Wednesday, 30 January 2013


We live in our own worlds of excess. We waste food and many other essentials without thinking that it can be utilised in many different ways, let alone feeding or helping the millions who are not as privileged as we are. In our quest of becoming more and more civilised, we tend to waste more, and, in the process, waste management becomes a major pain-point.

To deal with this issue in an efficient way, a mechanical engineer and an environmental professional from Pune developed a technology to treat bio-waste with the help of castor oil cakes. Their waste disposal method can treat 5 tonnes of hotel waste on a daily basis to generate electricity through an eco-friendly biogas plant. The cakes have to be crushed and put in a digester to give volatile solids, which in turn can be used as biogas. 400 cubic meters of gas can be generated through one plant, which is equivalent to 230 litres of diesel or 200 kg of LPG. Five tonnes of food waste can yield 350 cubic metres of biogas daily.
Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC)

In the poorest, darkest and most remote parts of Panama, ‘Light From Below’ came up with a design for an easy-to-build lamp powered by electricity generated from mud. Azoarcus, Azospirillum, and Geobacteraceae, some of the most electrochemically active bacteria populations are present in soil, mud and decomposed organic material. The technology used was earth energy, a way of producing electrical energy from the change in the rate of chemical reactions produced by micro-organisms, with the help of a microbial fuel cell (MFC). A recent experiment by a group of Harvard students showed that the most recent MFC produces enough electricity to power a small LED bulb for up to a year.

Solar Bottle Bulb
Necessity, most certainly, is the mother of invention, for the invention of the simple solar bottle bulb in Brazil was purely out of sheer need. In 2002, Alfredo Moser, a mechanic from Sao Paulo, came up with a solar bottle bulb to combat rampant power outages. He had a workshop and the frequent outages would lead to unwanted and prolonged disruption of work as the crammed spaces would not allow any light to enter the rooms even during daytime. The idea was very simple – to fill a one litre plastic bottle with water and bleach, cap it and seal it, and the bub is ready. If the bottle if let down from an aperture on the roof during daytime, the water inside would disperse and refract sunlight and the light produced will be same as that of a 50W bulb. With time, the bulb has found major acceptance in places like Manila (slum areas) and Philippines (low-income groups).

Lights made out of egg carton

More often than not, we feel that there are too many things at home which are only taking up space. But we can use some of that stuff too and transform them into a source of light. For example, a simple egg carton can be made into a beautiful lighting system! Here’s how. Divide the cones of the egg carton and cut it into four strips. They would be the petals. Use acrylic colours of your choice and paint them. Repeat it for three cones and insert them into each other and stick them with some glue. The inner most carton doesn’t need strips. Finally, make an opening passing through all three cones and insert light wires and bulbs. It is ready!

Innovative lights out of waste

The next time when we want to throw
stuff away, let us all take some time and think if it can be put to some good use or not. Obviously, everything cannot be used; but simple things can help create extraordinary products. All we need to do is waste a little more carefully for waste too can be useful.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Igniting Innovations

 Light, on earth, is synonymous with Life. Light is the source of all activities and the epicentre of the force of life. Hence we humans have tried to innovate ways of getting light even after the sun goes down. 
 Thomas Alva Edison 

Since the invention of the light bulb by Thomas Alva Edison 1880, we have tried to re-invent and modernize it to fit necessity and demand. Today electric lights have become an essential part of life.
  The three-dimensional and spiral CFL, called helical, was invented by Edward Hammer in 1976, in response to the 1973 oil crisis. The lamps were sold only in 1995 when China started producing them commercially.

Nick Holonyak, Jr

However, the LEDs are being deemed as the next big thing. Nick Holonyak, Jr., also known as the ‘father of the light-emitting diode’, invented the first practically useful visible LED in 1962 while working as a consulting scientist New York. 

    In May 2008, the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the Bright Tomorrow Lighting Prize competition. On September 24, 2009, Philips Lighting North America submitted their product, and, on August 3, 2011, Philips was awarded in the category to replace the 60W A-19 Edison screw-fixture light bulb. The 10W, 900-lumen Philips bulb has been made available to consumers since April 2012.
   Attempting to make something eco-friendly and cost-effective, in 2008, two Harvard graduates, Jessica O. Matthews and Julia Silverman, created something which they named the ‘SOCCKET’, a soccer ball that doubles as a generator. After finishing a game, a single-bulb LED lamp can be plugged into the ball to provide hours of light.

Solar Water Bulb
  To combat major power outages which were taking place in Brazil in 2002, Alfredo Moser, a mechanic from Sao Paulo, created the ‘Solar Water Bulb’. Simply fill a one litre plastic bottle with water and bleach, cap it and seal it; a water bulb is ready. The water inside the bottle disperses and refracts sunlight and is equivalent to a 50W bulb.
  In 2006, a bunch of first-semester students at Cooper Union in New York, created a lamp from local products (like hair relaxer tub, an orange drink container and three bicycle spokes) at less than $10. The lamp could go on for two days without recharging. The project gradually took the form of a campaigning organisation called ‘SociaLite’. Today, SociaLite has evolved into a solar-powered lighting project designed to meet the specific needs of the extreme poor.

    Nonetheless, even today, more than a billion people around the world have no access to electricity. Faced by challenges like high cost and sustainability, providing for lighting for all is a major task. The answer may however lie in local solutions and initiatives like ‘Lighting A Billion Lives’ by The Energy And Resources Institute.