PowerWells: How a startup is fixing the twin downside 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 successful 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 successful groups addressing among the greatest challenges we face via 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 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 downside is your know-how resolution attempting to resolve?

Brad: PowerWells is attempting to resolve the twin issues of vitality poverty and digital waste globally. We need to substitute folks’s reliance on kerosene lanterns, which is horrible for the surroundings 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 doubtlessly ending up in landfills. There’s nonetheless a lot life in these discarded batteries which will 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 great cells which are working, after which we use these cells to construct larger packs. We additionally use TV and laptop 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 basically 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, which means from the 98 % of batteries doubtlessly going into landfills, 80 % of them are usable. And as an alternative of permitting these batteries to finish up in landfills, we would as properly use them to offer energy to folks with out entry to electrical energy.

Two women weaving at night, with a light on above.
The ability of sunshine for girls of Laindeha Village. In villages in Sumba, Indonesia, ladies are capable of lengthen productive hours of the day with gentle 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 normally 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 checking out the totally different parts. One of many parts is the battery. Our staff will take a look at all of the cells, and most of these batteries are much 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 normally 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 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 sensible factor concerning the circuit board is that it reduces the capability of the cell to increase its life, so we don’t absolutely cost or discharge the battery. We’re solely utilizing about 50 % of the battery capability, and in doing so, you lengthen the lifetime of the cells. So, it’s fairly totally different from what many different corporations are doing.

We are able to additionally accumulate and seize information 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 may be 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 accomplice for PowerWells.

What’s progressive about the way in which you might be 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 manner to offer energy to locations that don’t have entry to electrical energy. Our aim is folks and surroundings first. We need to make our techniques straightforward to fabricate utilizing domestically sourced e-waste, and simple to take care of to make sure the longevity of the system and that we don’t contribute to the issue we are attempting to resolve. Now we have 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 impression of our techniques.

What impressed you to develop this resolution?

Brad: Throughout a startup weekend at Substation33, we had been requested to resolve a social or environmental downside. 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 mother and father nonetheless dwell there, and so they don’t have any energy. So, we determined to sort out 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 a couple of thousand {dollars}.

We flew over to Jakarta to check all of the assumptions that we got here up with throughout 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 fully lifeless and began charging their units. We examined all our assumptions inside a couple of 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 attainable.

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

How will successful a prize within the Cisco World Drawback Solver Problem assist you to advance your corporation?

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 an amazing platform to achieve out to different organizations and photo voltaic distributors, who would profit from studying tips on how to repurpose digital waste to offer vitality to folks in want.

Are you aware 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 at the moment distributing our techniques. We’re additionally enthusiastic about the rise of electrical automobiles (EV) and want to put a few of that cash into creating our subsequent product, which contains used EV batteries.

 What recommendation do you might have for different social entrepreneurs?

 Brad: It’s a tricky journey. You’ve bought to be prepared to stay to it, even once you aren’t getting quite a bit in return. However it’s superb when corporations like Cisco again organizations like ours as a result of it means a lot, contemplating the quantity of time and effort you place into it. Hold testing all your assumptions, exit into the sphere, and keep it up.


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

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