Yesterdays Laptop Battery or Tomorrow’s Power Source

Anyone with a laptop more than a year old, knows that the battery in most units can barely run Microsoft Excel and a web browser for than 40 mins without demanding a charge – so it might come as a surprise to find out that most old laptop batteries could soon be powering communities in the developing world.

Computer hardware giants IBM have this week released a study that says old lithium-ion batteries such as those found in laptop computers could have enough life in them to power homes in rural slums.

The study found that 70% of laptop batteries tested were capable of keeping an LED light array on in a home for as much as 4 hours per day for an entire year.

Researchers on the project described the findings as a ‘win/win’ for both developing countries and the rest of the world.

Slum areas would benefit as they may well be years away from being connected to a city or country’s commercial energy grid, helping them charge phones or have simple lighting systems and improving quality of life.

The rest of the world would also see the benefit of having a worthwhile way to repurpose e-waste.

Notoriously tricky to dispose of, e-waste – electronics and appliances – often cost comparatively large amounts to dismantle and recycle safely thanks to components containing battery acid and other potentially hazardous substances.

IBM say that channeling waste electronics into something that benefits developing communities has already proven popular in the streets of Bangalore this year.

In conjunction with their India-based research team, IBM created ‘UrJar’; a device created from lithium-ion cells from old batteries to low-energy components, such as an LED light.

The device has proved popular with homes, and street vendors; who sell them for just 600 rupees (about £7) for a device that will last a year.

According to the report “UrJar has the potential to channel e-waste towards the alleviation of energy poverty, thus simultaneously providing a sustainable solution for both problems.”, and the scheme has already come in for praise from various corners who say reusing this technology to power slums is better than simply recycling.