According to the iFixit blog, “The coalition at Repair.org has been hard at work getting 15 states to introduce Right to Repair bills so far this year. But just like any grassroots movement, they need as much support as they can get—which is why we started a podcast to help spread the word! Every other week, we’ll be gathering special guests to update you on the latest Right to Repair news. You’ll hear stories about the fixers fighting for fair repair legislation, learn how to start a coalition in your state, and get tips for talking to your state representatives…Future episodes will focus on specific Right to Repair issues, so leave a note in the comments telling us what topics and guests you’d like us to feature! ”
The next broadcast is scheduled for Thursday, February 14th at 11 AM PST (1 PM CST) on the iFixit YouTube Channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/iFixitYourself. If you participate in the live event, you’ll get the chance to ask the presenters your questions about repair and associated legislation. Again, the video will be recorded for later viewing on YouTube and the audio will be shared on their social accounts the following day.
As electronics become more ubiquitous each day, the integration of smaller electronic components into ever more products continues, and renewable energy becomes an increasingly popular strategy for addressing climate change, the ability to store and supply power efficiently and safely is all the more important. So it’s no surprise that batteries have been a hot topic in the news for the past month or so. Let’s take a moment to consider some of the highlights of recent battery-related news.
We may as well start with the well-written piece by Geoffrey A. Fowler, the Washington Post’s technology columnist, published today (9/12/18): “The problem with recycling our old tech gadgets: They explode.” This is a good article about how design choices to make electronics thinner and more portable make the recycling of electronics more difficult and dangerous. Specifically because lithium-ion batteries are being incorporated into more products and smaller products, often without an easy–or any–way to remove those batteries. This isn’t just problematic for for extending the useful life of products. The trend makes the recycling of electronics increasingly risky while simultaneously making the economic feasibility of such efforts diminish. Recyclers need more time, special equipment, and training for proper handling, and they are at greater risk of damages caused by fires. As Fowler explains: “For all their benefits at making our devices slim, powerful and easy to recharge, lithium-ion batteries have some big costs. They contain Cobalt, often mined in inhumane circumstances in places like the Congo. And when crushed, punctured, ripped or dropped, lithium-ion batteries can produce what the industry euphemistically calls a “thermal event.” It happens because these batteries short circuit when the super-thin separator between their positive and negative parts gets breached. Remember Samsung’s exploding Note 7 smartphone? That was a lithium-ion thermal event.”
Fowler visits Cascade Asset Management, an electronics scrap processor in Madison, WI, to observe the process of removing a battery from an old iPad before the device can be sent through the shredder for recycling. My take away from this article: products need to be designed not only with sleek aesthetics and portability in mind, but also the ability to easily and safely upgrade, repair, and maintain them during their useful life and then to easily and safely reclaim parts and component materials when they have reached their end of useful life. Fowler concludes “So as a gadget reviewer, let me say this clearly to the tech industry: Give up your thin obsession. We’ll happily take electronics with a little extra junk in the trunk if it means we can easily replace batteries to make them last longer – and feel more confident they won’t end up igniting a recycling inferno.” Do agree with his sentiment? Consider voicing that opinion to the manufacturers of your favorite devices, and if you’re an industrial design student, heed well the lessons you can learn from this article.
