July 30, 2009 A Kansas State University student is combining engineering and nature to design a more affordable and more sustainable lighting source for those living without electricity.
Tai-Wen Ko, K-State senior in electrical engineering, is mentoring Justin Curry, K-State freshman in electrical engineering. The pair is designing a solar lantern with a more affordable initial cost. Ko is focusing his efforts for people living in Sub-Saharan Africa, which he said is the least electrified region in the world.
Ko said kerosene lamps are the most affordable option for people without electricity, but the lamps can be expensive to maintain and they produce carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming. He said solar lanterns are a popular alternative to kerosene lamps because they run on renewable energy and aren't at risk of starting a fire.
"Solar lanterns are not hard to make," Ko said. "You have to find the right parts and have ideas on how to build a circuit. I wanted to make a design that would be easy enough for someone living in Sub-Saharan Africa to build on their own, which would lower the cost because they wouldn't have to have it shipped."
Ko said his solar lantern has three main components: a solar panel, battery and a white light-emitting diode. He researched different types of these materials and chose the cheapest options. Ko said his lantern is about 30 percent cheaper than the average market value.
Most solar lanterns available use florescent tubes, which draw too much power, Ko said. He decided to use a white light-emitting diode because it's cheaper, lasts longer and is brighter. He chose the cheapest option for his solar panel and also for his battery, which is a sealed lead-acid battery and is similar to a car battery.
Ko said an environmental concern for his lantern is that the battery contains lead, so he is researching a recycling plan that could be implemented in the Sub-Saharan African region. A lithium ion battery would be better for the environment, Ko said, but its current cost is expensive.
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