An EPFL startup has developed a new eco-friendly battery to power up homes and cell phones in Tanzania.
Founded by two graduates of EPFL’s School of Engineering (STI), hiLyte’s clean, affordable battery uses iron, water, coffee filters and carbon felt to produce electricity.
According to the scientists, a single charge is enough to power an LED bulb for five hours or charge a cell phone. Once used, the liquid inside can be safely released into the environment.
“Our technology has the potential to change people’s everyday lives,” says co-founder Briac Barthes.
“For one of the pilot families, the battery allowed their daughter to study in the evening. Having light can also transform the way people interact, bringing socialization opportunities for isolated and vulnerable families.”
According to the scientists, over a billion people worldwide live without electricity.
The problem is especially acute in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, where many families spend their evenings in darkness and most cell phone owners are unable to charge their device at home.
Currently, people living in rural parts of Tanzania use kerosene lamps to light up their homes when it gets dark. But kerosene is an expensive and highly flammable fuel that emits harmful soot particles when burned.
“Breathing kerosene smoke in a confined space for five hours is as bad for your lungs as smoking two packs of cigarettes,” explains Barthes.
The new reusable, four-compartment battery solves most of these problems. To generate power when needed, the user simply has to reload the unit with consumables.
First, sheets of iron foil, coffee-filter paper and carbon felt are inserted through the four doors. Next, the user pours a solution of water and iron sulfate powder inside the battery.
As the liquid soaks into the carbon filter, it slowly dissolves the iron foil. This process releases electrons, thereby generating electricity.
Users can then harness this power by connecting a lamp or cell phone to the battery’s built-in USB port.
The reaction produces iron 2 sulfate, a harmless liquid widely used as an agricultural fertilizer.
According to the scientists, the battery costs around half as much as a kerosene lamp. The unit itself retails for 12 dollars, while the consumables cost just 12 cents per recharge.
Image and content: EPFL