A team from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences are working on mobile phones that could be charged by simply putting them in contact with microbes living in the soil. It is hoped that the technology could improve and transform the conditions of poorer communities in the world.
The device, known as the microbial fuel cell-based charger, is currently a work in progress, but it is hoped that the prototype will be tested in Sub-Saharan Africa. The technology has already been applied to LED lights in regions with no electricity, however it is adaptable to specific areas. The Harvard team hope that the end result will see charging stations placed in remote communities.
The idea is that people would pay between 50 cents and $1 to get electricity from the stations, which would actually be cheaper than solar power. But how does the technology actually work?
By using a conductive surface, the charger is able to capture the free electrons released by the soil microbes during their metabolic processes. While it sounds complex, it is surprisingly simple. In fact, Dr. Aviva Presser Aiden, who leads the team, believes simplistic devices can be recreated with soda cans. She believes that a complete device could be assembled from scratch in just a few minutes, at a cost of less than a dollar. The device should be able to fully charge a phone within 24 hours.
The project is so promising that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have already given it a $100,000 grant. And if Bill Gates believes in it, who are we to argue? Especially if it can provide 22% of homes in Sub-Sahara Africa will-power.
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