Easy Carbon Electrode

Many alternative energy projects such as metal oxide batteries and microbial fuel cells call for a carbon electrode. The phrase alone is enough to stop most people dead in their tracks.

This instructable shows how to make a very efficient, production grade carbon electrode for use in a variety of alternative energy applications. The electrode is tested using a simple aluminum air battery.

Many of the internet demonstrations of an aluminum air battery, including my own, try various means to surmount the carbon electrode problem. They mostly involve placing a copper lead in a pile of carbon be it graphite powder, pencil lead or ground up charcoal and hoping for the best. This is okay for novelty demonstrations and classroom work but is hardly adequate for the home experimenter.

One day while lurking in the specialty hardware section of my local Ace One day as I was working on a vertical axis windmill thing (soon to come I hope) I thought I would need brushes so off to Ace I went. There I stood in the novelty hardware section , mumbling to myself and attempting to connects bits of hardware that were never intended for the same device and the next thing you know I'm looking at a couple of drawers filled with lovely replacement brushes for all manner of power tools and appliances.

Before you can say "Bob's your uncle" I snatch up several samples and head off to my secret lair for testing. Read on for detailed information.

Step 1: Bill of Materials

Once you get to Ace you'll see that they have a variety of replacement brushes in various sizes. You can almost certainly find these at TrueValue as well as the big box stores but probably not Walmart or Target.

I am very pleased to update this instructable with the information that a very nice carbon electrode may be ordered online from www.carbonbrush.com. I have no relationship with these folks other than as a satisfied customer. They have a good shopping cart and accept paypal as well as small orders.

To see their selection of carbon brushes with insulated leads and end terminals visit: Flat Top Brushes with Leads

If, for one reason or another, you just can't wait. For instance if you have a burned out vacuum cleaner and have pulled the brush out of the motor. Or you don't use PayPal or you just want to support your local independent hardware store press on...

Mine cost about $4 each.
Copper wire to make the lead
soldering iron and solder - may be optional
hot glue gun or epoxy - seal exposed copper

The novelty hardware section is the part of the store where they rows and rows of shelves container odd looking bits, nuts, bolts and what have you. Tell the clerk you're looking for a Black&Decker replacement brush and he will take you to the right place. Or not...

The replacement brushes are carbon blocks with a copper lead connecting to a terminator ( most often a circular disk ). The copper lead is surrounded by a spring which we will remove.

The picture is from the Ace Hardware site and shows the B&D replacement brushes. The carbon blocks come in a variety of small and a small variation in shapes. It's not clear to me what the relationship is between the size of the carbon electrode and transfer rates. Pick a size that fits your application.

These are extremely well engineered to transfer power through the carbon block and copper lead efficiently. There is no need to concern ourselves with particle size, liquid tape or piles of fine carbon powder. We know that the carbon block will conduct and we know that there is extremely good connectivity between the carbon and the copper lead.

Step 2: Make the Electrode

First we remove the wire spring using a pair of pliers (or wirecutters). This will expose the copper lead with the end piece attached. I left removing the end piece until last, it is also possible to just push the spring down, cut off the head and remove the spring.

Strip one end of your copper wire to a length roughly matches the lead on the brush and twist the two wires together making sure to establish a good connection.

I soldered the connection to reinforce it.

Cover the exposed copper with hot glue or epoxy to seal it to avoid secondary reactions.

Voila at this point you have a production grade carbon electrode. In the next step we will test it using a simple aluminum air battery.

Step 3: Can You Shock Me Now?

In this step we will test the effectiveness of the electrode by creating a simple aluminum air battery with it and ensuring that we get voltage.

Bill of Materials:

Paper plate or other non conductive surface
A small square of aluminum foil large enough to hold a kitchen sponge
A cellulose kitchen sponge
A carbon electrode, perhaps the one we just made...
Some Du...er, um, well, water resistant tape. Scotch tape will do.
A piece of wire
A bowl, warm water and some table salt

Strip a short length from the end of the wire. Attach it firmly to back of the aluminum foil with the water resistant tape. It should NOT normally get wet or come in contact with the saltwater.

Put the aluminum foil on the paper with the wire side down (facing the paper). Mix a small amount of salt and water in the bowl. This should be enough to thoroughly wet the sponge without dripping, puddling or running.

Place the sponge on the aluminum foil, place the carbon electrode on top of the sponge positioned so that the lead does not come in contact at the sponge.

Measure voltage across the two leads to verify operation of the carbon electrode.

I got between 675 and 715 mV sustained output.



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    10 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Massive motors are a good source of these (i.e. took apart a treadmill motor)


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I got mine carbon electrodes from C or D size batteries, but its a big mess. Just rip the top off of the battery then clean the battery and the rod. I had 2 for my little hydrogen and oxygen bomb.

    5 replies

    I think you'd be very pleased with this as an alternative. Also if you have a hobby shop nearby they should have carbon fiber rods used in model aircraft construction. These work well with a coil winding. I'm trying to track down the right size copper wire for a snug insert into the hollow core.

    then u should check out alibaba.com, if u dont mind it coming from main land china it take up to 3 weeks 4 shipping. uill be able to find every thing u may want or not want.


    Reply 4 years ago

    Or TaoBao! It is under Alibaba but is even more popular, you can get more stuff there. By the way graphite welding electrodes work too, just sand off the copper coating.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    i made one but it blew up becuase i didnt have enough materials(this kind of liquid plastic that hardens). . What it mainly does is the carbon rods electrolesizes the water and you have a piezo sparker(from electric lighters) to ignite the H2g and the 02g. I dont have enough materials to create it again. I just made it to learn the concept of the idea. Just search it on google.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    For DIY battery work perhaps the simplest & cleanest carbon electrode is usually a pencil! Just slice back the wood until the graphite core is revealed & clip on connections to suit - wider builders pencils are especially suitable. I've used these for years with kids fruit batteries, & typically a pencil anode & galvanised nail cathode in an apple etc will yield ~1 V . Stan.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I saw some big brushes today, more than an inch wide. But I didn't have a use for them...