How to change the world with a ‘litre’ of light


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Camilo Herrera has designed a system which provides remote regions, or those affected by conflict and natural disasters, with free light and internet


Camilo Herrera defines himself as an “anti-entrepreneur”. Most inventions, believes the young innovator, are aimed at people who are already well off and can easily afford them. He, on the other hand, is focused on those sectors of the population “who nobody thinks about and whose needs nobody addresses”. His project A Litre of Light exemplifies this outlook, aiming to help households that have few resources and no access to electric light. The project, which began in Colombia, has now expanded to eight countries.

A Litre of Light involves making lightbulbs from discarded plastic bottles, which can be used to light houses without a mains connection. The bottles, which contain a mixture of water and chlorine, are placed in a hole in the roof. They capture light from outside, which is reflected inside the bottle and then into the surrounding room, lighting the house.

Having started with this initial idea, A Litre of Light has now developed a new device, ELIOT (Energy Light Internet Of Things), which can provide isolated regions with both electricity and an internet connection. ELIOT consists of a network of 6-metre-tall posts containing solar panels, batteries and routers, connected to the internet by satellite. Thanks to ELIOT, the “anti-entrepreneur” has provided whole communities with access to internet and electric light. 

Residents can control when and for how long posts will be lit for each day and adjust their battery life. They have 100,000 hours of useful life, during which time Herrera’s organisation offers technical support (replacing damaged materials and components) via a service called LIFE (Light and Internet For Ever). They are currently operating in Colombia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Chile, Brazil and Ecuador, where they have “democratised access to these public services”.

In order to help bring the project to the areas where it is most needed, A Litre of Light has teamed up with Google through the Desafío Google (Google Challenge) programme. Through this partnership they aim to design packages containing all the materials necessary for residents of target areas to build the posts themselves. The boxes will be distributed in conflict zones or regions affected by natural disasters, where access to the electricity grid and internet has become impossible.

Herrera, who was named one of Colombia’s Innovators Under 35 in 2016 by the Spanish-language edition of MIT Technology Review, believes that this technology will help to ease the difficult conditions in the wake of catastrophes. The project may have grown from a bottle of water and chlorine into a large-scale humanitarian initiative, but Herrera’s objective remains the same: “To democratise resources that were once distributed with only the elite in mind”.

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