Old Laptop Batteries Light the Way in India
By Joni Blecher
Shops that aren’t on an electrical grid in Bangalore, India are starting to see the light, thanks to a new technology called “UrJar.” Developed by IBM Research India, UrJar turns discarded laptop computer batteries into refurbished battery packs capable of powering lights, cell phones and fans. With 40 percent of the world’s population living in areas that lack a reliable supply of electricity, this technology can bring light and backup power to areas that need it most.
Think the estimated 50 million laptop batteries junked each year are really dead? Not so much. There are still enough active cells in them that can be removed and re-used to help power low-energy devices. In a study led by Vikas Chadan, a research scientist with IBM, team members were able to extract lithium-ion cells from discarded batteries to create power packs. They combined the refurbished battery with a charging circuit, converters and other electronics needed to power external devices. In such a configuration, UrJar can power a 3W LED bulb, a 6W DC fan, and 3.5W mobile phone charger for four hours.
The researchers created three prototypes of UrJar, which translates to “energy box” in Hindi, and gave them out to five street vendors in Bangalore. In their tests, they found UrJar could keep a light illuminated for between four and six hours a day for up to three days on a single charge. That’s a vast improvement over the vendors’ existing lighting, which lasts less than three hours and requires daily recharging. For the vendors, it means more than just reliable light; it also means they can keep their shops open longer.
Researchers estimate that they could build 1,000 UrJar units for approximately 600 Indian rupees each—or about $10 a piece. The cost of materials includes the enclosure, electronics, a 3W LED light and a mobile phone charger. IBM is not planning on selling the devices however, and instead hopes to give them away as a means to alleviate “energy poverty” in the developing world while making constructive use of e-waste otherwise destined for a landfill.
Battery Disposal: What’s the Deal?
Thanks to the UrJar tests, it’s clear that most rechargeable batteries might not be completely useless after all. So what exactly is the right way to dispose of old batteries? Here’s what you need to know.
- Alkaline Batteries: These are non-rechargeable batteries used to power home electronics, such as toys, smoke alarms and remote controls (think AA, AAA, D, etc.). When these no longer work, they can be thrown out in household garbage in most U.S. states. California is the only state that requires recycling of these batteries, since they are considered universal waste.
- Rechargeable Batteries: Recycle these since they tend to contain heavy metals. When recycling batteries higher than 9 volts, put tape on the terminals.
- Batteries in Portable Electronics: Drop off laptop batteries and cell phone batteries at major retailers for recycling. Additionally, wireless carriers also have recycling and buy-back programs to collect old phones, tablets or discarded batteries.
- Button-Cell Batteries: Often found in watches and hearing aids, these batteries contain many re-usable materials and should be recycled.
- Car Batteries: These need to be brought to waste management centers. However, you can also return them to many auto retailers and service centers.
Not sure where the recycling center is in your area? Check out the interactive map at Call2Recycle to find a location nearby.
Joni Blecher is a freelance writer who has spent her career covering tech and a myriad of lifestyle topics. When she’s not writing, you can find her exploring the food scene in Portland, OR.