The Retro Revive

20170914_112947After getting removed from a parent’s basement, my friend showed me the bag of retro games and consoles her parents had returned to her after years of sitting dormant. In my excitement of holding an original Game Boy, I flipped the device on only to have nothing happen. Batteries must be dead, was my natural assumption. I opened the battery compartment to find the batteries had leaked and corrosion EVERYWHERE.

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Alkaline Battery Corrosion! The HORROR!

A younger me would have said, “Well, nothing we can do with it now. We’ll have to get rid of it.” And if time travel were a thing, I might go back and give my younger self a rough shake and an education on when to declare an electronic dead.

Battery “Acid”

My younger self was told to never touch exploded batteries; “it’s acid and it will burn”. Well, it was a half-truth from my parents to keep me from playing with something potentially dangerous. Alkaline batteries don’t leak acid, they actually leak a material that registers as a base on the pH scale: potassium hydroxide.  Potassium hydroxide is a conductive solution used in alkaline batteries that can be harmful to us if the proper precautions are not taken in handling it. It’s a corrosive and can cause an itchy/burning sensation if it comes into contact with your skin, eyes, or if inhaled, so be sure to use gloves, safety glasses, and work in a well-ventilated area. Also, I wish it could go without saying, but DO NOT INGEST and wash your hands and work area after any contact with it, gloves or no.

Cleaning Alkaline Corrosion

(Please make sure you’re working with alkaline batteries before performing this cleaning method.)

When cleaning alkaline battery leaks, you want to use an acid like vinegar or lemon juice to take on the base corrosion. What you don’t want to use are other base materials to clean it like baking soda, ammonia, or bleach, you may just make things worse this way. If you’re concerned that the acid may be too strong for cleaning your device, feel free to use a 50/50 mix (equal parts) of distilled water and vinegar or distilled water and lemon juice instead.

Use a Q-tip or small brush (soft bristle toothbrushes work just fine, just don’t use it for teeth cleaning afterwards) dipped in your chosen cleaning acid to scrub off/eat away the corrosion. Wipe with a dry cloth to remove any lingering corrosive particles. Repeat as necessary and let it dry completely before trying to put new batteries in. (Recycle old batteries.)

Some devices are caked in corrosion and require a more thorough cleaning which involves taking the device apart and soaking the contacts as I had to do for this poor Game Boy.

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Taking the Game Boy apart to remove the contacts
corrosion on contacts: before and after
Before and after soaking the contacts to remove the corrosion

 

What if I can’t save it?

Corrosion is the eventual fate of all metals, whether they are corroded irreparably depends on the type of metal and the type of corrosive as well as the amount of corrosive it’s been exposed to and how long it’s been there. I don’t know how long the batteries in this device have been leaking exactly, but the corrosion had eaten through enough of the top layers of metal to pockmark it. Fortunately, it was not enough to cause it to be irreparable for this project, a good scrub allowed us to get this device up and running again.

Should the damage to your device be irreparable and replacement parts unable to be found, recycling your device is the best course of action to take. Since Illinois state law has a ban on electronics like these in landfills, you can find local recyclers that can take your devices. Nintendo also offers repair of their products and take back programs which will allow you to send your old Nintendo devices (and sometimes other companies devices) in for recycling for free. Sony also offers a version of recycling as well.

What if it’s not Alkaline Battery Corrosion?

In regards to other types of corrosion, the cleaning methods vary. Different corrosives require different techniques. Isopropyl alcohol (90% and higher) is frequently used to clean/rinse motherboards as it dries quickly, but you could also soak/rinse a board (only the board, no power source or hard drive, etc.) in distilled or de-ionized water. It’s not the water itself that causes the corrosion, but the impurities and chemicals found in the water (like fluoride and chlorine). We don’t recommend submerging the boards although it can be done, we find it a bit risky and wasteful of resources, instead we use Qtips to apply cleaner/remove corrosion and soft bristle toothbrushes for some extra scrubbing power when needed.

 

Thanks to HOBI International, Inc. for Continued Support!

We’d like to express our sincere gratitude to HOBI International, Inc. for their recent donation of $5000 to support our efforts to promote repair and extending the useful life of products here on the UIUC campus! HOBI has supported our efforts since the launch of the Illini Gadget Garage (IGG) project, providing a letter of support for our original proposal for a UI Student Sustainability Committee grant and making a previous $5000 donation.

