Build a Solar Charger for iPhones in 30 Minutes

altoids charger photo

Images via Joshua Zimmerman of BrownDogGadgets

Earlier this year, Joshua Zimmerman brought us the super easy DIY solar charger made from an Altoids tin. We loved the project, however, he noted that "Apple doesn't let its products play nice with generic USB chargers." So, he has created a new project that works specifically with iPhones and iPods.
This new Instructable is made specifically for those of us who want to charge our Apple gadgets, and it can be made for under $20 -- and it can be done in as little as 30 minutes (or 60 if you're less experienced with putting these little chargers together).

altoids charger photo

The parts include:
Charging Circuit
2x AA Battery Holder
2x Rechargeable Batteries
1N914 Blocking Diode
Solar Cell greater than 4V
Stranded Wire
And of course, the trusty Altoids Tin that is the mark of all things small, gadgety and DIY.

You can get an entire kit of all these parts at BrownDogGadgets, Joshua's website. It's the quick and easy way to get everything you need if you don't have parts laying around in the garage or workroom.

The steps are straightforward. First, you need to get the charging circuit right. Joshua notes, "Apple decided to have its newer iDevices not follow USB standards. When an iDevice is plugged in, it checks the data tabs on the USB to see what it's plugged into. Depending on what it finds it sucks more or less power, which makes sense but is annoying because NOTHING ELSE DOES THIS. Thus no charger out there has any power flowing to the data tabs. So the key is to find one that works for your newer iPod or iPhone. If you have an older iPod or iPhone when you don't really need to worry all that much."

After the charging circuit comes the batteries.

"We need to use rechargeable batteries for this project. I prefer NiMh AAs over everything else because they're easy to find, cheap, and reliable. You probably even have a few at home. Since we're using two AAs in this project our charger will have 2000 - 3000 mAh of current. You could even have two sets of AAs in parallel and boost that capacity to 4000 - 6000 mAh."

And of course, we need the solar panel component. Joshua reminds us that while a bigger panel would give us more power, we're limited in space since we want it to fit nicely inside an Altoids tin. There are 4V panels that fit perfectly in the tins (I've seen these for sale at Maker Faire and they're perfect for these projects).

Joshua's Instrucable gives the detailed step-by-step, but the short of it is first stripping the ends of your wires, and wrapping them around and soldering them to your solar cell:

altoids charger photo

Next comes wrapping the free ends of the positive and negative wires together, and soldering the wrapped wires to the circuite board (this is the trickiest part of the project):

altoids charger photo

And finally, covering everything in tape and gluing it to the inside of the Altoids tin:

altoids charger photo

And Voila! Done.

Joshua has some good tips for getting started with the charger to ensure it works with your iPhone or iPod, and you're good to go. A cheap, easy, and fun solar charger for your Apple gadgets!

altoids charger photo