How often do you forget to carry your phone charger when leaving your house? Or better still, how many times have your phone batteries died on you when you could not access any charging systems or just didn’t have any power banks or backups factored?
That was the frustration of the then 11-year-old Benson Mwangi, who had just gotten his first ever smartphone, a souvenir from his aunt abroad.
The excitement of the smartphone would however be short-lived as he sooner than later lost his charger and had to rely on his kin’s chargers. This he says left him always off connection.
His charger he says was very particular so not all the chargers he found could recharge his phone, and those that could, were almost always being used by someone else in the house. But even when he found a charger, as he sometimes did, he would get so tired having to be close to a socket while charging the phone. He slowly glided back to the unconnected world, being off for days on end.
One time he got stressed for not being able to talk to his aunt in the US, the main reason for which his phone was brought, that he took a book and a pen and wrote down all that he wanted to tell his aunt. One of his asks was a not cabled phone charger. He shared this with his mother when they were having a conversation at home with other family members. She then said it could be a money making idea.
That would see to the birth of a brilliant idea, one which if well nurtured, would save tones of electricity and millions of money spent on batteries recharging projects especially for devices that get in contact with body heat.
Today a member of form 3C at Alliance High School, Benson researched extensively and innovated a new charging system by using body heat as emitted and converting it into electro-power to recharge phones, without cables needed or even sockets to tie one down as he calls it.
Mwangi makes phone covers integrated with thermoelectric generators (TEG) also called Seebeck generators inside, that convert heat flux (temperature differences) directly into electrical energy through the Seedbeck phenomenon.
The thermoelectric generators are made from materials that generate power directly from heat by converting temperature differences into electric voltage. The materials must combine both high electrical conductivity and low thermal conductivity.
The covers are fitted with thermal conductivity agents that ensures that when one side is made hot, the other side stays cold, which helps to generate a large voltage while in a temperature gradient while scavenging for body heat even from very low temperatures of the body.
The generators come in the form of button sized chargers that absorbs the heat for the thermos-generators that then do the conversion.
A recent study estimated that TEG is expected to reach $720 million in 2021 with a growth rate of 14.5% and Benson can’t stop hoping that his project be enlisted among these by 2021.
“When these phone covers get in contact with the body, the button size charger absorbs the body heat transferring it to the thermoelectric generators that then convert the heat into electric currents and charges the phone,” says Benson adding; “There is absolute no need for charging cables and not a worry in the world should there be no electric power.”
Benson envisions to automate the covers so that they can absorb any form of heat energy from the atmosphere not necessarily from the body. He says this will reduce expenses on electricity used to recharge devices especially when the covers can scale to every single rechargeable device.
Now in form three, Benson wishes to become a mechatronic engineer in future and calls his passion for wires big and unending. He wishes to scale the TEG projects to portable wearables leveraging on the internet of things technology due to the ever-growing demand of thermoelectric generators.
He admits to having heard about TEGs before but points out on its scarce availability in developing countries like Kenya where he could be the pioneer. He also acknowledges the challenges associated with such a venture as being the high cost for the conducting materials and inefficiency due to due to using not advanced technology due to the high cost of technology, but is firm to see to the end what he started.
Young and maybe naïve, Benson’s is an idea of great brilliance and proof for the untapped or just laying talent and innovative minds that when harnessed could make Africa not a technology importer as it has been known in the past.
Asked the necessity of school in the full glare of the money milking phone covers project he says, “School is important to help students learn what they don’t know from their teachers and peers. Also, the diversity characterized by the different backgrounds students come from also helps broaden one’s view about life.”