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


Now that the Cisco World Drawback Solver Problem 2022 winners have been formally introduced, you’ll need 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 concerning the 2022 profitable groups addressing a number of the greatest challenges we face via technology-based options.

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

I sat down with Bradley Clair, one of many co-founders of PowerWells, who’s passionate concerning 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 change from kerosene to scrub vitality.

What drawback is your expertise resolution attempting to resolve?

Brad: PowerWells is attempting to resolve the twin issues of vitality poverty and digital waste globally. We need to change folks’s reliance on kerosene lanterns, which is horrible for the surroundings and your well being. A household sitting round a bit kerosene lamp is equal to smoking two packs of cigarettes per day. On the identical time, in Australia, solely about 2 % of lithium-ion batteries are presently being recycled or repurposed. Ninety-eight % of these batteries are doubtlessly ending up in landfills. There’s nonetheless a lot life in these discarded batteries which could be reworked into sustainable types of vitality for individuals who don’t have entry to a conventional electrical grid.

We recycle lithium-ion laptop computer batteries by pulling them aside and testing them. We get the nice cells which can be 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 are able to put into locations that don’t have entry to electrical energy so that individuals can cost their telephones and have mild.

At Substation33, the digital waste recycling facility we companion 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 doubtlessly going into landfills, 80 % of them are usable. And as a substitute of permitting these batteries to finish up in landfills, we’d as effectively 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 ladies of Laindeha Village. In villages in Sumba, Indonesia, ladies are capable of prolong productive hours of the day with mild powered by PowerWells, permitting them to earn extra earnings from actions together with weaving.

Are you able to clarify how the answer works?

Brad: What often occurs is we’ll have a complete 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 elements. One of many elements is the battery. Our staff will take a look at all of the cells, and a lot 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 can be useless, however you possibly can’t use the battery anymore when that occurs.

So, we get the nice cells which can be working, after which they take a look at 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 appliance. If it’s a nice battery, we’ll put that into our energy system, and if it’s not an excellent 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 good factor concerning 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 firms are doing.

We will additionally acquire and seize knowledge factors like temperature, humidity, and vitality going out and in of the system, which provides us perception into how the techniques are used and if there are any points. And from a Company Social Accountability (CSR) perspective, whoever is investing in sponsoring these techniques can see the return on their impression.

After sending them abroad, there’s some closing 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 companion for PowerWells.

What’s progressive about the best way you’re fixing the problem? What units your resolution aside?

Brad: So far as I’m conscious, I believe we’re one of many solely firms which can be utilizing digital waste on this means to supply energy to locations that don’t have entry to electrical energy. Our objective is folks and surroundings first. We need to make our techniques straightforward to fabricate utilizing regionally sourced e-waste, and simple to keep up to make sure the longevity of the system and that we don’t contribute to the issue we are attempting to resolve. We’ve got additionally integrated Pay As You Go expertise, to make it simpler for households to repay our techniques, and we seize telemetry displayed by way of a web based dashboard to visually show the impression of our techniques.

What impressed you to develop this resolution?

Brad: Throughout a startup weekend at Substation33, we have been requested to resolve a social or environmental drawback. We had a bunch 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 dwell 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 needed to go forward and do it, and two weeks later, we raised a number of thousand {dollars}.

We flew over to Jakarta to check all of the assumptions that we got here up with through the startup weekend to see if it was one thing that might 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 children grabbed their smartphones and tablets that have been utterly useless and began charging their gadgets. We examined all our assumptions inside a number of weeks of arising with the concept. We have been impressed to start out the enterprise as a result of we realized there was a necessity for it, and it was additionally attainable.

Kids using PowerWells system to charge their devices
That is the second the children attached their telephones and tablets to the system. You may see the paint bucket system within the background.

How will profitable a prize within the Cisco World Drawback Solver Problem aid you advance what you are promoting?

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

Have you learnt what you’ll use the prize cash for particularly?

 Brad: Attributable to COVID, we couldn’t journey abroad to satisfy new companions, and arrange manufacturing in Indonesia. We need to use this cash to start the method with our companions Sumba Sustainable Options, who’re presently distributing our techniques. We’re additionally fascinated by 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 troublesome journey. You’ve acquired to be keen to stay to it, even while you aren’t getting loads in return. But it surely’s wonderful when firms 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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