Science should be used to benefit people and nowhere is that purpose clearer than in the new project led by a team at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences: mobile phones could now be charged by putting them in contact with microbes living in the soil.
The project is first and foremost destined to the people living in developing countries, since that is where the lack of chargers is more acute.
The microbial fuel cell-based charger is yet to be tested for a while in a part of Sub-Saharan Africa. Although the same technology has worked for powering LED lights in a lab for more than a year, the device needs to be subjected to the living conditions of that specific area: no current electricity for half a billion people, charging stations placed at long distances and no transportation provided between them.
When people do get to the stations, they usually have to pay between 50 cents and $1 to be able to use them; that is actually cheaper than the solar alternative, which (ironically) is scarcely around.
By using a conductive surface, this charger is able to capture the free electrons released by the soil microbes during their metabolic processes. This is how the device pretty much works. Think tha’s complicated? Dr. Aviva Presser Aiden, the person in charge with the project, doesn’t think so.
Actually, the researcher is so convinced by its simplicity that she wants local people to reproduce the device in just a few minutes, by putting together soda cans and window screens. That should cost them the same amount they paid for one charge and have their phone up and ready in a day.
The project is so promising that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offered it in April a $100,000 grant. This way, the 22% of homes in the Sub-Sahara will be able to have a quicker access to health care practitioners and applications. So the device actually saves lives!