Project Update: Power Tests & Battery issues


I’ve been waiting for this red LED to light for quite some time..

The power drain test of the spare TinyDuino based pendulum unit (identical to the ones we deployed back in March) has finally completed.  The unit captured sensor readings every minute from April 23rd to June 9th (about 62000 records), at which point I bumped it up to a 10 second sample frequency to accelerate the test, which continued until Aug 6th.  Three AA Energiser Max alkaline batteries (rated at 2850 mAh each) powered the unit, and given the extremely low current, I would guess that we used at least half of this power before we hit the 2800 mV cutoff I set in the code to prevent unsafe SD card writing. While the HMC5883L compass & BMA250 accelerometer had voltage regulators & level shifters on each shield,  the unit drove the DS18B20 temperature sensor, the AT24C32 eeprom, and the DS3231 RTC with the raw Vcc (including the A4/A5 I2C lines), showing that those components are robust enough to handle a fairly large voltage swing:

Y axis: Vcc (millivolts)         X Axis: # of sensor records recorded

In total almost 390000 sensor records were recorded to the SD card. With 42 eeprom page writes per cycle (and inefficient Ascii character encoding via pString) the 4k AT24C32 on the $2 RTC board was filled almost 9300 times in this test.  This is approximately the same amount of data we would process from one year of operation at a 1.5 minute sample interval…and the design supports six batteries: three more than were used in this test.

This opens up two possible directions for the physical build: I can reduce the housing size so that it only accommodates three batteries, or I can keep the current dimensions, with some reasonable faith that even if we get some pretty bad cells, the loggers will still last for a year.  For now, I think I will take what’s behind curtain number two because another interesting event happened this last weekend….

At least we know the solvent weld is water tight!

At least we know the ABS to PVC solvent weld is tight!

I set up one of the new drip sensors with Duracell batteries straight from the package, and I left it under the rain gutter down-spout to give it something to record from time to time.  A few days later I returned to find the housing bowed out from internal pressure, and found upon opening that one of the batteries had leaked quite badly.  I think the electrolyte in alkaline batteries is potassium hydroxide, and as you can see it corroded the aluminum battery holder significantly. The PVC of the housing was unaffected, and the excess fluid simply pooled in the bottom of the rubber cap.


The package said these batteries were good to 2017

Fortunately the divider that monitors battery voltage put the Arduino to sleep as soon as the failing cell brought the supply below the 3.4 volts required by the regulator on the Pro Mini clone used in this build. This occurred within one day of the start of the unit, and the only electronic component to expire was the ADXL345 accelerometer, which probably suffered from too much physical strain on its solder joints, as it was welded to the ABS cap which was strongly convex before I opened the clamp.

So what happened here? The unit was in a shaded area, so I don’t think it failed due to excessive heat.  The batteries were purchased from Amazon, so it seems unlikely that they were counterfeit.  I could not find any scientific surveys or lab tests to determine how often consumer batteries leak like this, but it does reinforce the benefit of testing the units for a couple of days on the surface, before we deploy them.  I wonder if we will see any more of this…