Author – Arushi Prakash
The last two decades have been marked by a massive scramble to find new and sustainable ways to generate electricity. People have tried to capture the power of wind, water and the sun to replace conventional sources of electricity such as coal and petroleum. However, renewable energy needs to be stored in electric batteries so that it can be used when needed. Today, electric batteries are omnipresent at home across numerous electronic gadgets such as mobile phones, remote controls, wall clocks, watches. These can be single-use (disposable after the first use) or secondary (rechargeable) batteries.
Conventional batteries generate electricity through a chemical reaction, and due to these chemicals, they pose a threat to the environment. Batteries contain toxic chemicals like lead, cadmium and mercury which when disposed in garbage dumps cause environmental damage. Chemicals in these batteries can be poisonous and/or corrosive, which makes them a menace in case a battery leaks. To overcome these damaging effects, some student innovators have developed a variety of sustainable eco-friendly batteries, which have been submitted for the Ecoideaz Innovation Contest:
A team from the International Youth Society of Eco Friendly & Renewable Technology (IYSERT) has developed a unique technology that aims to solve the problem of waste management and production of sustainable energy. The team has used easily available materials like a bucket as their container, vinegar and metal strips as conductors. To make the electrical connection, they use copper and zinc strips, connecting wires and porous strips.
The most interesting part of their product is the input – organic kitchen waste like vegetable and fruit peels, rice and food leftovers. Vinegar is added to this waste. When this circuit comes together, it works on the same principle of other batteries. Ions (charged particles) that are formed due to the reaction of vinegar with the kitchen waste, move into the copper wires. This causes a flow of charge, which is essentially electricity.
A few advantages of this simple Eco-Battery are:
- Utilizes kitchen waste that would otherwise be dumped in landfills that pollute the land
- Cheap since the kitchen waste costs close to nothing, and the metal wires can be used cycle after cycle
- When the container size is small, it can be easily carried around and used as an on-the-go charger for cellular phones or flashlights
This new technology has a few limitations too:
- After electricity is generated from the waste, the waste becomes toxic since there have been plenty of chemical reactions due to the movement of ions
- Kitchen waste becomes corrosive after a while and can stain the container or even damage it
- Waste often emanates a bad smell which limits the places that you can carry this device
St. Xavier’s Solar Charger
Another team of innovative students led by Ankita Basu from St. Xavier’s College in Kolkata has added a new twist to the conventional solar charger by adding multiple USB connectors to one end of the circuit that allows you to connect and charge various devices. The basic elements of this solar photovoltaic cell are simple: it is made up of silicon, a material that generates electricity when exposed to sunlight. So, the infinitely available sunlight, especially in a country like India, is the only input.
The apparatus required for the circuit are a printed circuit board, IC LM317, transistor BD135, heat sink, Presets of different values, 1.2ohm/2w metal oxide resistor, 6A diode, 1N5408, rotary switch, on-off switch, inclination meter, LED with holder, meter, fuse, connector, box (4″x7″), knob, solar panel (6v, 12v), solder and connecting wires.
This innovation has a number of positives:
- Cost of input is zero, since sunlight is practically free
- It does not generate any waste
- The lifetime of a cell is very long (6-10 years)
- This device is small and portable
- Multiple USBs allow the solar battery to be used for charging a number of devices
- The circuit is simple and is easily available in the market
This pilot project has implemented it the Computer Science department, of St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata as well displayed in various science fairs. One major limitation for this solar charger is that the solar panel is costly due to the presence of pure silicon and it is weather dependent.
While their separate advantages and disadvantages give a good insight into the capabilities of the products, a quick comparison of both products will allow us to judge them even better.
Eco-Battery Tech specs –
Parameters IYSERT Eco-Battery Solar Charger
Input Organic kitchen waste Sunlight
Electricity production depends on
– Amount of kitchen waste
– Number of plates – Size of solar panel
– Sunlight falling on the panel
Voltage (Peak) 18 volts 5-6 volts
Aesthetics/Style Waste will look unpleasing Looks like any other gadget
Maturity of Technology Still in research stage Available in markets
Cost Negligible High
Looking at both technologies, we can observe that innovators have tried to make batteries more sustainable by improvising on the input material that is used to generate electricity. The team at IYSERT has also sought to bring down the cost of batteries by making easy and inexpensive circuits.
While, the IYSERT team has effectively recycled kitchen waste, the St. Xavier’s College team utilizes the abundantly available sunlight. However, it has to be seen if these innovations are commercially feasible to be produced in a large scale. These technologies do hold a lot of promise for the coming generations that might face an energy crisis, if they do not adapt to eco-friendly technologies soon.