Green battery brings electricity to rural Africa

Swiss start-up hiLyte has developed a clean and affordable battery that can help people in rural Sub-Saharan Africa light their homes and charge their cell phones.

hiLyte, a start-up founded by two graduates of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), have developed a clean and affordable battery that can help bring electricity to the more than 1 billion people worldwide who live without electricity, particularly those in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa where many families spend their evenings in darkness.

The eco-friendly battery is made out of iron, water, coffee filters and carbon felt. To generate power, the user needs to load the battery with sheet of iron foil, coffee-filter paper and carbon felt. The user then pours a solution of water and iron sulfate power inside the battery. As the liquid soaks the carbon filter, it slowly dissolves the iron foil, release electrons and thereby generating electricity. The user can then harness this power by connecting a lamp or a cell phone to the battery’s built-in USB port.

With a single charge, it can power an LED bulb for five hours or charge a cell phone, according to an EPFL press release.

The battery costs around half as much as a kerosene lamp, which is what many people living in rural parts of Sub-Saharan Africa currently use to light up their homes. It also isn’t harmful to human health or the environment: the battery’s reaction produces iron 2 sulfate, a harmless liquid widely used as an agricultural fertilizer.

A dozen locally produced prototypes are currently being tested in families in Tanzania.

“Our technology has the potential to change people’s every lives,” said hiLyte co-founder Briac Barthes. “For one of the pilot families, the battery allowed their daughter to study in the evening. Having light can also transform the way people interact, bringing socialization opportunities for isolated and vulnerable families.”

Although the start-up is currently focusing on Tanzania, it plans to eventually expand into other markets.

Image credit: screenshot hiLyte video

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