“The idea came from my sister,” says Raphael Mijeno, CFO at SALt a startup based in the Philippines which hopes to combat the lack of rural electricity with salt water. This solution means one glass of water and two tablespoons of salt will power a household lamp for eight hours.
“There's more than 7,000 islands in the Philippines,” explains Mijeno. “We're surrounded by ocean water. And I guarantee that every single household has three things: rice, water and salt.” He feels what gives this the edge over solar lamps and other forms of alternative technology is it “is not weather dependent, it's something you'll be able to use in the times of disasters”.
Lack of electricity is a huge problem in many emerging regions. It means many ordinary people rely on kerosene lamps or candles as their main source of lighting. This causes families huge expense along with wider social problems like fires, burns and lung damage from smog inhalation.
Raphael Mijeno’s sister, Aisa, who is CEO of the company, thought up the solution when she was staying in Kalinga in the northern Philippines and noticed the practical problems that arose from kerosene use:
“Typically, remote villages like the one my sister visited are 30-50km away from the nearest town. 50km in the case of Kalinga, and the people of the Butbut tribe has to walk 12 hours every two days to buy kerosene,” he explains. However, the brother and sister team could only fully materialise the idea when they got on the IdeaSpace incubation program last June.
Mijeno describes working with his sister as “convenient” as they understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. “We started with just the two of us so we really had to carry a heavy workload,” he says. Now the business is in a state of growth: “We're about to close our first round of funding and we're about ready to go into mass production”.
One of the biggest challenges with a solution like this is getting it into the hands of ordinary people and to this end SALt is “constantly in talks with NGOs and Foundations”. This solution is currently available across the globe “but not in volume - mostly individual interest”. And while Mijeno describes “quite a bit of buzz in India” he adds “right now our main focus is the Philippines”.
Short-term the company is focused on its first run of production (“I'm a little excited and a lot terrified by the thought”). Mid-term it is looking to stabilise a steady monthly flow of production. And long-term “we have a lot of ideas” concludes Mijeno. “The lamp is the first one but we're planning to come up with a whole lot more.”
PREVIOUS ARTICLE«Typical 24: Dan Pickett, nfrastructure
Jon Collins’ in-depth look at tech and society
Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond