Disposable Vapes – repurposing the crappiest invention

I don’t vape. Mostly because I never smoked so didn’t feel the need to graduate to sucking a robot penis in public.
If you do then cool, everyone is really impressed by the big clouds you blow out and I expect you get bored of turning down sexual advances based on your highly upgraded vape kit.

If you smoke the disposable vapes you might not have considered what’s inside them. They look similar to a pen, you suck them off, then throw them away like an unwanted date. Sadly like jilted boyfriends many seem to end up in the gutter as there must be a large overlap between people who litter and people who suck mango smoke.

Due to the high current needed in a vape they don’t have cheap single use batteries but instead have relatively large Lithium batteries, fully rechargeable but the units are made with no provision to do so and become single use. The capacity of the batteries can be as much as half of a modern iPhone (1500mAh Vape vs 3227mAh for an iPhone 13) yet are thrown in the bin with little consideration for recycling or use of materials and associated risk down the waste stream of uncontrolled fires (if punctured or become wet they can be very dangerous). Most people wouldn’t throw an iPhone in the bin, you’d at least take some steps to try and ensure reuse or recycling.

According to Sky News “Users in the UK are throwing away around two disposable vapes every second. The number of discarded disposable vapes accounts for around 10 tonnes of lithium being sent to landfill or waste incinerators each year – enough of the metal to make batteries for 1,200 electric cars.”

So what should you do? Don’t use disposable vapes, switch to rechargeable kits or better yet stop. You look stupid. Seriously. If you need an excuse to stand outside the pub in the rain trying to look edgy and cool, then take up sword swallowing.

If like me you find a lot of them, you might be curious to take them apart.

The most common types I seem to find are Elux Legends 3500 puffs and Elfbar 600 puffs. Surely anything measured in puffs is self evidently stupid? (Asthma inhalers aside).

Let’s open the Elfbar. It’s about the size of a fat marker. And less useful. Smells worse too.

Inside of an Elfbar. A lot of (slimy) stuff for a single use product.

You may need to warm the bottom slightly with a lighter but should then pull it all out. If careful it will come as one section and in theory you could recharge and reuse. The sponge certainly seemed to be wet with skanky liquid still.
Inside is the sensor/light at the bottom, the battery, the heating element and pad full of tasty tasty chemicals before the mouthpiece you suck on as you regress to infancy.

In this instance the battery is a 13400, 3.7V, 550mAh and 2.04Wh – it’s pretty small. A typical alkaline or NiMH battery in the standard “AA” size has about 2000 to 3000 mAh but at only 1.5V.

Mostly to stop the stench, bin everything but the tube, the ends, the battery, and the rubber sections can be useful for separating the components if you re-use the tube.

Next the Elux and as before, warming the bottom should allow you to pull it out.
Same arrangement as before, and again bin everything but the battery, end caps and rubber sections. It’s handy to leave some length on the wires if able to allow some basic testing before re-use.

Same arrangement of stuff in an Elux. If you open carefully it will come out as one. I wasn’t careful.

In this instance the battery is a 20400, 3.7V, 1500mAh and 5.55Wh – it’s three times the size of the Elfbar but still small compared to a more common 18650 battery as used in rechargeable vapes at around 4200mAh.

Battery Sizes

The battery numbering isn’t random, it’s the diameter then the length in mm.

18650 “standard” rechargeable vape battery and common for head torches, and lots of products is 18mm diameter, 65mm long.

20400 battery used in the Elux is 20mm diameter, 40mm long. This 2mm difference in diameter means it may not fit in enclosures designed for the 18650 even if you can get around the reduced length.

The 13400 battery in the Elfbar is 13mm diameter and 40mm long.

This powerbank case just about squeezes a 20400 battery in place of a 18650. If you could fit two and get around the reduced length it would be a decent capacity of 3000mAh.
The positive and negative are denoted by tape (red is positive) and the labelling. Make sure you get correct orientation.