As long as we’re on the subject of “thermal events,” consider this interesting research highlighted in this article provided by the American Chemical Society : “These lithium-ion batteries can’t catch fire because they harden on impact.” ‘Lithium-ion batteries commonly used in consumer electronics are notorious for bursting into flame when damaged or improperly packaged. These incidents occasionally have grave consequences, including burns, house fires and at least one plane crash. Inspired by the weird behavior of some liquids that solidify on impact, researchers have developed a practical and inexpensive way to help prevent these fires. They will present their results today at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). “In a lithium-ion battery, a thin piece of plastic separates the two electrodes,” Gabriel Veith, Ph.D., says. “If the battery is damaged and the plastic layer fails, the electrodes can come into contact and cause the battery’s liquid electrolyte to catch fire.” To make these batteries safer, some researchers instead use a nonflammable, solid electrolyte. But these solid-state batteries require significant retooling of the current production process, Veith says. As an alternative, his team mixes an additive into the conventional electrolyte to create an impact-resistant electrolyte. It solidifies when hit, preventing the electrodes from touching if the battery is damaged during a fall or crash. If the electrodes don’t touch each other, the battery doesn’t catch fire. Even better, incorporating the additive would require only minor adjustments to the conventional battery manufacturing process…In the future, Veith plans to enhance the system so the part of the battery that’s damaged in a crash would remain solid, while the rest of the battery would go on working. The team is initially aiming for applications such as drone batteries, but they would eventually like to enter the automotive market. They also plan to make a bigger version of the battery, which would be capable of stopping a bullet. That could benefit soldiers, who often carry 20 pounds of body armor and 20 pounds of batteries when they’re on a mission, Veith says. “The battery would function as their armor, and that would lighten the average soldier by about 20 pounds.”
Imagine the day when lithium-ion batteries might be an asset for safety instead of a liability!
Writing for the HOBI International blog, Alicia Cotton recently wrote that “Innovation is making lithium-ion batteries increasingly harder to recycle.” The point of her post was that as demand for lithium-ion batteries increase, manufacturers will look to produce them with cheaper materials, adversely impacting the economic incentives for recycling these batteries. ‘According to the Royal Chemistry Society, the cost of cobalt, which is heavily used as a cathode material in all batteries, jumped from $32,500 to $81,000 in just over a year. In response, battery manufacturers have opted to redesign batteries to minimize cobalt. In May, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company had all but eliminated cobalt from batteries it uses in automobile and stationary batteries. However, doing so will help keep batteries cheap — as in too cheap to recycle. Without valuable contents recyclers have little incentive to capture used batteries, Kaun said.‘ This is an interesting example of trade-offs and how considerations for sustainability are rarely simple. The use of cobalt in batteries is problematic not just due to the economic cost of the material, but also due to human rights issues related to cobalt sourcing. However, this article points out that as higher value materials are phased out of design, there is a negative impact on the economics of recycling. More work is clearly needed to create recycling incentives for lithium-ion batteries moving forward, as well as developing batteries which depend less on cobalt, and improving the sustainability of the cobalt supply chain.
In another recent post for the HOBI International blog, Cotton writes that a “New Material will Triple Storage Capacity of Lithium-Ion Batteries.” “Together in a joint effort, scientists from the University of Maryland (UMD), U.S. Army Research Lab and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) have been working hard to improve the storage capacity of lithium-ion batteries. Turns out, the use of extra cobalt was the answer. The scientists believe they can triple the energy density of lithium-ion battery electrodes.” Well, that would make those batteries not only have higher storage capacity, but also create an incentive for recycling them–but then we’re looking at the issues surrounding cobalt sourcing again. What did I say about trade-offs and how sustainable solutions are rarely simple? Sigh.
And, while we’re on the subject of sustainable solutions coming in shades of grey, here’s an example of how context can be important. As someone who advocates for waste reduction, I often talk about the need for more durable, repairable, upgradable goods and a move away from disposability. I certainly like to encourage people to use rechargeable batteries instead of single-use ones where they can. But there are situations in which disposable goods might actually foster sustainability, and yes, this is even true for batteries. Another recent update from the American Chemical Society discussed “A paper battery powered by bacteria.” Consider remote areas of the world where access to electricity is a luxury, or situation in which a natural disaster or other emergency has occurred leaving an area without access to power. Think about medical devices that would be needed to help victims of a disaster, or just be part of everyday medical support in remote areas. Paper is desirable for biosensors due to its flexibility, portability, high surface area, and inexpensive nature. “Choi and his colleagues at the State University of New York, Binghamton made a paper battery by printing thin layers of metals and other materials onto a paper surface. Then, they placed freeze-dried “exoelectrogens” on the paper. Exoelectrogens are a special type of bacteria that can transfer electrons outside of their cells. The electrons, which are generated when the bacteria make energy for themselves, pass through the cell membrane. They can then make contact with external electrodes and power the battery. To activate the battery, the researchers added water or saliva. Within a couple of minutes, the liquid revived the bacteria, which produced enough electrons to power a light-emitting diode and a calculator…The paper battery, which can be used once and then thrown away, currently has a shelf-life of about four months. Choi is working on conditions to improve the survival and performance of the freeze-dried bacteria, enabling a longer shelf life.“In a related article by Jason Deign for Greentech Media, Choi noted that in these low-power, low-cost situations, the paper battery could be used and then biodegrade without special treatment. Further reporting on this innovation is available in the IEEE Spectrum.
