Q&A: Can I power a Raspberry Pi from a Lithium-ion battery?

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Q: Can I power a Raspberry Pi from a Lithium-ion battery?

A: Yep, absolutely. You’ll need to make sure of a few things but yes, it can definitely be done.

First up, you need to figure out the voltage of your Lithium-ion battery. These generally come as one (3.7V), two (7.4V) or three-cell (10.8V) voltages – which one you use affects what else you need.

If you’re using a 3.7V single-cell voltage battery, you’ll need what’s called a DC-DC Step-up converter. The Raspberry Pi runs off 5VDC through its microUSB port but a 3.7V single-cell Li-ion doesn’t deliver enough voltage. A DC-DC converter ‘steps up’ the voltage and if you choose one of many compact units available on eBay for under $5, they’ll give you a regulated 5VDC output and even a type-A USB host port ready for your USB cable.

For two- or three-cell Li-ion batteries, you have enough voltage here but what you need is either a linear regulator that simply takes in the battery voltage and knocks it down to 5VDC; or you get a step-down converter, which takes the battery voltage and converts it into a lower voltage more efficiently.

Of course, the other thing you have to think about is charging the Lithium-ion battery back up again and for that, you’ll need a dedicated Lithium-ion battery charger.

Personally, I think the simpler and more cost-effective option is to use AA-cells, preferrably long-life NiMH cells – they’re easy to charge and handle than most Lithium-ion batteries (the basic open-style, not the notebook-style battery) . A Raspberry Pi consumes around 500-600mA of current so you’ll need to factor that into the size of battery you use. The bigger the battery, the longer it’ll last but the heavier it’ll be if weight is an issue.

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