Visit to Substation33

I visited and volunteered for 3 days in April at Substation33 who receives e-waste at this facility in Logan (south Brisbane, QLD). Work for the dole 'employees' and volunteers take apart and separate recyclables.

Another aspect is reuse of lithium batteries from old laptops, drills, etc. The batteries are broken out of their plastic casing, voltage tested, and cleaned up.

Batteries above 1V are kept, matched with another similar voltage, and then charged for 2 days.

Batteries of same capacity are then soldered together and labeled.

Batteries are then de-charged as lithiums prefer to store at around 50% energy storage.

Packs are the joined together to make one large 12V battery.

This is the battery pack ready for installation into an automated flood warning sign commercial product that is being deployed across the local council area. The sign is made with some reused parts as well as some new parts.

A visit to another ex-substation33 volunteer's house where he is experimenting with different lighting, charging stations, and so on. This is an example of a lithium battery storage pack charged by solar for charging portables.

Substation33 makes their own 3D printers for about $65 cost of new materials. Everything else is reclaimed, printed, and assembled by volunteers. These printers then print the parts for the battery packs, water measuring float device, and any other products being produced at substation33. They use virgin plastic beads, but make their own filament and are planning on recycling plastics.

A few insights:

  • lithium batteries should be kept between 20% and 80% charged only if you want long life out of them!

  • phones, laptops, your cordless battery charger do not respect the above parameters. They are letting them drain too low and charging them to 100% - they want to sell you more batteries....

  • when your laptop battery dies, it is only 1 or 2 cells that are bad - the others can be reused. Do not put in landfill - find someone who recycles or reuses them. The fact that they are not designed to be taken out and replaced as needed is a con/fraud/ environmental tragedy...

  • what substation33 does with lithiums is not replicable in Australia because too many batteries are going to landfill. It could be replicable in each major city around the world though... especially where regulations and culture is more environmentally conscious..

  • more e-waste should be recycled (by work for the dole and volunteers) although it sux how prevalent designed obsolescence is and how capitalism means it is cheaper to dispose of everything instead of taking responsibility for it (perfectly working appliances are in the waste stream).