Making Homemade Batteries out of Household Items

It is possible to build your own battery out of everyday items.  Batteries can be built in emergencies or ahead of time (they are also very green). What you can power will depend upon the type of battery you build and number you make. For the purposes of survival, it is wise to have a few different battery builds under your belt. Batteries are one of the oldest ways of creating electricity and were first used by Alessandro Volta in 1800, and this early design was known as the Voltaic Pile. The final method for creating your own batteries in this guide will explain how to make your own Voltaic Pile style batteries.

Build a Battery out of a Soda Can

Yes, it is possible to build a battery from an unopened soda can (must be an aluminum can). The battery will not look pretty, but will produce power.  In order to build the battery, collect an unopened soda can (any brand), a plastic or non-conductive cup (a solo cup will work),and a strip of copper that Is roughly 8 inches long and preferably close to an inch wide (a copper pipe from plumping, or many copper wires twisted together can be made to work in a bind).  Scissors are also required to make a soda-powered battery. 

First, fill the cup three quarters the way up with the soda, and pour the rest out. 

Next, cut an aluminum strip from the soda can which is the length of the soda can itself, from bottom to top, and roughly an inch wide.  This cannot be substituted for aluminum foil, as it will not serve as a good enough conduction. The aluminum strip also needs to be sanded to remove the paint and coatings, otherwise it will not be conductive.

Third, bend the aluminum and copper strips 25 percent of the way, and hang them into the soda, short ends bent over the edge of the cup and the longer ends submerged into the soda.  Be sure to keep them separated, best to keep them across from one another.  They can be duct taped in place if need be, however, if they are the appropriate length, they will sit just fine on the rim of the cup without falling or sinking.


Your battery has been constructed and can be replicated as many times as you have soda cans.  The battery can be made stronger by building more of them and connecting them in parallel, which will allow them to power larger devices. It can be tested by attaching either lead to either of the strips with a voltmeter and will read roughly three quarters of a volt.

Tip: Wear leather safety gloves while cutting and sanding the strip to avoid cutting your hands.

This battery design can be modified by substituting the soda for salt water (which can even be made mixing 8 FL OZ of tap water with 1 tablespoon of salt).  Additionally, the strips can be substituted for a combination of any two conductive metals, as long as they are each a different metal. Many people use zinc, copper and aluminum because of their accessibility and low cost.


Making a Multi-Cell Water-Powered Battery

To make a multi-cell battery you will need a container capable of hosting multiple cells, an ice cube tray is a good idea and will work.  You will need as many sheet metal screws you have cells in the ice cube tray plus one (if there are 14 ice cube spots, you need 15 sheet metal screws). The screws can be made of any metal except copper, even galvanized will work. You will also need some copper wire. Wrap all of the screws except for one in the copper wire. You only need to wrap the top of the screw, towards the head, two times, then form a hook with the other end of the wire (you can precut the wire into sizes that are perfect for wrapping the head of the screw (or nail) and making the hook – they should wind up being about three to four inches.  Place each screw into its own cell in the ice cube tray, careful to hang the copper hook into the tray adjacent to it.  It will form a chain, each nail will be submerged in water, and it’s respective copper hook will hang into the next cell, which will contain another nail who’s copper hook will then hang into the next cell, and so forth. There should only be one screw in each cell, and one copper hook hanging into each cell from the previous screw.

Next, the screw which remains without any copper wire wrapped upon it gets placed in one of the cells, and is the only cell that will share two screws.  This is the negative terminal.  To test your battery strength, attach one of the leads from a voltmeter to this screw. On the same end of the tray, in the cell directly next to this cell with two screws, hook a single piece of copper wire on the edge of the tray hanging off the edge (not attached to any screw). Attach the other lead of the voltmeter to this copper hook hanging out of this cell which has no screw paired with it (although it will share a cell with a screw that DOES have copper wire around it. Be sure the leads are not touching the water, but attached to the two terminals which are protruding from the water in cells directly next to one another on the same side of the ice cube tray. 

If this battery has been made correctly, it will measure more than 9 volts.  There are ways to make this battery more conductive and boost the power.  First, more copper can be used (wrap each screw more times).  And second, switch from water to a more conductive solution; some examples include bleach, vinegar, or lemon juice.  Saltwater would even output higher voltage.

Making your own Voltaic Batteries out of Coins

The Voltaic Pile method of making batteries is very old fashioned, in fact, this was the first style of creating batteries.  In order to make your own Voltaic Pile batteries, you will need:

·         4 Pennies

·         4 Nickels

·         Strip of Aluminum Foil

·         ¼ Cup of Vinegar

·         1 Tablespoon of Salt

·         Dish Soap

·         1 Plate (not metal or paper, all other materials are okay, including glass, Styrofoam, ceramic and plastic)

·         1 Glass Bowl

·         3 Paper Towels

·         Scissors

This battery design can be scaled, by simply increasing all the ingredients proportionally. However, for the purposes of this guide, it is being done with the exact specifications listed.  The theory of this battery is similar to the others in that two metals are being forced to interact with one another.  One metal will always be weaker than the other, which will allow for one of the metals to be more willing to give electrons than receive them.  The other metal will be more willing to receive the electrons than give them.  The two metals are called electrodes. Depending upon the metals chosen, one will become positively charged and the other becomes negatively charged. The interaction is causing electron exchange and this movement is what creates electricity.

Step one:  In the glass bowl stir the salt into the vinegar.

Step two: Wash the coins with the dish soap and dry them with one of the paper towels.  This will clean the coins from any obstructive material (dirt, hand oils, etc).

Step three: Cut a strip of aluminum foil roughly 1 inch by 3 inches in dimension and fold it “hotdog style” (holding the foil strip in orientation to make it tallest, not widest, fold it in half, from left to right, two times)…the end result will be a skinnier strip of foil, not a square of foil…if you wind up with a smaller fatter size (a square shape), you have folded it the wrong way. 

Step four: Cut 4 small squares of paper towel that are approximately 1 inch by 1 inch in size.

Step five: Put one dry paper towel onto the plate and place the folded aluminum strip in the center of the plate on top of the paper towel.  The battery will be built atop this aluminum strip.

Step six: Place one of the pennies on the aluminum strip, closest to one of the ends while ensuring the entire coin is on the strip. Lightly dip a square of the paper towel into the vinegar-salt and lay it onto the coin. The square of paper towel should not be sopping wet and dripping, just thoroughly damp and wet.

Step seven: Place one of the nickels on top of the paper towel which is on top of the penny (you are forming a stack and this is now considered a single cell, and ultimately a small battery).  The more it is replicated the greater the battery strength.

Step eight: To add another cell, place another penny on top of the nickel directly, then a soaked paper towel square, followed by another nickel. It is important as you add cells not to let the paper towels overlap and touch one another.  If they touch it will create a short and the battery will not work.  It is acceptable to cut the corners of the squares to ensure they will not touch one another (as they may want to droop given they are wet).

Step nine: Repeat step eight two more times, minimum, ensuring that a nickel winds up on top (this will help ensure that the pattern has been maintained).  Add as many cells as necessary to reach the desired voltage.

Step ten: Using a multimeter, press one of the leads atop the top-most nickel and the other lead on the aluminum strip (ensuring not to touch any of the cells).

Congratulations! You have now learned how to build a basic Voltaic Pile battery, a useful skill to master!

Important: The advantage of choosing this method to build batteries is its ease of scalability.  Increasing all of the ingredients proportionately (adding more cells) will create more voltage and allow the batteries to power more demanding electronics.

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