HOBI international logo, with the letter HOBI and a lotus within the O. Below that are the words "Secure. Sustainable. Solutions."

HOBI International, Inc. is a leading mobile, IT and data center asset management provider with comprehensive and traceable solutions for device management, reverse logistics, data erasure, refurbishment and recycling, as well as compliance services. With locations in Arizona, Illinois and Texas, HOBI works with enterprises of all sizes nationwide. HOBI was founded by Cathy Hill and Craig Boswell and incorporated in the State of Illinois in 1992 as a privately held corporation. Its focus remains on the complete environmental disposition of post-consumption, manufacturing and mixed electronic surplus and scrap. The company holds R2, RIOS, ISO 14001:2004 and WBE certifications. You can learn more about them at https://hobi.com/about-hobi/.

Craig Boswell, HOBI President and Co-Founder, is a UI alum who has participated in several of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC)’s sustainable electronics efforts over the years. (ISTC coordinates the Illini Gadget Garage.) He served as a juror for the 2013 International Sustainable Electronics Competition, came to campus to present a guest lecture for the spring 2014 course ENG/TE 498: Sustainable Technology: Environmental and Social Impacts of Innovations, and was also a presenter during the 2012 ISTC Sustainability Seminar Series, speaking on design for recycling. You can view the archive of that seminar below. Craig has the unique experience of having been involved in designing electronics earlier in his career as an engineer for an electronics manufacturer. Now as someone who works in the recycling and asset management industry, he has been able to observe first-hand how design decisions impact the ability to repair or disassemble a product for material reclamation–typically by making all of that much more difficult because end-of-life management is not often considered in the design phase for electronic devices. He talks about that a little bit in the archived webinar below. It’s an important lesson which we hope UI industrial design and engineering students take to heart.

See our full list of sponsors at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/donate/sponsors/. HOBI’s contributions have put it at the “Platinum” level of sponsorship.

If you or your organization would like to contribute to IGG’s efforts to promote repair as a viable alternative to immediate replacement of consumer goods on the UIUC campus and beyond, donations can be made at http://www.sustainelectronics.illinois.edu/SEIdonation.html. After entering an amount, you’ll be taken to the UI Foundation’s secure giving site to provide your personal and credit card information. Every little bit helps us pay hourly employees that coordinate student volunteers and day-to-day operations, cover expenses for our physical workshop and consumables, and provide special services like webinars, workshops and collection of batteries for recycling. Your donations also help us keep this educational project free for the campus and broader community. See “Our Impact” to check out what we’ve been able to accomplish so far. Your support will help our positive impact grow!

Note: Businesses mentioned above are for informational and acknowledgement purposes only, and should not be construed as endorsements by the Illini Gadget Garage, the University of Illinois, or units affiliated with this project.

Get a Taste for Repair at the Taste of Champaign

Calling all University of Illinois students, faculty and staff, plus members of the broader Champaign-Urbana community! The Illini Gadget Garage will have a booth at this weekend’s Taste of Champaign at West Side Park in downtown Champaign, Friday, August 18 and Saturday, August 19. See the Facebook event for more details.

Stop by to learn more about the “do-it-together” troubleshooting and repair we provide to campus and community members, and why we think it’s so important that you consider repairing the electronic devices and small appliances you own rather than immediately replacing them when there’s a problem! Set up an appointment to come into our workshop to work with us on your device, learn about volunteer and educational opportunities, hear about our employee engagement event offerings, and learn how you can support continued efforts. Also, if you’re the sort of person who thinks, “oh, I could never repair a device” or “repair is too complicated,” we’ll have some practice devices on hand along with tools, so you can sit down and get a feel for what it’s like to open something up and use the tools–all without the pressure of worrying that you might make things worse with your personal device. We’re pretty sure (from our own experiences) that once you get a taste of repair and tinkering, you’ll be hungry for more!

We’ll be at booth #27 in the “Community Corridor”–conveniently near the stage and beer tents so you can’t miss us! We’ll be there from the beginning of festivities each day until 9 PM each evening. See https://champaignparks.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/TASTE-CU-2017-NG-Tabloid-Insert-w_MAP-FINAL-7.31.17.pdf for a printable map. We hope to see you there!

image of 2017 Taste of Champaign booth layout in West Side Park

Thanks to iFixit for Continued Support!

