IMAGINE living in a remote village, without electricity, where people walk for half a day just to charge their mobile phones.
When a young West Papuan, Amatus Douw, put that scenario to a group of socially-minded Logan entrepreneurs, they came up with PowerWells – a cheap and innovative solution using old laptop batteries and solar cells.
It is just a few weeks since Mr Douw met Logan’s Nick Kamols and Brad Clair at a Logan Social Enterprise StartUP weekend, and yet the new team has already built and tested a prototype battery in Indonesia and is looking for funding to expand into fully-fledged production.
“We think we’re really onto something that could make lives better – really make a difference,” Mr Kamols, a town planner, said.
His teammate, Mr Clair has experience in electronics, working at Substation33, an e-waste recycling plant in Logan.
Mr Douw, a former refugee, now a permanent resident, told his start-up team how hundreds of communities in his homeland did not have access to electricity, yet locals used mobile phones heavily.
As a result they would spend half a day walking to the nearest town to charge their phones, return home and use their phones for light at night.
The only other source of light – kerosene lanterns – is expensive to fuel, and are highly polluting.
The team came up with a simple but effective prototype solution – combining 25 lithium-ion laptop batteries to create one big battery, then connecting it to a solar panel.
The resulting PowerWell can charge up to 50 iPhones at once, as well as charging LED (light-emitting diode) lights that can be used to illuminate a village communal area at night.
As a first test, Mr Kamols travelled to Indonesia.
He called on the assistance of a friend of Mr Douw, Franz, who acted as a translator and guide on the trip, and helped to source local e-waste to construct a PowerWell.
The Indonesian-built prototype PowerWell was successfully tested in a remote village in central Java.
Buoyed by this first mission, the team is keen to duplicate testing in other neighbouring countries.
“Here (in Australia) we are complaining about the NBN and not having fast Internet speed,” Mr Kamols said.
“There are one billion people around the world who don’t have reliable electricity, and people just north of us spending all day just trying to charge their phone, so they can use it as a light to read a book. “A lot about this project is extending the productive hours of the day for people – so they can have their daylight hours, and then have extra hours of light at night reading, studying and improving their economic situation.”
The next step for the Logan entrepreneurs is to raise $12,000 through a crowd-funding campaign to build 100 PowerWells.
You can access their crowd-funding campaign at startsomegood.com/PowerWells.