August 07, 2003
Battery Charger for Village Flashlights
In Kemon, like many rural communities in developing countries, is not connected to the national power grid. Batteries represent the only source of electricity for most community members. People use disposable AA and C batteries to power their flashlights and radios. Compared to prices in the States, batteries are dirt cheap: 100 CFA (roughly US$0.20) for a AA battery, and 150 CFA (US$0.30) for a C battery. The quality isn't great. Two C batteries in a flashlight will last about two weeks, but this is partly a function of how amazingly dark it gets at night in the village. People can still make use of a pretty dim flashlight.
There are about 2,000 flashlights in operation in Kemon alone. As a result, battery disposal is a major environmental problem. This concrete-lined disposal pit, a project initiated by PCV Elizabeth Eckel and MVV, currently holds 8,000 discarded batteries collected by local schoolkids over one year. The pit has room for another 8,000--or another year's worth of discarded batteries.
Some batteries are taken apart for recycling--the contents used to make paint for school chalkboards. The rest follow the village garbage to one of the designated village dumps.
Even with the dump, you can still find little collections of garbage pretty much everywhere around the village--and these collections often include batteries. Battery chemicals leach into the soil and the ground water. Worse, little kids will pick up discarded batteries to play with, putting them in their mouths or pulling them apart to see what's inside.
MVV has asked DtM to investigate methods for charging rechargable AA and C batteries that work without any connection to the grid. The resulting device can be powered by human effort, solar energy, whatever. Regardless of how it works, it has to be robust and/or cheap. For comparison, in Kemon an imported Chinese flashlight made out of stamped tin with a low-wattage incandescent bulb costs about a dollar. Use that price to scale against commercially available battery chargers in the US.Posted by Timothy Prestero at August 7, 2003 02:47 PM