Don't be too quick to toss out the battery from that ancient laptop -- it might just be the key to powering homes in developing countries, and helping the environment in the process. IBM researchers have revealed UrJar, a device that turns old lithium-ion battery packs into rechargeable energy sources for low-power devices like LED light bulbs, fans and cellphones. To create the gadget, the team extracts functioning lithium-ion cells from a trashed battery and combines them with both charging dongles and safety circuitry. It sounds simple, but it's potentially very effective. According to IBM, roughly 70 percent of all discarded batteries can provide at least four hours of LED lighting every day for a year. That's enough to offer extra safety to homes in areas with little to no reliable electricity, or to keep a street vendor in business after sunset.
There's still some necessary refinement left before UrJar is ready, but IBM is quick to stress that this isn't a commercial product. Instead, it hopes to give devices away for free in countries whose "energy poverty" hurts the quality of life (and chances of a better future) for poorer residents. UrJar should also kill two birds with one stone by making good use of the ever-growing mountain of e-waste. Rather than send your old batteries directly to landfills, you could give them a second life that helps the less fortunate. That's not as eco-friendly as truly clean power, but it might prevent technological garbage from getting out of control.
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