Now that you’ve read about all these innovations and the need for further innovations, you may be thinking, “Can someone please just tell what a lithium-ion battery is, the basics of how they work, and why we use them if there are so many problematic issues?!?!” Don’t worry–a recent post by Arthur Shi on the iFixit blog provides a nice overview with some links to more in-depth explanations if you’re interested.
Launched with seed funding from the UI Student Sustainability Commitee (SSC) and supported by donations from corporations, organizations and individuals, the Illini Gadget Garage is a collaborative repair center for electronic devices and small appliances, that works to:
extend the useful life of products, and thus conserve the natural and human resources invested in their manufacture;
provide experiential learning related to STEM and sustainability for students and community members; and
empower people to see repair as a viable option for addressing minor damage and performance issues.
“Collaborative repair” means that Illini Gadget Garage staff and volunteers will guide you through the process of troubleshooting and repairing your devices yourself rather than doing it for you. It’s not “do it for you” but it’s also not entirely “do it yourself”–it’s more of a “do it together” approach meant to make learning about and working on electronics less intimidating. Since its launch the Illini Gadget Garage project has been coordinated by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) as part of its sustainable electronics and zero waste efforts.
The Illini Gadget Garage tracks the weight of devices brought in for assistance, as well as the weight of “special materials” (e.g. single use and rechargeable batteries plus CDs and their cases) it collects and ships for recycling. These statistics were recently updated to include figures through July 2018. See the summary of these figures at https://drive.google.com/file/d/11XV_2jO3KNf7437oQ3IlXoc4HtIjGNZ_/view.
As of July 2018, the project’s total for pounds of materials diverted from the waste stream through repair assistance or collection for recycling is 740.88 lbs!
On Tuesday, August 22, the Illini Gadget Garage will be hosting a screening of the documentary Death by Design at the Champaign Public Library. Doors will open at 6:30 PM and the film will begin at 7:00. The film duration is 73 minutes.
The Illini Gadget Garage is a repair center that helps consumers with “do-it-together” troubleshooting and repair of minor damage and performance issues of electronics and small appliances. The project promotes repair as a means to keep products in service and out of the waste stream. The Illini Gadget Garage is coordinated by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.
Death by Design explores the environmental and human costs of electronics, particularly considering their impacts in the design and manufacture stages, bearing in mind that many electronic devices are not built to be durable products that we use for many years. Cell phones, for example, are items that consumers change frequently, sometimes using for less than 2 years before replacing with a new model. When we analyze the effort put into, and potential negative impacts of, obtaining materials for devices through efforts like mining, the exposure to potentially harmful substances endured by laborers in manufacturing plants, and the environmental degradation and human health risks associated with informal electronics recycling practices in various parts of the word, the idea that we might see these pieces of technology as “disposable” in any way becomes particularly poignant. For more information on the film, including reviews, see http://deathbydesignfilm.com/about/ and http://bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/dbd.html. You can also check out the trailer at the end of this post.
The Illini Gadget Garage (IGG) is a collaborative repair center on the UIUC campus to assist students, staff and faculty with troubleshooting and repair of minor damage and performance issues for their personally owned electronic devices and small appliances. The project is coordinated by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program as a waste reduction outreach project of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI).