Our sincere thanks to iFixit for their recent donation of $1000 to support our efforts to promote repair and extending the useful life of products here on the UIUC campus! iFixit has supported our efforts since the launch of the Illini Gadget Garage (IGG) project, providing a letter of support for our original proposal for a UI Student Sustainability Committee grant and providing the toolkits that you’ve used if you’ve come to the IGG for help with repairs or to participate in a class.

iFixit logo, featuring the company name below a stylized blue and white Philips screw head

iFixit is the self-proclaimed “Free repair guide for everything written by everyone.” Founders Kyle Wiens and Luke Soules got into repair back in 2003, as students at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA. When attempting to fix an old iBook, they found that no instruction manuals were available online. So they tinkered on their own with the tools and information they could find, and ultimately were successful. The experience inspired them to try other repairs, but again they found it difficult to find instructions, parts, and tools. So they began buying old computers on eBay for parts, and created a business out of selling parts and writing repair guides for the devices they worked on. Now iFixit is a wiki-based site geared toward helping people fix almost anything. Anyone can create a repair manual for a device, or edit existing manuals to improve them.

iFixit also collaborates with universities to provide technical writing experiences for students, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, via the Illini Gadget Garage and Sustainable Electronics Initiative at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center. In the iFixit Technical Writing Project, students research common device problems and present software and repair solutions to guide others through the troubleshooting and repair process. To see guides completed or being worked on by UI students as part of this effort, see http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/ifixit-student-guides/.

See our full list of sponsors at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/donate/sponsors/. This most recent contribution has brought iFixit up to the “Diamond” level of sponsorship. If you or your organization would like to contribute to IGG’s efforts to promote repair as a viable alternative to immediate replacement of consumer goods on the UIUC campus and beyond, donations can be made at http://www.sustainelectronics.illinois.edu/SEIdonation.html. After entering an amount, you’ll be taken to the UI Foundation’s secure giving site to provide your personal and credit card information. Every little bit helps us pay hourly employees that coordinate student volunteers and day-to-day operations, cover expenses for our physical workshop and consumables, and provide special services like webinars, workshops and collection of batteries for recycling. Your donations also help us keep this educational project free for the campus and broader community. See “Our Impact” to check out what we’ve been able to accomplish so far. Your support will help our positive impact grow!

Incidentally, if you’d like to know a little bit more about iFixit and the work they do, both Kyle and Luke are featured in the documentary Death by Design, which the IGG will be screening (for FREE) on Tuesday, August 22 at the Champaign Public Library–see http://illinois.edu/calendar/detail/2195/33277370 for further details. We hope to see you then!

logo for film "Death by Design" showing a soldering iron and smoke on a circuit board, with the film's name and tag line "The dirty secret of our digital addiction."

Note: Businesses mentioned above are for informational and acknowledgement purposes only, and should not be construed as endorsements by the Illini Gadget Garage, the University of Illinois, or units affiliated with this project.

Group Laptop Teardown Offers Hands-on, No-Pressure Experience

Interested in taking a closer look at how your technology works? Want to try taking apart a device without the risk of damaging something you own? Stop in to the Illini Gadget Garage for a group teardown. We will work as a group to open and investigate a matching set of laptops in order to learn more about how they work and how to repair them. We only have 8 laptops available, so spots will fill up quickly. Reserve your spot today.

This event will be at our main location at 1833 S Oak Street, Champaign, IL on August 1, 2017 from 10:15 AM – 1:00 PM.

Close up of someone using a spudger to work on a circuit board. The words "Tech Teardown" appear in the upper right corner of the image.

 

Death by Design Screening, August 22 at Champaign Public Library

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.

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.

After the film, there will be a brief discussion and Q&A session facilitated by Joy Scrogum, Sustainability Specialist from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) and project coordinator for the Illini Gadget Garage. UI Industrial Design Professor William Bullock will also participate in the panel discussion; other panelists will be announced as they are confirmed. Professor Bullock is also an adviser for the Illini Gadget Garage project; see more about IGG advisers at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/meet-the-advisers/.  Check the IGG web site calendar and Facebook page for room details and panelist announcements.

Admission to this public screening is FREE, but donations are suggested and appreciated to support future outreach and educational efforts of the Illini Gadget Garage. See http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/donate/donation-form/ to make an online donation and http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/ for more information on the project.

Bullfrog Films presents…DEATH BY DESIGN from Bullfrog Films on Vimeo.