Millions of computers are discarded every year: the EPA says that more than 30 million laptop and desktop computers were disposed of in 2010, with about 20 million more going to recycling programs.

But just because your old laptop isn’t fast enough to handle the latest video games anymore doesn’t mean it can’t be put to good use.

Researchers at IBM and Radio Studio in India are working on a project that takes the batteries from discarded laptops and repackages them into systems that can power LED lights for up to 4 hours per day for up to a year. The idea is to squeeze the remaining juice from those batteries to provide light in developing nations where reliable electricity might be unavailable.


The team developed something called an UrJar, which takes rechargeable Lithium Ion cells from discarded notebook batteries and puts them into refurbished battery packs.

Then the pack is hooked up to a charging circuit, converters, and other hardware so that users can charge the batteries when energy is available and use the UrJar to power LED lights, fans, or other low-power electronics when there is no other source of power.

Prototypes have been tested in India where they’re designed for residential and commercial use: a shopkeeper can take the UrJar home and charge the battery when there’s available power from the energy grid and take it to work to power lights that allow that person to keep the shop open later into the evening even when the grid isn’t providing power.

The idea of taking unused batteries from one device and re-purposing them for use in another seems pretty simple. But if this project becomes more wide-spread it could have a big impact in two different areas: reducing global electronic waste and improving quality of life in areas with unreliable access to electricity.

Early testers were provided with UrJar units for free, but after using them for a few months said they’d be willing to spend up to $16 to buy one that came with a 1-year warranty. But according to an MIT Technology Review article on the project, IBM isn’t considering the UrJar as a commercial product, but instead says it could be something that’s offered for free in poor countries.

via Engadget

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10 replies on “Old laptop batteries could bring light to developing nations”

  1. I agree with Bill Smith. There are alternatives that are more efficient and have less potwntial to harm the environment. Solar roadway technology used on the roof or the walkway to individual home is a better investment IMHO.

  2. It’s a nice idea, but I’ve found that my laptop batteries need replacing before the laptop itself does. They’re not particularly long lived devices. It would be more to the point to set up small local factories, producing locally made SLA batteries with local materials. That would give employment to people, rather than shipping knackered E-Waste to other countries. My two penneth.

    1. I think I agree with you, but I think the point of the article is that for some period of time, a battery that is no longer useful in a laptop can still be useful for powering LED lights for a few hours per day.

      1. I guess it depends on what kind of current you can pull of it due to internal resistance… that’s always what kills batteries in the end! It’ll be interesting whether they do the same with EV batteries if EVs ever take off…

    2. True, but if you are like most you start shopping for a new battery when the running time drops to around half of original. So take a laptop battery that had sixty Watt/Hours and now only has thirty. That is enough to run several watts worth of LEDs all night and will still deliver the four hours they are targeting for several more years. A pack in a fixed location need not worry about the extra weight like a laptop does so the lower power to weight ratio of less fresh batteries is not a problem.

      So effectively the deal is a ‘free’ battery in exchange for them dealing with the final disposal a few years later. But even if they bought new cells they would still be disposing of them, they would just get a few additional years of service, or more likely a smaller pack since they wouldn’t buy enough initial capacity to run them any longer than the used ones. It truly is win/win for everybody involved.

  3. What happens to those old batteries when the remaining juice is gone? At first glance this sounds like a guilt-free way way to ship our electronic waste overseas.

    1. Now, if that plan could be combined with a way to recycle old batteries — using cheap labor and environmentally safe methods — that would be a win.

    2. that’s an intetesting consideration. would it necessarily be waste if the lithium still has resellable value after completely dead? (i don’t know the answer to this) it might still presumably leave some moulded plastics, some of which are pretty recyclable, but if transport costs aren’t covered it could surpass the resellable recycling value and still leave communities with waste? otoh i seem to recall waste incineration for energy and residual fly ash has become very advanced in at least the nordic countries and seems to have come a long way from burning garbage.

      seemingly. ofc, i could totally be wrong

    3. I guess the onus of properly disposing the dead batteries will fall on the user just like here in the USA. From my anecdotal experience, I’ve seen many people just throw away batteries and the poisonuous mercury filled fluorescent light bulbs in the trash with the rest of their garbage.

    4. My guess is that we are offing the waste to countries that can’t handle e waste to create exciting new business opportunities… elsewhere.

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