Logan start-up powers into Indonesia

A STACK of empty paint tins and dumped laptop batteries strapped to a few solar panels does not sound like a major engineering feat.

But for some villages in remote parts of Indonesia where there is no electricity, the contraption — or power generation kit — has been life changing.

Logan start-up Powerwells came up with the bright idea after a brain storming session at Substation 33, a social enterprise initiative focused on recycling e-waste.

That was in November.

Since then Powerwells has joined forces with the Logan-based Substation 33 and is pumping out the power generator kits for overseas markets.

Last week’s magnitude 7 earthquake, which killed 430 people on the Indonesian island of Lombok, was further impetus to step up manufacturing of the power packs.

Powerwells founder Nick Kamols said his team moved quickly after the quake and would be concentrating on getting help to the devastated areas.

He said the decision to pair with substation 33 and use unemployed people to make the battery packs was also “breaking ground”.

“We can be very nimble and agile and within 14 days of the start-up brain storming session last year, Powerwells and the Substation 33 boys had moved from concept stage to product development and installation in a village in Indonesia,” Mr Kamols said.

“We didn’t think it would be a success but when you go to Indonesia, everyone in these small villages is using a smart phone as a torch or for lights.”

It was not long before the inventors realised they were on to something big and tapped the market with a crowd-funding campaign raising $12,000 to manufacture their off-grid solar-powered battery packs using recycled paint tins.

There are now 11 Indonesian villages in remotest parts of Indonesia powering up their smart phones by plugging them into the packs.

Now Powerwells and substation 33 are looking at Papua New Guinea.

Substation 33 founder Tony Sharp said laptop batteries, which still had a lot of life, were salvaged packed into old, 20-litre paint or cooking oil tins, to provide a small, off-grid energy supply which cost as little as $200.

Mr Kamols and Mr Sharp will be part of a panel of guests answering questions about innovation, employment and the future of Logan, at Griffith University Logan campus tomorrow.

This week, Innovation Minister Kate Jones recognised their work as a shining light from the state’s Advancing Regional Innovation Program which spends $500,000 on projects in 12 regions over three years.

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(A version of this story appeared on page 10 of The Courier-Mail on 16 August 2018. The picture above shows that story.)