Bottle bulbs – a light of hope for the Sundarbans

Bottle bulbs – a light of hope for the Sundarbans

March 29, 2015

Worldwide, difficult living conditions can be found not only across developing countries but also in pockets of developed countries. In an effort to bring light to those in the dark, a global campaign called 'Liter of Light' has been helping people to use low-cost technology to light up their homes. After successfully bringing about a positive change in places in the Philippines, Kenya, Mexico, Egypt, Columbia and many more countries, and after finding success in a few places in India, the project has now turned its focus to the Basanti area of the Sundarbans in West Bengal. The campaign in India is being implemented through MyShelter Foundation India.

A group of students of Kolkata-based Heritage Institute of technology (HIT) were trained by the foundation to build these low-tech light sources, a type of bulb, which were then carried to Basanti, and installed by the students themselves in pre-selected homes. Pradeep Chanti of MyShelter Foundation India travelled from Hyderabad to the Heritage Institute of Technology to conduct a workshop on how to build these 'solar bottle bulbs.'

Pradeep Chanti at HIT during the workshop (India PR Wire)

Though assistance of the panchayats was easily available, locals were initially sceptical when first approached. Initially only 10 families had agreed to the plan, but gradually more and more families are coming around to the benefits of this low-cost lighting technology. The pilot project by the Rotary club of HIT has been a success; seeing how the installed lights are helping homes to be lighted up during the day (mostly, the window-less hovels of the poor allow no light to come in even during daytime), the people in the villages are willing to give these novel lights a try.

How the ‘bottle bulbs’ work

Basically, the bottle bulbs help to have a source of light inside homes during the daytime, homes which are often dark even during the day because of the inability to spare space for a window. Where there is electricity, the bulbs have helped to save a lot of electricity. Bottles are filled up with a mixture of distilled water, salt and chlorine. The salt helps to slow down evaporation of the water, and the chlorine acts as bleach to protect the water so it doesn't turn green with algae, because the cleaner the bottle, the better. These are then inserted into metal sheets, where holes have been cut out already. These kits are then embedded on the roofs, with the upper halves of the bottles jutting out to catch the sun's rays and the lower halves inside inside acting as the sources of light. The sun's rays falling on a bottle are refracted through water. The refracted light spreads at 360 degrees in a room and produces light equivalent to a 50 watt-bulb. A 1.5-2-litre PET bottle is ideal as the source of light.

Check out the video below to see how simple the technology is, and what a difference it makes in people's lives instantly.

The inventor

This simple yet ingenious method of using plastic bottles, water and the sun to provide indoor lighting was the brainchild of a Brazilian mechanic, Alfredo Moser. In 2002, he came up with this method of illuminating his house in the southern Brazilian city of Uberaba. Then, in 2011, social entrepreneur Illac Diaz of the Philippines learnt about this and decided to implement these bulbs in that country. He started My Shelter Foundation for this purpose, and since then, there has been looking back. From Philippines, the bulbs have spread to about 15 countries, in many of which the projects are run in collaboration with, or directly by, My Shelter Foundation. The foundation also trains people to create and install the bottles, in order to earn a small income. 

Lighting the way: Alfredo Moser with his invention (BBC)

Lighting during the night

But all this begs an obvious question: what about lighting during the night?

Pradeep Chanti of My Shelter Foundation India says that they have looked into this problem and have come up with a solution – a solar panel with an LED bulb. Depending on the bulk of the order, these can be bought for as little as Rs 450, which will run for five years. According to Chanti, their technology is far more efficient than any conventional lantern available at the same price. They have also added a new element to the recycling philosophy by making use of medical waste to waterproof the wiring and LED.

The solar panel is fitted on the mouth of the plastic bottle with the LED bulb glued to its bottom. The wire is sealed off with glue and a switch is provided which is used to turn the light on or off. The only trouble is that during the monsoon, when the sun hides behind clouds, this model will be effective only partially. Also, the battery loses its efficiency after one-and-a-half years and members of a community have to be trained to service the night light and replace the battery.

But a positive aspect of the drive is its aversion towards patent, as the initiative doesn't believe in patents.

The logo of Liter of Light initiative, under the MyShelter Foundation (Wikipedia)

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