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PowerWells: How a startup is fixing the twin downside of vitality poverty and digital waste

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Now that the Cisco World Drawback Solver Problem 2022 winners have been formally introduced, you’ll wish to be taught extra about every profitable staff and the story behind every innovation. The Cisco World Drawback Solver Problem is a web-based competitors that awards money prizes to early-stage tech entrepreneurs fixing the world’s hardest issues. Since 2017, the competitors has awarded $3.25 million USD to 78 start-ups from 25 nations.

We’re excited so that you can be taught extra in regards to the 2022 profitable groups addressing a few of the greatest challenges we face by technology-based options.

PowerWells logoMeet PowerWells, a startup based mostly out of Australia that received a $75,000 USD Regional First Runner-Up Prize within the Asia Pacific, Japan and China (APJC) area. Their resolution addresses the twin world issues of digital waste administration and lack of entry to fundamental electrical energy.

I sat down with Bradley Clair, one of many co-founders of PowerWells, who’s passionate in regards to the intersection of digital waste recycling and vitality poverty options. He shared extra about how PowerWells is diverting batteries from landfills and the way they’re serving to folks make the swap from kerosene to wash vitality.

What downside is your know-how resolution making an attempt to unravel?

Brad: PowerWells is making an attempt to unravel the twin issues of vitality poverty and digital waste globally. We wish to substitute folks’s reliance on kerosene lanterns, which is horrible for the setting and your well being. A household sitting round just a little kerosene lamp is equal to smoking two packs of cigarettes per day. On the similar time, in Australia, solely about 2 % of lithium-ion batteries are at the moment being recycled or repurposed. Ninety-eight % of these batteries are probably ending up in landfills. There’s nonetheless a lot life in these discarded batteries which could be remodeled into sustainable types of vitality for individuals who don’t have entry to a standard electrical grid.

We recycle lithium-ion laptop computer batteries by pulling them aside and testing them. We get the great cells which are working, after which we use these cells to construct larger packs. We additionally use TV and pc screens, and we use the Perspex (a kind of acrylic) inside that and put that into the laser cutter to construct the battery enclosure. We primarily created a small-scale photo voltaic system that we will put into locations that don’t have entry to electrical energy so that folks can cost their telephones and have gentle.

At Substation33, the digital waste recycling facility we accomplice with, we in all probability processed over 10 tons of lithium-ion batteries. Of that 10 tons of lithium-ion batteries, about 80 % of these batteries are nonetheless okay to make use of. So, meaning from the 98 % of batteries probably going into landfills, 80 % of them are usable. And as a substitute of permitting these batteries to finish up in landfills, we would as properly use them to supply energy to folks with out entry to electrical energy.

Two women weaving at night, with a light on above.
The facility of sunshine for girls of Laindeha Village. In villages in Sumba, Indonesia, ladies are in a position to prolong productive hours of the day with gentle powered by PowerWells, permitting them to earn further earnings from actions together with weaving.

Are you able to clarify how the answer works?

Brad: What often occurs is we’ll have an entire heap of discarded computer systems right here at Substation. Then we’ll have folks pulling aside the computer systems and finding out the totally different parts. One of many parts is the battery. Our staff will check all of the cells, and some of these batteries are just like AA batteries. There are about six of those AA batteries in these laptop computer batteries. So, we’ll have folks testing all these cells, and it’s often solely one of many cells which are lifeless, however you’ll be able to’t use the battery anymore when that occurs.

So, we get the great cells which are working, after which they check all of the cells that also work to find out if they’re any good. We grade our batteries, and the grade helps us decide the applying. If it’s a nice battery, we’ll put that into our energy system, and if it’s not battery, we’ll put it into one thing else.

After the batteries have been examined, soldered, and the Perspex enclosure assembled, we solder the circuit board, which is designed right here at Substation33. The sensible factor in regards to the circuit board is that it reduces the capability of the cell to increase its life, so we don’t totally cost or discharge the battery. We’re solely utilizing about 50 % of the battery capability, and in doing so, you prolong the lifetime of the cells. So, it’s fairly totally different from what many different corporations are doing.

