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The computing community in general, and the Mac community in particular, have become increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of the usage and disposal of hardware. While it has become less than cool to dispose of a dead monitor or hard drive on a street corner or to simply trash a broken or outdated piece of equipment, it is often difficult to find viable recycling opportunities.

There’s also increasing concern on the generation and use of power. Rechargeable batteries are better for the environment, and in the long run less expensive than disposable ones, but they still need to be charged. To address that challenge, Better Energy Systems has introduced The Solio at the Macworld Expo—a product that impressed us so much, we gave it a Best of Show award.

The Solio is a small fan-like device (weighing approximately 5.8 ounces) with three small solar panels that can be charged in your home or car window. Made of recycled materials, the Solio generates energy from the sun and stores it within its own Lithium Ion battery. You can use the Solio to charge small electronic products like iPods, mobile phones, PDAs, digital cameras, GPS systems, and game consoles. You can use interchangeable adapters (available separately) to plug your gear into the unit. If it’s a dark and stormy night, you can always recharge the Solio by plugging it into a wall outlet. It’s not powerful enough to charge your laptop yet, but Better Energy Systems is working on it.

The Solio implements a novel idea: using solar energy to charge electronic equipment—for the convenience of not having to be near an electrical outlet, and/or for the environmental benefits of clean, naturally generated power. The company says that it takes between eight and ten hours of sunlight exposure to fully charge the Solio and that the speed of its charge to your mobile device is comparable to recharging the battery from the wall socket.

The Solio has already been released in the U.K., France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Australia, and Japan. The company plans to bring it in the U.S. within a few weeks. The base price for the iPod unit (which has a white outer coating that matches the iPod) will be $120. A mobile phone-only metal-finished unit costs $99. Adapters to either cost $20 a piece.

Right now, the Solio is compatible with Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Siemens, and Sagem phones. It also supports the Palm, dockable iPods, and various Nintendo Gameboys. For digital cameras, the Solio offers a 12-volt female car cigarette lighter port that plugs into the unit. If you have a car cigarette charger you can use it with the Solio.

Better Energy Systems has partnered with a UK-based environmental company called Future Forests that helps businesses determine how much carbon dioxide their manufacturing processes produce, gives them ways to reduce those emissions, and a way to “neutralize” what they cannot reduce. Those options include forestry, and investments into climate friendly technology. Better Energy Systems contributes trees to a biodiverse sustainable forest in Germany to make up for the carbon emissions from its manufacturing process.

With Solio, you can operate your small devices battery-free, and at the same time, stop being an outlet slave, and do your share as a computer user for a better environment. I encourage Better Energy Systems and other companies like them to invent and market such earth-friendly products.

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