Lightbulb moment: Filipina invents lamp powered by saltwater

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A young woman’s inventive use of saltwater will see the faces of the Philippines light-up in a very real way.

Aisa Mijeno did just that, she invented the Sustainable Alternative Lighting lamp, often referred to as the SALt lamp.

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Mijeno’s 2011 trip to a tribe in the northern province of Kalinga gave her the idea to create a way to give light the tribe, and quite possibly the entire Philippines.

“I learned that people don’t have access to electricity and use kerosene lanterns as their main source of light,” said Mijeno.

She also added that many people who live in remote areas have to come down from the mountains to buy kerosene for their lamps – those who live in extreme poverty do not even have the luxury of purchasing kerosene.

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Aisa Mijeno at work. Photo courtesy of the PhilStar.

Mijeno said: “This inspired me to come up with SALt lamp since salt is pretty much abundant and a staple item in every household in the Philippines.”

Now, over four years later, during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila in November 2015, Mijeno shared the spotlight with US President Barrack Obama and Chinese business magnate Jack Ma to discuss her project, as well as her dreams.

“I was really nervous. I knew that I was there to represent the local startup community and later realize that it was not just the local startup community but the Philippines as a whole so I thought I should be really careful with all my answers,” she recalls.

Mijeno said the invitation to join Obama and Ma came as a surprise to her. Her brother and the rest of her team were supposed to join the APEC summit to address small and medium enterprises and their inventions.

Mijeno told the Inquirer in an interview that ‘on their way to the summit, she received a call from someone from the White House to invite her to be in a panel discussion that will be moderated by President Obama.’

“The first emotion I felt, to be quite honest, during the whole conversation was fear – because I was not sure if we were ready for the kind of exposure this will bring us. It will surely put a heavy pressure on our shoulders, but it was a once in a lifetime event, so my brother pushed me to accept the proposal,” says Mijeno.

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Aisa Mijeno at the APEC summit with President Obama, and Jack Ma of Alibaba

During the live presentation, Mijeno explained her concept of SALt, the use of saline solution to power LED lamps and a USB port that can charge smartphones.

“The huge impact we’ll be able to contribute when we dive into developing large-scale for the technology,” she told those in attendance. “Just imagine if we are able to power a whole island using ocean water.”

President Obama led the panel discussion after his speech at the APEC CEO summit. He is said to have been thoroughly impressed with the presentation saying “I think Aisa is a perfect example of what we’re seeing in a lot of countries, young entrepreneurs coming up with leap-frog technology.”

Mijeno told the PhilStar that her main objective of SALt is to illuminate rural communities in the Philippines and help them deviate from the use of expensive kerosene.

“Kerosene lanterns had been so pervasive because this lighting system had been passed down from generation to generation, mainly the reason why we didn’t remove the practice of how to use kerosene lantern system. But instead of pouring kerosene, you’re pouring saltwater. Instead of lighting up a match, you push an on and off button,” she explains.

Additional development of the prototype for SALt came from Ideaspace in 2014, a local startup who is assisting the project with funding and development.

“The SALt lamp uses the science behind the “Galvanic cell”, which is the basis for battery-making. But instead of electrolytes, it uses a non-toxic saline solution to make the entire process safe and harmless.

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The SALt Lamp

There are over 7,000 islands in the Philippines and most of these islands do not have access to electricity. We want to eliminate the sustaining cost in areas that rely on kerosene/battery powered lamps and candles as their main source of lighting,” a piece on the startup’s website read.

The young Filipina says she and her team continue to develop and redesign the SALt lamp system to make it even more efficient.

“We are working on new units to be deployed still for field testing. We wanted to extract all needed inputs for design, system, and functionality so we can improve the product even more before really going into mass production,” says Mijeno.

“But are also working towards the production of first batch for distribution. Currently, we are in partnership with a local manufacturing company and working together with their engineers,” she adds.

The startup also started various social activities with the aim to provide lamps to communities with no access to electricity. Among those identified as beneficiaries are residents of Buscalan town in Kalinga, where everything began.

“(We plan to) focus on research and development and further create more efficient innovations that would help uplift people at the bottom of the pyramid,” she says.

For Mijeno, like in the case of other startups, everything started with an idea – an idea that the primary objective is to provide help those who need it most.

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