Off-grid communities live autonomously without reliance on a utility for electricity, gas, sewage system, internet connection, and still today we can find many. Some of these people have voluntarily chosen to move away from the city and therefore from the services that are provided, while others are part of those indigenous groups that for centuries have inhabited remote areas, far from trade routes. These communities, sometimes completely foreign to technology, must find more and more solutions to adapt to climate change. WaterLight is one of the possible solutions for this context: a wireless light that converts salt water into electricity. A more reliable alternative to solar lamps, whose efficiency depends very much on the weather conditions.
Designed in Colombia by the local start-up E-Dina in collaboration with the Colombian division of the creative agency Wunderman Thompson, WaterLight guarantees instant energy, as soon as the container is filled with water. The portable device can be filled with 500 milliliters of seawater – or even urine in emergency situations – to emit up to 45 days of light. Acting as a mini power generator, WaterLight can also be used to charge a mobile phone or another small device via its integrated USB port.
The device works 24 hours a day through ionization, which sees electrolytes in the saline liquid react with magnesium and copper plates on the interior of the lamp to produce electricity. Although this is a long-established process, E-Dina has developed and patented a way to sustain the chemical reaction over a prolonged period of time so that it can be used to power a light source.
Throughout its life, one light can provide approximately 5,600 hours of energy, which equates to two or three years of use, depending on how often it is needed. The lamp has a cylindrical case made of Urapán wood with a circuit integrated into its base and a perforated cap on top that allows water to flow into the device while the hydrogen gas created during the ionization process can escape. After the salt particles have evaporated, the lamp can be emptied and refilled while the used water can be repurposed for washing or cleaning.
This current iteration of the lamp was designed specifically for the Wayúu people, an indigenous tribe living on the northernmost tip of South America where Colombia meets Venezuela. For centuries, the Wayúu have occupied the remote, desert landscape of the Guajira peninsula. Although removed from the rest of society, the area is surrounded on all sides by the Caribbean Sea, which offers a plentiful resource to power the WaterLight. Wunderman Thompson worked to integrate the rich, cultural heritage of the tribe into the design of the lights, with traditional symbols and patterns carved into its wooden casing and the colorful carrier straps woven by local craftswomen using a technique that goes back to pre-colonial times.
Once it reaches the end of its life, Wunderman Thompson claims the lamp can be fully recycled. The goal is to ultimately roll out a pared-back, mass-produced version of the WaterLight across the world to supply the 840 million people who currently live without electricity. The team expects the design will be particularly useful in places like Syria, Sierra Leone, and Somalia, which don’t have a comprehensive power grid but have direct access to a coastline.