Technological Institute of the Philippines

Project Ilawà: lighting the Philippines one village at a time

Power outages can cost the Philippines an estimated 4.5 billion Pesos in lost productivity every hour. In 2017 alone, the frequent blackouts from the local government units of Northern Luzon all the way down to the Zamboanga Peninsula totaled at least 500 hours, not counting unreported and small-scale outages. On top of the problems brought about by intermittent electricity—such as the shutdown of technology, idled business resources, and declined productivity—blackouts takeaway light. Without light, even the simplest tasks, such as moving around at home, become dangerous, and critical service facilities, such as hospitals and clinics, can become severely paralyzed.

Barangay Balibago, located on Talim Island that is within Laguna Lake, is one of the poorest and remotest villages in the Rizal area, and is a community that regularly suffers complete blackouts for weeks at a time. The power lines and poles that dot Balibago are very fragile and dilapidated, and the slightest rain or gusts of wind are enough to cut the village’s power.

Because of the frequent power interruptions on Balibago, community folk scramble to complete their essential tasks while the sun is still up. For example, students cram to finish their homework before dark, while families face health risks from the acrid fumes of makeshift candles and lamps they use to illuminate their indoor chores. Even worse, blackouts make fishing drastically more difficult, undermining Balibago’s main source of livelihood. Fishing is most efficiently done at night, where fishermen ideally use rechargeable portable lights to guide their way to fishing spots and effectively lure fish into nets cast near the water’s surface. Without electricity from which they can charge lamps and batteries, Balibago fishermen incur fluctuating costs to buy from Talim Island’s very limited supply of kerosene fuel for lamps or disposable batteries for flashlights. After decades of suffering, residents feel that Balibago’s dilemma will never be solved.

Team Blade T.I.P. was made aware of Balibago’s situation by a fellow T.I.P. Computer Engineering alumnus. Upon visiting and experiencing first-hand the plight of Balibago, Team Blade T.I.P. was compelled to help solve the village’s problem by providing an alternative lighting solution—one that is dependable, easily maintained, and most of all, powered by Balibago’s most abundant (and free) resource, the lake water.

After over six months of painstaking work, Team Blade T.I.P. managed to design prototypes of three lighting configurations running on batteries—likewise developed by the team—that draw power from polluted water. While all use the same submersible batteries composed of aluminum can cutouts, activated carbon from used water filters, and copper wires, the three lighting configurations address different lighting needs.

The first configuration is called the Battery Buoy. This floating device can be left in the lake and is used to guide boats in the dark as fish coral markers, and more importantly, to attract fish to the water’s surface where nets are cast. Second is the Battery Basket, which sits in the water-logged portion of fishing outriggers to act as an on-board boat light. Third is the Battery Basin, which can be filled with lake water and used in the home and on streets. Each configuration can provide light for up to two weeks with their batteries submerged in polluted lake water, before the battery aluminum must be replaced from recycled cans.

The appliances are aptly named Project Ilawà, an amalgamation of the term “ilaw mula sa lawa” or “light from the lake.” Upon deploying two Project Ilawà sets to Balibago, the residents were already asking Team Blade T.I.P. if they were for sale—a reaction confirming that Project Ilawà does indeed fulfill the villagers’ needs for an easy-to-use, practical, and sustainable lighting solution.

Currently, Team Blade T.I.P. is working on further improving the devices, specifically making the configurations more robust and lightweight while maintaining and possibly improving their power generating capability. The team is also patenting their designs and is hoping to formally launch the package this coming March 2018. Additionally, Team Blade T.I.P. will continue developing Project Ilawà even after they graduate this year, optimizing its production process and working to establish it as the alternative and sustainable lighting solution in areas similar to Balibago, and possibly even beyond.

Project Ilawà’s journey from conception to product deployment was institutionally-supported by the Technological Institute of the Philippines (T.I.P.). Through T.I.P.’s current thrust on Student Technopreneurship and Industry-Academe Collaborative Applied Research (T.I.P. TechnoCoRe), students such as the members of Team Blade T.I.P. are molded into engineers with the ability to identify problems in the society, think of viable solutions to these problems, and effectively develop and implement these solutions towards the betterment of Filipinos’ lives. Through T.I.P. TechnoCoRe, students are equipped with and trained in the skills necessary to make an impact on the nation’s development.