I recently wrote about a company developing
a soccer ball that could harvest enough energy to recharge a mobile phone or power a light in a place where electricity is scarce. Now I've learned of another project that also aims to provide energy in electricity-poor regions, this time targeting mobile-phone recharging through the use of portable micro generators.
The BuffaloGrid Project has based its research on the premise that mobile phones can be a lifeline for people in disadvantaged regions that have no wire telephone service, and is at the heart of economic growth in those regions. However, sometimes even if people in the locations have devices, they don't have ready access to electricity to charge them.
"Many millions of people at the bottom of the economic pyramid are expected to acquire mobile phones, greatly benefiting their lives, business activities, and access to information," according to the project's press release. "However, most of these new subscribers will not have direct access to electricity."
A man in Bududa Village, Uganda sits atop a bicycle on which is mounted a mobile charging unit developed by the BuffaloGrid Project that can charge a cellphone via text message.
(Source: The BuffaloGrid Project)
Enter the BuffaloGrid Project's mobile charging unit, which uses a rather inventive way to charge someone's phone. The project -- comprised of a cross-disciplinary team of engineers, agriculturalists, and architects from the UK, Africa, and Mexico -- has built a portable micro generator that looks not unlike a plastic beverage cooler and can travel from point to point attached to a bicycle.
A text message is key to the charging process, which works like this: A mobile device user sends a low-cost test message to the charging station, and once the message is received, the LED above the generator's battery lights up, indicating that it is ready to charge a device. A solar power charge is then transferred to the mobile device via maximum power point tracking (MPPT) technology that can assess environmental conditions for optimal phone charging.
The project is not only providing mobile phone charges to people that need them, but also fostering entrepreneurship by allowing people to set up mobile-charging businesses using the generator, according to the website. These are set up at local shops or can be mobile businesses that travel by bicycle to charge phones in a region.
The project is already running trials of the technology in Uganda and Ghana and has reported positive results. At the Konokoyi coffee cooperative in Uganda, for example, each text message allows a phone to be charged for about 90 minutes. If a BuffaloGrid unit has a full solar charge, it can last for three days, with up to 10 charging points that can charge 30 to 50 phones a day, according to one published report. Project representatives did not respond to several attempts I made to contact them.
In addition to these trials, BuffaloGrid Project leaders are now working to expand the project into India.