In 2018, two workers at an Australian landfill were dismayed to see how many still useful lithium-ion batteries were being thrown away in old computers and other devices. 
They recently had seen a study finding that only 2 percent of the batteries in Australia are recycled; most of the rest, with life left in them, are consigned to be buried in garbage.
A colleague at the landfill told the pair that when he lived in rural Indonesia, he would travel about 250 km, roughly 150 miles, to charge his cell phone.
Within a few days, the pair had piled used lithium-ion batteries into a paint bucket, wired them together, attached three USB ports, and a solar panel to charge the cells. They dubbed their creation the PowerWell.
They tested their PowerWell in their colleague’s home country, where 27 million people lack access to electricity and instead burn kerosene at night for light, a practice that can damage lungs over time, especially among children.
Globally, about 800 million people are too far away from electric grids to connect and too poor to afford standard solar electricity systems.
Now, after winning a funding competition to pay for additional engineering, the newest PowerWells have four light sockets, four USB ports, and a 12-volt connection that can power a notebook computer or similar device.
They’re still made with reclaimed lithium-ion batteries attached to a small solar panel for recharging but the paint buckets have been replaced with sleeker cylinders.
In Indonesia, the PowerWells are being distributed through village agents, usually women well-known in their communities. The women act as sales and customer service reps and collect a modest commission on each sale.
Because the enterprise’s markets are cash-poor, the PowerWells can be bought on installments as low as $5 a month. For households unable to afford even that, the makers are willing to barter PowerWells for what currencies the families have, usually bamboo or coconut oil.
The light at night enables children to study, people to socialize, and adults to carry on money-earning activities at home, such as making clothing for sale or weaving mats.
The PowerWells founders envision their model being replicated around the world, salvaging used lithium-ion batteries, employing poor or unskilled workers to make the devices, and bringing light and power to those still too poor to afford them in conventional ways.
TRENDPOST: PowerWells are yet another example of ways in which rural, unmodernized areas can leapfrog conventional development involving fossil fuels and centralized power grids and move immediately to clean, renewable, decentralized energy systems.

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