What now?
Firstly you can’t just throw the battery in a standard AA charger pack. Aside from the size issue it needs to have battery protection during charging and use. Fortunately you can buy suitable USB style boards to solder on and they are typically £2 each in bulk on eBay and also Amazon.

TP4056 5V 1A Micro USB 18650 Lithium Battery Charging Board

TP4056 and comes with various options of USB cable sockets to suit your need. They are a complete constant current-voltage linear charging module for single-cell 3.7 V lithium batteries. In use it continuously monitors the voltage level of the battery during charging and discharging.
They are wired up as below (thanks for diagram Electrothinks) with the battery, the load (output via switch or however you wish to use it) and option to hardwire an input rather than USB if needed. Pay attention when ordering as some don’t have the additional solder points for the load/output so only useful for charging.

LED colour – the TP4056 LED indicators will vary depending on supplier but most seem to have steady red/amber for charging, a flashing red/amber for battery issue and a steady blue for fully charged.

The output of the TP4056 is exactly the same voltage as what the battery is providing, and not stepping up the voltage to a consistent 5V for USB use for example.

A TP4056 (charge only) version in a cut about memory card case. Charging a 1500mAh unit.

USB Power Bank Circuit Board 134N3P

These are similar boards to the TP4056 but have a full size USB at 5V (not 3.7V) out for the load making ideal for power bank use. They typically have a completely different LED system – flashing red/amber light for charging, a solid red/amber for fully charged. When discharging have a steady blue light.

A 134N3P unit charging a 550mAh Elfbar battery. Will test charge on Garmin and look into making a compact version, potentially with the Garmin specific lead hardwired. Black wire was from the Elfbar and a little small for continuous use.

Don’t want to buy a board to test if the battery is any good?

In my case I had a spare power bank kit designed for a 18650 battery that I could temporarily bodge a 13400 battery in to check. Copy at your own risk etc.

Charging via micro-USB
Output via full size USB. Blue LED to indicate use.

As noted above I’m keen to make up a super compact power bank for charging my Garmin GPS during long ultras. Depending on models these have 320 up to 420mAh batteries so even the smaller 550mAh battery unit from an Elfbar should be enough for a full charge, possibly two long charges. If I can do it by 3D printing an enclosure or even bodging something with excess duct tape I can have a free charger that if I do happen to lose or leave at an aid station I won’t cry about.

Ghetto version inside an Elfbar

In the meantime I made up a very cheap and nasty power bank from the Elfbar using a spare control board and power leads from a freebie promotional battery pack I was given at a trade show that died (batteries expanded and were in danger of splitting).

USB input and output leads are already attached from previous life, just needs battery on the B+ and B-

I soldered the Elfbar battery to the board and then wrapped everything liberally in electrical tape to prevent any shorting on the metal case.

If you solder like a blind man then cover it with tape.

Shove it all back in with a very bodgy cutting of the mouthpiece to squeeze the cable through and it’s done. Not pretty but surprisingly handy. Charge via full size USB, and then use on devices with Apple or micro-USB.

Fitting a 20400 Elux battery into an eBay case

Picked up a DIY powerbank case from eBay for £2 that looked like it had enough room to squeeze the extra 2mm of the 20400 battery in and potentially could be cut down. I’ve yet to find any kits designed for the vape batteries so best to get one that suits the 18650 and see if you can squeeze in.

Has the same combined micro and full size USB for charging and discharge. Trimming the middle row of splines either side of battery allowed a nice tight fit without distorting the case.
Didn’t want to make permanent changes to case so soldered + to the board and – to the bottom spring for test use.
Flashing light for charging and blue when discharging, just about visible through case.

Other ideas

Will continue to have a play. Looks like potential to squeeze two of the larger batteries into a single Elux with a 3D printed end cap to add some space.

Also potential to use the Elfbar battery inside the original case and cut down a little as a lightweight 18650 battery alternative for emergency use – some of my ultras require a backup battery even when taking place in daylight.

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