BANGALORE, India — About 50 million lithium-ion laptop batteries are thrown away in the trash each year. A study has revealed that old laptop batteries still have enough energy in them to provide power to homes in slums. The International Business Machines Corporation, better known as IBM, an American multinational technology company, has conducted research on reusing discarded laptop batteries to provide ecological energy to poor nations.
With company headquarters in Armonk, New York, the IBM concept was conducted and tested in one of India’s largest cities, Bangalore, in 2014. One recent study revealed that old laptop batteries have enough energy to power slums in large developing countries like India. Over 1.4 billion people worldwide still do not have access to electricity, with over 550 million in Africa, and over 400 million in India. Many people who are without electricity live off the grid. With the new research, wasted batteries can be used to keep the lights on without needing access to the grid.
The IBM research group opened discarded laptop batteries and begun to extract single storage units known as cells. They first tested 35 cells individually, sorted out the good ones, and recombined them to turn into refurbished battery packs. For more support on the recycled batteries, the IBM group designed an UrJar device that uses lithium-ion cells from the old batteries to power low energy devices such as light. The device has the capacity to last at least a year.
After adjusting minor details to the recycled battery pack, the group then handed it to multiple users in Bangalore that lived in slums. The feedback from the trial was positive; a majority of the users responded positively to the renewed battery packs and added that they worked well. They concluded that 70 percent of the tested batteries had enough energy to keep a LED light on for more than four hours each day for a year.
“UrJar has the potential to channel e-waste towards the alleviation of energy poverty, thus simultaneously providing a sustainable solution for both problems,” concluded the team of researchers in India. E-waste is a major problem in the developing world, with about 14,200 computers thrown away each year in the United States; a majority of the unwanted technology ends up in poor nations. Using old batteries is cheaper than current power options, and also helps alleviate the e-waste problem.
Not only does the UrJar provide a way to use the maximum capacity in laptop batteries that would be wasted, it also provides a cleaner and possibly cheaper alternative than burning more fuel. The UrJar can help reduce energy poverty by moving e-waste in the right direction.
Computer Aid International is supportive of the UrJar and IBM’s researcher’s initiative to bring power to the slums. The United Kingdom information and communication technology charity is a nonprofit organization that provides refurbished PCs from the United Kingdom to education and nonprofit organizations in developing countries. Computer Aid has delivered over 200,000 refurbished computers to educational institutions and nonprofit organizations in more than 100 different nations.
“The usage of laptop batteries to provide electricity for homes in India is a great idea. We think that it is important that we develop more of this practice to improve sustainability, enable development and have less negative impact from technology on the environment,” said CEO Keith Sonnet of Computer Aid International.
The modified battery power packs are expected to be prevalent with street vendors as well as poor families living in the slums that are not on the electric grid. With the current economic downturn, alternatives such as solar power may not be the most logical choice.
The research will be reviewed and discussed at a conference to be held in San Jose, California, according to Technology Review from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
– Sandy Phan
Sources: Technology Review, World Bank, Computer Aid International