Laptop batteries light up Indian slums

There is a red donation box in the high school office, and the funds and other various donations go to a different charitable cause each week. Money, old toys, stationery, clothes, and even things like new toothbrushes are donated.

However, an object many SAS students have lying around and has never been donated before has the power to keep an LED light on for more than four hours a day for a year.

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Old laptop batteries like these are easily converted to cheap electricity. Photo by Flickr user smilemark. Creative Commons

An IBM study analyzed a sample of discarded laptop batteries and found 70% had enough power to keep an LED light on more than four hours a day for a year. With the increasing amount of e-waste every year, using old batteries to power slums and other small houses is a cheaper and more efficient way of dealing with e-waste while helping those who need it.

More facilities that quickly convert laptop batteries to batteries used for powering homes are being created by the computer manufacturing giant IBM. These power packs are expected to be popular with street vendors, who cannot afford to be on the electric grid, as well as poor families living in slums.

The IBM team created what they called an UrJar – a device that uses lithium-ion cells from old laptop batteries to power low-energy devices like lights.

The research is aimed at aiding approximately 400 million people in India who are off grid.

A simple diagram of how the UrJar works. Photo by Pierre Lecourt (Creative Commons)

Other self-sustaining options like solar power are considerably more expensive and logistically do not work for the 400 million scattered people in India who need light.

If the UrJar is made in sufficiently large volume, researchers estimate the price per unit at just 600 rupees, or USD$8.60.

UrJar has the potential to channel e-waste towards the alleviation of energy poverty, simultaneously providing a sustainable solution for both problems.

E-waste is a major problem, particularly in the developing world where all of it is dumped. IBM’s research states that 142,000 computers are thrown away in the US daily, which adds up to 50 million a year.

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A typical e-waste junkyard. Photo by Flickr user takomabibelot. (Creative Commons)

Senior Andrew Schaefer, officer of SAVE club, said,”Upcycling batteries not only benefits the environment, but it also helps give power to the slums. It is effective and works both ways.”

India’s predicament is that it receives most of the world’s e-waste and produces 32 tonnes a day of its own.

With the 1,300 high school students that own independent laptops, SAS could provide a significant number of laptop batteries. The number keeps growing when you include all the laptops of the staff and the students in the middle school.

Senior Seiji Takahashi, member of Project India, said, “I think it’s an idea with potential, but I’m not too sure how heavily the SAS community would commit to donating laptop batteries as they can be a pain to gather.”

Many clubs at SAS are directed at aiding India, and as this IBM project is directed at helping India, SAS laptop battery donations may be considered for future charity events.

The power of these laptop batteries are still being worked on by IBM as they’re a relatively new technology, but once UrJars are ready for commercial release, SAS may be able to contribute significantly to aiding India’s poor and reducing e-waste.

Author: Jiwon Jeong

Jiwon Jeong is a senior and a Reporter for The Eye. This is his first year on staff and twelfth at SAS. He moved to Singapore from Seoul, South Korea, when he was four. In his free time, he enjoys listening to music, watching soccer, and writing creatively. You can contact him at jeong18794@sas.edu.sg.

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