Day: September 29, 2019

Kickstarter darling EcoFlow Delta battery generator is not what it seems

The Delta EcoFlow is a new battery generator available on Kickstarter with incredible claimed features. Most are true, some are not.

Device like the Delta offer incredible battery storage capacity. Designed for more than just recharging phones and tablets, these can run refrigerators, pumps, power tools and medical equipment. They’re great for emergencies, camping and general use where power is not available. Similar devices have been on the market for some years so I was eager to verify EcoFlow’s claims.

The EcoFlow Delta can recharge from a wall outlet to 80% in an hour. It’s amazing. The GoalZero Yeti battery of a similar size takes 25 hours. This capability means the Delta can be used and then reused more than competitors.

The device is currently on Kickstarter where it quickly acquired over $2 million from over 2,000 backers. The device’s features listed on the Kickstarter page are clear, but after testing a pre-production unit, I found several of these advertised capabilities and features misleading or false.

The Delta is the latest product from EcoFlow. The company’s founder, Eli Harris, says it’s “The world’s strongest battery generator.” I found the Delta to be a competent battery generator with similar capabilities to competitors but it’s hampered by loud fans.

In short, if you need a battery generator that can recharge much faster than others, the Delta is a great option. Otherwise, the GoalZero Yeti makes more sense for most people.

Battery generators are a safe and more portable option than their gas counterparts. There are no harmful fumes or fuel allowing them to be used indoors, nearer the appliances or tools. Most often (though not with the Delta) they’re silent, too, making them perfect for a camping or hunting companion.

In real-world operation, this quick recharge time could come in handy. Say, on a construction site or in an emergency incident where power is still available, but out of reach of an extension cord — situations where loud gas generators are generally used. While the Delta is louder than other battery generators, it is not as loud as a gas generator.

The Delta battery comes packaged with a warning that the battery must be fully charged before use. I generally ignore warnings, but I followed this one and immediately plugged it in. Instantly, fans whirled to life and the screen popped on displaying the current charge levels and how long it would take to get to 100%. The Delta was at 30% and would take 45 minutes to fully recharge. It worked as advertised and 45 minutes later the battery was at 100%.

Recharging the Delta battery was a noisy affair. The fans are loud and continue to run after the battery is fully charged. Compared to a GoalZero Yeti, this was a shock. The Yeti is silent where the Delta is not. I keep a Yeti 1400 in my basement, plugged in and ready to use. But with the Delta, even when the battery is fully charged, loud fans still run presumably to keep the unit cool. EcoFlow says the shelf life on the Delta is over a year where the GoalZero Yeti is six months. To me, I would rather have the battery constantly plugged into power so I know it’s ready to go when needed.

The Delta recharges without an AC power inverter (a power brick); it uses the same sort of cable as a desktop PC. The company says by passing through the inverter directly, the Delta can increase charging speed to more than 10 times the traditional AC to DC adapter cable. This also means it’s easier to replace a lost charging cable.

The Delta is much lighter than competing products and its design makes it easier to move. EcoFlow says it’s rugged, and it feels the part. Even my pre-production sample feels tough and ready to go to work. Large rubber pads keep the battery in place and the tough plastic feels more durable than competing products.

There are a handful of plugs and outlets around the device, including USB, USB-C and six AC outlets. It’s a lot and similar in capacity to large gas generators. Most battery generators have much fewer AC outlets, though I’ve often supplemented the capability with small power strips.

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Kickstarter Beware

The Delta is currently on Kickstarter for pre-order and exceeded its goal. I fear a good amount of backers will be upset to learn several notable advertised features are false or misleading.

The Delta is not silent. Under operation, either recharging a cell phone or running a power tool, loud fans run on both sides of the battery. These fans run when recharging the battery, too — even when the battery is fully charged. The Kickstarter page and video lists throughout that the Delta produces no noise.

ecoflow delta

These fans detract from the appeal of the Delta battery. They’re loud. You have to raise your voice to speak over them. Because of these fans, I wouldn’t take the Delta camping or use it in the backyard for a quiet get-together. During power outage situations, I wouldn’t want to sleep near it. But I would use it for power tools — like EcoFlow does in one of its demo videos.

Only one of the four videos on the Kickstarter page allows potential owners to hear the Delta battery. The third video on the page shows the battery powering a hammer drill. Six seconds into the video, the drill stops running, and the battery’s fans are audible.

There are a handful of competing batteries that operate without noisy fans. I’ve taken GoalZero’s Yeti batteries camping and they’re great despite their heft. They’re truly silent and can still recharge from solar panels and car batteries. I’ve used battery generators from Jackery, too, and those are also silent.

I spoke with Ecoflow CEO and Founder Eli Harris during the run-up of this review. He was clear that Ecoflow’s main competitor is not other large batteries, but rather small gas generators available from Honda and others. And that makes a lot of sense. Those are the best selling generators available and widely used for emergency and convenience. These small generators are loud, and the Ecoflow Delta is quieter than those options while still offering most of the power capabilities.

When asked why the Kickstarter page is misleading, he said “that fallacy has never been called out” and he would check with his team about the use of “superlatives and blanket statements.” Three days later, the Kickstarter page still lists the false claims.

EcoFlow claims the Delta battery can run a variety of power tools, including drills, circular saws, power washers and welders. I found this capability hit or miss. Despite some tools being under the claimed amperage and wattage of the Delta battery, the battery wouldn’t power my small or large circular saw or power washer. EcoFlow also claims the battery can recharge a Tesla; it doesn’t recharge my Chevy Volt.

Many tools require extra power when starting up, and I found most of these surge requirements to exceed the capabilities of the Delta battery. This is the same with other batteries like the GoalZero Yeti. In fact, I couldn’t find one tool in my workshop that the Delta powered and the Yeti did not; they worked the same for me, and I have a lot of tools.

