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Joule Thief

Joule Thief

A little info on the Joule Thief for those of you that have not heard about it. In the article “One Volt LED – A Bright Light” written by Z. Kaparnik from Swindon, Wilts, UK published in the November 1999 issue of the magazine “Everyday Practical Electronics” in the section “Ingenuity Unlimited”; described how to make a “Micro-torch circuit” using a very compact high frequency, high efficiency DC-DC converter design. The circuit consisted of a hand wound micro toroid, a 10K resistor and a ZTX450 transistor. The circuit was designed to run a LED that had a forward voltage drop greater than 1.8VDC from a single cell battery (1.5VDC) and could run as low as 750mV, this meant it could run from nearly dead batteries. This circuit has been propagated, experimented with, and changed at numerous sites and discussion boards and most significantly can now run white LEDs that have forward voltages greater than 3V. Someone nicknamed the circuit “Joule Thief” and it has stuck ever since.

A Joule Thief circuit is a simple three component, low Voltage DC-DC boost converter. The circuit can run on voltages as low as 300-400mV depending on the transistor used and windings on the transformer. The output voltage and current depend on the three components used in the circuit. As a minimum the transistor must have high enough gain and should have a collect-emitter voltage rating that is well above the maximum output peak voltage on the secondary winding ( I like at least a 25% margin ). The resistor is chosen so that it limits the maximum circuit current, by limiting the current to the base of the NPN transistor. The transformer can be wound 1:1 for simple operation or can be wound with more than two coils ( A third winding may be wound to create high voltages for running EL devices, Nixie tubes, neon bulbs, etc… ).

I decided to try and experiment with this circuit myself. I have made many variations of the circuit, some that could run to voltages as low as ~350mV and still produce 12V out (not much current though with such a low input voltage). In making the circuit, I decided it would be nice to have a PCB so that I did not have worry about problems that I was having with the air wired experimental circuits. The air wired circuit had several problems due to wiring shorts or opens, and was not robust enough to carry around. I thought it would be nice to produce some kits for other experimenters so that it would be easy to assemble and not have to worry about wiring problems. Visit the products page or see Joule Thief kits here: http://www.madscientisthut.com/Shopping/agora.cgi?product=Energy%20Harvesting&user4=Joule%20Thief%20Kits
Read the rest of the Joule Thief Blog for circuits, simulations, and experiments.