Filipino entrepreneur and engineer Aisa Mijeno found a serious social problem after living in a remote part of Philippines with the indigenous Butbut tribe for several days. The significant lack of efficient light sources not only in the area, but also in many parts of the country, led her to immediately start working on a solution.
She and her brother Raphael then came up with the “Sustainable Alternative Lighting” (SALt) lamp, an environment-friendly light source that runs on saltwater, a substance abundant especially in coastal areas.
“It is made of tediously experimented and improved chemical compounds, catalysts, and metal alloys that when submerged in electrolytes will generate electricity,” Mijeno told ABS-CBN.
In remote or mountainous villages, where saltwater is scarce, a mixture of two tablespoons of salt and one glass of tap water is enough to power the lamp for up to eight hours.
According to Mijeno, the ecologically-designed lamp is powered by the galvanic reaction of an anode with saline water instead of electrolytes. The ingenious device even has a USB port which can be used to charge smartphones, mp3 players and other low-power gadgets.
Mijeno’s vision and creativity earned her invention multiple awards and recognition from international organizations months after it was unveiled to the public.
“I used to be part of Greenpeace Philippines and did personal immersions/volunteers across rural communities, and there I learned so many things,” Mijeno said. “Most of these people are so poor and underprivileged that they endure long hours of walking just to get kerosene for their lamps.”
According to Mijeno, she understands the product’s funding challenges as investors might not see the poor as a viable market. “There is a certain degree of difficulty when it comes to achieving financials enough to sustain and to scale a social enterprise and/or a hardware startup,” she told Tech In Asia.
Mijeno said that even pricing the product has not been easy as their main focus is the underprivileged. “It is very difficult to find a middle point wherein we feel that we are not selling it for too much and also not underselling it.”
Currently priced at $35, or 1,645 Philippine Pesos, the lamp can still be a tough sell as the amount is relatively steep for a poor family. To meet this challenge, Mijeno seeks to further improving the lamp to extend its shelf life of 10 to 11 years by making it water- and shock-proof. The company is also aiming to optimize the lamp so it can produce up to 350 lumens, almost 4 times its current lumen rating of 90.
“Considering its use, the initial price of the lamp trumps the sustaining cost of battery and fuel-based lighting,” she added.
Recently, Mijeno’s brother received a letter from Silicon Valley’s Singularity University to participate in the Global Grand Challenge Awards, which will be held on August 28-30. To showcase the technology and hopefully gather funds to further develop the technology, the team is hoping to take part in the event.
The SALt creators then created a GoFundme campaign to raise money for the trip, which has so far raised $200 of its $2,000 goal.