Despite the expense of our smartphones, the sad truth is that we replace them with a newer and better model after, on average around two years, while the lithium ion battery that powers them could actually last for a further three years. Every unfashionable device that is thrown away, not only adds to the world’s ever-growing pile of environmental waste but also squanders that still viable reservoir of power.
Researchers at Kyung Hee University in Seoul may now have come up with a novel recycling option for these wasted batteries: not only to cut down on our e-waste, but to provide energy for solar-powered LED lighting in rural communities.
Boucar Diouf, a professor in the Department of Information Display at the university, outlined details of their proposed program in the American Institute of Physics (AIP) Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.
In poor rural communities, kerosene lamps and candles are widely used as the standard light sources in homes. Sadly, not only are these lights harmful to health, but they are also more expensive and less efficient than a solar lighting system.
However, the cost and durability of batteries needed in photovoltaic systems usually prohibits poorer communities from adopting solar alternatives. Some communities improvise systems using old lead-acid car batteries but, although cheap, these do not have good battery life.
In contrast, a standard lithium ion phone battery can power an LED lamp bright enough for reading and writing for around six hours, wired to a small solar panel and the system can operate without any maintenance for around three years. The researchers got similar results lighting a room with a 12-volt system using three mobile phone batteries, solar panel and 5-watt LED lamp – all built for under $25!
This is a long way from generating power from the sun using solar panels in Belfast, as you might do with a company like www.solarpanelni.com. Nevertheless, it highlights how solar is seen as the future for energy generation for many people around the world.
It is an exciting thought that the use of recycled phone batteries from the UK and NI might soon enable small communities in developing countries to overcome the challenges of cost and durability of batteries in photovoltaic systems and finally replace kerosene with low-cost sustainable energy.