The IGG has announced hours for Summer 2017. “Pop-up” repair clinics will be held at the Undergraduate Library Media Commons on Mondays and Wednesdays from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM. Open hours will be held at the IGG’s physical workshop (INHS Storage Building #3) on South Oak Street on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 AM to 2 PM and on Fridays from noon to 4 PM. A map is available for directions to the physical location: http://tinyurl.com/guv4n9z. Note that hours are subject to change, as staff are working to schedule more pop-up clinics in order to bring services to a wider audience, so check the project web site or Facebook page for announcements.
Bring a pop-up repair clinic to your facility
Related to that spirit of expansion, the IGG is now offering off-campus pop-ups for companies and organizations that would like to bring “do-it-together” repair to their site as way to engage employees and patrons in product stewardship and sustainability. Staff will come to your location with the necessary tools, and they can arrange to have your audience fill out a diagnostic form in advance so they can research information on the devices and issues being faced ahead of time, making one-on-one interactions during the event more productive. Off-campus pop-ups are 2-4 hours long to allow sufficient time for troubleshooting, repairs, and any additional research. Note that IGG does not sell parts, but if it is determined that a part is needed, staff can assist individuals in determining the exact models of required parts and in researching ways to obtain the part. Staff can also help individuals identify local repair businesses that could help them address more complex damage or businesses that can accept items for proper recycling if they are beyond repair. IGG can help identify local businesses and/or online vendors for informational purposes only; the IGG does not endorse any external business and the ultimate decision of how/where to obtain parts or services is that of the consumer.
A pop-up repair clinic can provide a unique benefit to your staff, and be part of your organization’s sustainability efforts, by creating conversations around the impacts of product manufacture, design, and end-of-life management. Such events also provide empowerment and team building opportunities. If you have questions or are interested in scheduling a clinic at your facility, please contact Joy Scrogum, ISTC Sustainability Specialist, for more information and pricing. Fees are charged to host organization of a pop-up clinic to support staff members time both at the event and for preparation; however individuals that attend your event (e.g. employees and/or patrons) are not themselves charged for the assistance they receive. Off-campus pop-up clinics are not restricted to the Champaign-Urbana metropolitan area, but please be aware that additional fees may apply for travel.
Support IGG outreach in your community or on the UIUC campus
Companies and corporations interested in sponsoring a pop-up repair clinic in their community or at a particular public space are encouraged to contact Joy Scrogum to discuss possibilities and to receive instructions for contributions to the appropriate UI Foundation fund. Additionally, any individual or company interested in supporting IGG’s efforts to provide product stewardship and waste reduction guidance to the UIUC community at no cost to students, faculty and staff may make online donations via the UI Foundation to the “SEI Various Donors Fund,” which supports the educational efforts of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative. You may indicate “Support the Illini Gadget Garage” in the “Special Instructions” section of the online donation form. We thank you and the project’s current sponsors for your support!
The Illini Gadget Garage, a collaborative repair center on the UI campus where students, staff, faculty, and community members can receive assistance with troubleshooting and repair of their personally owned electronics and small appliances with electronic components, has established its schedule for the Spring 2017 semester.
The repair shop, located at 1833 S. Oak St. in Champaign (click here for a map), is open from noon to 4 PM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and from 10 AM to 2 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. No appointment is necessary, but it is recommended that you fill out the online diagnostic form prior to stopping by. This will give staff the opportunity to do some research on your devices and the problem you’re experiencing ahead of time to make your one-on-one session more efficient.
Note that Illini Gadget Garage staff and volunteers do not repair items FOR you, but rather WITH you, guiding you through the process of determining the problem, necessary steps to address it, and providing tools to accomplish the repairs. In this way, consumers can become empowered to take action to extend the useful life of their products without the potentially intimidating task of attempting repair, or determining what parts are needed, where to go for help, etc. all on their own. Working with the Illini Gadget Garage can also eliminate the need for more technically savvy do-it-yourselfers to obtain tools they may only need to use one time.
