Enjoy and good luck with your project!