Using pedal power to charge phones (Day 256)

Charging batteriesNot being able to recharge your cell phone, and other small electronic devices, due to lack of access to power is a common problem the world over.

Part of a solution is being addressed by developing the next generation of ultra-fast charging batteries.

But what if you don’t have round the clock access to electricity or power such as those living in rural areas who experience long hours of power cuts every day?

As part of a project called “Engineering for the World’s Poorest” at Case Western Reserve University, US, chemical engineer professor Daniel Lacks and two of his students have developed a solution to this problem – a foot-powered cell phone charger.

The engineering students, Samuel Crisanti and Ian Ferre, have built several prototypes of the foot-powered cell phone charger that relies on ratchet mechanics and operates much like an old sewing machine.

The gears on their prototype converts the motion of a foot pressing on the pedal into a circular motion that drives a generator, with the gears spinning in only one direction. This then provides enough energy to recharge a phone or power a small LED lamp.

Daniel welcomed their idea so much that instead of submitting a final paper for the project, the students would complete an application for an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant.

Samuel and Ian were successful in their grant application and managed to secure US$15,000 (£10,000).

With the funding, the students will be building more versions of the charger and field testing the innovate product in rural villages of the Kingdom of Lesotho, which is an enclaved landlocked country surrounded by South Africa.

Samuel said: “A lot of people have cell phones but no way to charge them. In the country, 40 to 50 per cent or even 60 per cent have cells phones, but only a quarter have access to electricity. It takes some a day-long ride by cart to a city where they have to pay to charge their phone.”

Daniel will also be in Lesotho designing and building solar electric solar systems while the students, Samuel and Ian, will be gauging interest for their charger with local farmers who only earn US$1 (£0.60) to US$2 (£1.30) dollars per day.

Ian added: ” We want to see what kind of phones the people use and what’s most useful to them.”

Currently, it costs approximately US$12 (£8) to 3D print their latest prototype of the foot-pedalled charger, which is lightweight and portable.

With further investment into their project, hopefully by another successful application for a US$75,000 (£50,000) EPA grant in April, the cost of production could be cut to $5 (£3.30) per unit, which rural villagers could afford.

The idea to scale up production would be to buy injection moulds, which would produce more sturdier and more durable plastic parts than those produced via 3D printing.

This is an example of a truly innovative product by chemical engineering students who have recognised the necessity of a phone charger in truly rural areas. I wish them the very best of luck in securing future funding for their project.