Closely seeing real problems hounding Peru’s remote areas such as rural forest communities, researchers from the Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) developed a low-cost LED lamp powered by plants and soil.
The team made up of teachers and eight students developed the plant lamp, which operates through energy stored in soil containing microorganisms and nutrients, released by plants as they grow.
The free electrons from the microorganisms are harnessed to feed the low-energy, high-illumination lamp, which can provide two hours of light every day.
Team leader Elmer Ramirez, also energy and power engineering professor at UTEC, shared that they combined the plant and soil in a wooden pot with a properly protected irrigation system.
“Then, inside the pot we place the energy generation system that we created, which stores soil and electrodes capable of converting plant nutrients into electric energy,” he explained.
Here’s how it works: each lamp unit is made up of a planter with an electrode grid in the soil, where a plant is growing. The electrode grid gets free electrons from the oxidation processes, storing the energy in a battery also buried in the soil, which in turn feeds the lamp.
The plant lamp is aimed at serving the native Nuevo Saposa community – home to the ethnic group Shipibo Conibo – situated in a region with the lowest electricity access rate. Locals typically use a kerosene lamp to light their homes, but it is deemed cost-prohibitive and a source of unpleasant fumes.
On top of other resource shortages in the community, the lack of electricity has “a major impact on its social, educational and family development,” said UTEC marketing director Jessica Ruas.
10 prototypes of the LED lamp had been sent the families in the village.
For Ramirez, their innovative product harnesses the huge amount of vegetation surrounding Nuevo Saposa, particularly the Amazon’s own plants, soil, and other natural gems.
In addition, the plant lamp is believed to demonstrate how engineering addresses social problems.
“We are positive that this will result in a better quality of life for community families, [who] will have access to renewable energy to provide light to their homes,” Ruas said, pertaining to the benefits for children’s study hours for school or for the adults sustaining their livelihood.