We are able to additionally gather and seize information factors like temperature, humidity, and vitality going out and in of the system, which supplies us perception into how the techniques are used and if there are any points. And from a Company Social Duty (CSR) perspective, whoever is investing in sponsoring these techniques can see the return on their affect.

After sending them abroad, there may be some last wiring, and so they solder the batteries onto the circuit board and put the wrap over techniques. They exit to the totally different villages, and the techniques are put in in locations that want them. The households that obtain the system pay about 5 {dollars} a month to have entry to electrical energy, and so they pay that off over three years. It finally ends up being about 180 {dollars} to pay for the techniques.

Two men and a woman wearing black tshirts and working with electronics
L to R: PowerWells Co-Founder Nicholas Kamols, Partnerships Supervisor Stephanie Leahy, and Co-Founder Bradley Clair processing digital waste out of Substation33, a core accomplice for PowerWells.

What’s revolutionary about the way in which you’re fixing the difficulty? What units your resolution aside?

Brad: So far as I’m conscious, I believe we’re one of many solely corporations which are utilizing digital waste on this approach to supply energy to locations that don’t have entry to electrical energy. Our objective is folks and setting first. We wish to make our techniques straightforward to fabricate utilizing regionally sourced e-waste, and straightforward to take care of to make sure the longevity of the system and that we don’t contribute to the issue we try to unravel. We have now additionally included Pay As You Go know-how, to make it simpler for households to repay our techniques, and we seize telemetry displayed through a web-based dashboard to visually display the affect of our techniques.

What impressed you to develop this resolution?

Brad: Throughout a startup weekend at Substation33, we had been requested to unravel a social or environmental downside. We had a gaggle member from West Papua, Indonesia, and he grew up in a village that didn’t have any entry to electrical energy. His dad and mom nonetheless stay there, and so they don’t have any energy. So, we determined to deal with vitality poverty, utilizing our expertise working with repurposed batteries. We made a battery, put it right into a paint bucket, hooked a photo voltaic panel as much as it, and put some USB charging ports on it. One of many judges requested us if we wished to go forward and do it, and two weeks later, we raised just a few thousand {dollars}.

We flew over to Jakarta to check all of the assumptions that we got here up with in the course of the startup weekend to see if it was one thing that will be worthwhile. We put in our prototype in a small village with out energy, and as quickly as we put it in there, all the youngsters grabbed their smartphones and tablets that had been utterly lifeless and began charging their gadgets. We examined all our assumptions inside just a few weeks of developing with the thought. We had been impressed to begin the enterprise as a result of we realized there was a necessity for it, and it was additionally doable.

Kids using PowerWells system to charge their devices
That is the second the youngsters connected their telephones and tablets to the system. You possibly can see the paint bucket system within the background.

How will profitable a prize within the Cisco World Drawback Solver Problem enable you to advance your enterprise?

Brad: Cisco’s funds will assist propel us ahead; it offers us a possibility to go from pilot challenge to scale. We wish to create extra scalable processes, native manufacturing, coaching and employment alternatives for native groups on the bottom. This prize offers us a fantastic platform to achieve out to different organizations and photo voltaic distributors, who would profit from studying tips on how to repurpose digital waste to supply vitality to folks in want.

Are you aware what you’ll use the prize cash for particularly?

 Brad: Because of COVID, we couldn’t journey abroad to fulfill new companions, and arrange manufacturing in Indonesia. We wish to use this cash to start the method with our companions Sumba Sustainable Options, who’re at the moment distributing our techniques. We’re additionally desirous about the rise of electrical automobiles (EV) and want to put a few of that cash into creating our subsequent product, which includes used EV batteries.

 What recommendation do you could have for different social entrepreneurs?

 Brad: It’s a tricky journey. You’ve received to be prepared to stay to it, even if you aren’t getting lots in return. Nevertheless it’s wonderful when corporations like Cisco again organizations like ours as a result of it means a lot, contemplating the quantity of time and effort you set into it. Maintain testing your entire assumptions, exit into the sphere, and keep it up.

Keep tuned for extra articles in our weblog collection, that includes interviews with each Cisco World Drawback Solver Problem 2022 profitable staff!


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