Don’t mistake what I’m saying. The EcoFlow Delta has impressive capabilities mainly around its recharge capabilities. This makes it an attractive option for the right use. It’s compact and solid. It has a lot of outlets and is easy to move. This could be a lifesaver in emergency situations where a person still has access to power.

The Delta has some downsides just like other battery generators. It doesn’t offer a dramatic increase in electrical output over competitors so don’t expect this battery to power larger devices. Don’t expect a silent operation, either. This massive battery is loud though, I admit, that’s a relative term. It’s louder than other battery generators but less loud than a gas generator.

I would rather have a silent battery generator that recharges slowly versus a noisy, fast-recharging battery. I use my battery generators camping and around the house when the power goes out. The Delta makes sense on a construction site or when providing power is priority. I just can’t get over the loud fans.

Elon Musk says Starship should reach orbit within six months – and could even fly with a crew next year

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk delivered an update about Starship, the company’s nest generation spacecraft, which is being designed for full, “rapid reusability.” Musk discussed the technology behind the design of Starship, which has evolved somewhat through testing and development after its original introduction in 2017.

Among the updates detailed, Musk articulated how Starship will be used to make humans interplanetary, including its use of in-space refilling of propellant, by docking with tanker Starships already in orbit to transfer fuel. This is necessary for the spacecraft to get enough propellant on board post-launch to make the trip to the Moon or Mars from Earth – especially since it’ll be carrying as much as 100 tons of cargo on board to deliver to these other space-based bodies.

Elon Musk

These will include supplies for building bases on planetary surfaces, as well as up to 100 passengers on long-haul planet-to-planet flights.

Those are still very long-term goals, however, and Musk also went into detail about development of the current generation of Starship prototypes, as well as the planned future Starships that will go to orbit, and carry their first passengers.

The Starship Mk1, Mk2 and the forthcoming Mk3 and Mk4 orbital testers will all feature a fin design that will orient the vehicles so they can re-enter Earth’s atmosphere flat on their ‘bellies,’ coming in horizontal to increase drag and reduce velocity before performing a sort of flip maneuver to swing past vertical and then pendulum back to vertical for touch-down. In simulation, as shown at the event, it looks like it’ll be incredible to watch, since it looks more unwieldy than the current landing process for Falcon boosters, even if it’s still just as controlled.

SpaceX Starship Mk1 29

The front fins on the Starship prototype will help orient it for re-entry, a key component of reuse.

Musk also shared a look at the design planned for Super Heavy, the booster that will be used to propel Starship to orbit. This liquid-oxygen powered rocket, which is about 1.5 times the height of the Starship itself, will have 37 Raptor engines on board (the Starship will have only six) and will also feature six landing legs and deployable grid fins for its own return trip back to Earth.

In terms of testing and development timelines, Musk said that the Starship Mk1 he presented the plan in front of at Boca Chica should have its first test flight in just one to two months. That will be a flight to a sub-orbital altitude of just under 70,000 feet. The prototype spacecraft is already equipped with the three Raptor engines it will use for that flight.

Next, Starship Mk2, which is currently being built in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at another SpaceX facility, will attempt a similar high altitude test. Musk explained that both these families will continue to compete with each other internally and build Starship prototypes and rockets simultaneously. Mk3 will begin construction at Boca Chica beginning next month, and Mk4 will follow in Florida soon after. Musk said that the next Starship test flight after the sub-orbital trip for Mk1 might be an orbital launch with the full Super Heavy booster and Mk3.

Elon Musk 1

Musk said that SpaceX will be “building both ships and boosters here [at Boca Chica] and a the Cape as fast as we can,” and that they’ve already been improving both the design and the manufacture of the sections for the spacecraft “exponentially” as a result of the competition.

The Mk1 features welded panels to make up the rings you can see in the detail photograph of the prototype below, for instance, but Mk3 and Mk4 will use full sheets of stainless steel that cover the whole diameter of the spacecraft, welded with a single weld. There was one such ring on site at the event, which indicates SpaceX is already well on its way to making this work.

This rapid prototyping will enable SpaceX to build and fly Mk2 in two months, Mk3 in three months, Mk4 in four months and so on. Musk added that either Mk3 or Mk5 will be that orbital test, and that they want to be able to get that done in less than six months. He added that eventually, crewed missions aboard Starship will take place from both Boca Chica and the Cape, and that the facilities will be focused only on producing Starships until Mk4 is complete, at which point they’ll begin developing the Super Heavy booster.

Starship Mk1 night

In total, Musk said that SpaceX will need 100 of its Raptor rocket engines between now and its first orbital flight. At its current pace, he said, SpaceX is producing one every eight days – but they should increase that output to one every two days within a few months, and are targeting production of one per day for early in Q1 2019.

Because of their aggressive construction and testing cycle, and because, Musk said, the intent is to achieve rapid reusability to the point where you could “fly the booster 20 times a day” and “fly the [starship] three or four times a day,” the company should theoretically be able to prove viability very quickly. Musk said he’s optimistic that they could be flying people on test flights of Starship as early as next year as a result.

Part of its rapid reusability comes from the heat shield design that SpaceX has devised for Starship, which includes a stainless steel finish on one half of the spacecraft, with ceramic tiles used on the bottom where the heat is most intense during re-entry. Musk said that both of these are highly resistant to the stresses of reentry and conducive to frequent reuse, without incurring tremendous cost – unlike their initial concept, which used carbon fibre in place of stainless steel.

Musk is known for suggesting timelines that don’t quite match up with reality, but Starship’s early tests haven’t been so far behind his predictions thus far.