If you can’t fit a trip to the Oak St. facility into your schedule, consider stopping by Tech Tuesdays on Tuesday evenings from 6-9 PM at the Undergraduate Library Media Commons. Illini Gadget Garage staff will be on hand for assistance with devices, and to provide information on the project, volunteer opportunities, and other opportunities for collaboration. If your group or department is interested in hosting a pop-up repair clinic in your building, please fill out the online form to express interest in hosting a clinic.
Join us at the Illini Gadget Garage in Research Park to celebrate our Grand Opening on Saturday, November 12th. We’ll be there for “do-it-together” troubleshooting and repair of small electronics and appliances. The event takes place from 11 AM to 2 PM.
We have approximately 10 slots for one-on-one troubleshooting during the event, so registration is required. Please fill out the information on the online sign-up form to the best of your ability so we may be better prepared to assist you. If we receive your response to this form and our slots for this pop-up clinic are full, we’ll contact you regarding a time you might come into our shop on campus at a later date. Similarly, if the assigned time we provide doesn’t work with your schedule, we’ll provide options for you to visit our campus space or another pop-up instead. See https://www.facebook.com/events/1004359193043972/permalink/1004359713043920/ for the Facebook event.
The Illini Gadget Garage is located at 1833 S. Oak St., Champaign, IL 61820 (Just north of Hazelwood Drive). See http://tinyurl.com/guv4n9z for a map.
The Illini Gadget Garage, a collaborative repair center for student and staff owned electronic devices, will be closing its physical location (INHS Storage Building 3) for the summer on Monday, July 11, to allow for renovations associated with making the site compliant with ADA requirements. Renovations should be complete prior to the beginning of the Fall 2016 semester, and there will be a grand opening of the site at that time. Be sure to check the new Illini Gadget Garage web site, as well as its Twitter and Facebook accounts for details of the grand opening later in the summer.
We appreciate the ‘test pilots” who have come in this summer to work with us on their devices! To continue to serve the campus community during the renovation process, we will host pop-up clinics at various locations until the physical location is open for the public. Pop-up clinics will continue, even after the physical location is open, to make it more convenient for the campus community to practice sustainability through electronic product stewardship.
If you plan to come to either of these clinics, we suggest you fill out our online diagnostic form ahead of time. This will allow volunteers to do some preliminary research on the problem you’re facing, and make use of your one-on-one time more efficient.
If your department, residence hall, or student organization would like to host a pop-up repair clinic, please fill out the “Host a Pop-Up Clinic” form to express your interest. We’ll be in touch to work out the details.
Students, faculty, and staff with any degree of technical skill–including none whatsoever–are invited to sign up as Illini Gadget Garage volunteers. We want to empower everyone to feel comfortable with the idea of troubleshooting and repairing the electronics they own, to keep them in service longer and thus, out of the waste stream. Even if you’ve never fixed anything before, you can be part of our process of coming together to solve problems. We also could use help with marketing, social media, arranging pop-up clinics, developing educational programs, and other tasks, so if this project intrigues you, come be part of it! Stop by one of the pop-up clinics, or fill out our contact form and we’ll be in touch.
We recently blogged about the Summer 2016 hours for the Illini Gadget Garage, in which our future “permanent location,” Illinois Natural History Survey Storage Building 3, will be open to assist folks who do not need ADA accommodation with device troubleshooting and repair. But we have an update! Due to some changes in the schedules of student staff members, our hours are being revised. The new hours are:
Wednesdays 12 PM – 3 PM
Thursdays 5 PM – 8 PM
Fridays 12 PM – 3 PM
Use this Google map to find INHS Storage Building 3 (SB3). If you plan to visit us at SB3, or a future pop-up clinic, you might want to take a few minutes to fill out our diagnostic form. This provides staff with some basic information about your device and the issues you’re experiencing, so they can do a little research ahead of time, hopefully making your one-on-one time more productive.