This Lamp Runs on Seawater

WaterLight was designed for off-the-grid communities in South America.

The Guajira Peninsula is surrounded by saltwater that can be used to produce light.


While most of the western world is connected to electrical grids, there are still parts of the world that are too remote to have access to electricity. In Alaska and Australia, communities are powered by diesel and more sustainable off-the-grid communities by solar.

But the Guajira Peninsula at the tip of Northern South America where Columbia and Venezuela meet, is so remote and so impoverished that there is limited access to electricity, but seawater is abundant according to Fast Company. Now, seawater is being used to power small lanterns that will light up the darkness for the Wayúu people, who live there.

This handheld lantern, called WaterLight, works on just two cups (500 milliliters) of seawater. Electrolytes in the saltwater react with magnesium and copper plates in the lantern – a process called ionization – and that creates electricity. “With one charge, it can be used for around 45 days, depending on how much you use it,”  Pipe Ruiz, an executive creative director for Wunderman Thompson Colombia (the company that designed the lantern) told Fast Company.

The lamp was developed by the Columbian renewable energy start-up E-Dina. Unlike solar devices, WaterLight is not weather dependent. One lantern is expected to provide 5,600 hours of electricity which can last for up to three years depending on use according to Dezeen. It can also be used to slowly charge cell phones.

The lantern has a cylindrical case made of native Urapán wood and has a circuit integrated into the base and a perforated cap on top that can be used to pour the saltwater in as well as let the gas created during the process escape. After the water is used up, the lamp can be emptied and refilled.

An additional benefit is that since the ionization separates salt from the seawater, it can be used for washing or drinking. When the lamp reaches the end of its life, it can be recycled.

The lantern that is being tested now was specifically designed for the Wayúu, an indigenous tribe which has lived in this remote area and removed from the rest of society. “E-Dina is a Colombian company and we wanted to start with a local community with the problem of no access to electricity, ” Ruiz told Dezeen.

“We chose the Wayúu community because they're a population that's been forgotten by the government. ”

The WaterLight allows children to study at night, and people to work later.  Fishermen are also using the lamps on small boats so that they can fish at night according to Fast Company. It is already making a big difference in the lives of the Wayúu.

The designers plan to distribute the lanterns to other poor  coastal areas with the help of nonprofits and governments. “We see that millions of people around the world are without access to electricity on the coasts,” Ruiz told Fast Company. “But actually they do have access to the oceans.”

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