Students Bring New Light to Africa Marketplaces

Professor Arne Jacobson and Stephen Kullman (‘08) test LED lights for durability and efficiency.

FOR ABOUT 25 CENTS a day Kenyan vendors can illuminate their market stalls with kerosene lamps. That might sound like pocket change, but in Kenya it represents a significant cost—in more ways than one. In addition to the financial cost, particulates produced by the kerosene lamps can cause respiratory infections, asthma and lung cancer.

The solution? Light emitting diodes or LEDs.

Environmental Resource Engineering Professor Arne Jacobson, a Schatz Energy Research Center Co-Director, traveled to Kenya in summer 2008 with graduate students Kristen Radecsky and Peter Johnstone to conduct research on vendors using the ubiquitous kerosene lamps. Aside from gathering data, the Humboldt State team offered the vendors an alternative. Before traveling to Kenya, Johnstone and Radecsky, along with fellow Schatz employees, spent many hours designing and assembling 20 LED lamps. The research team then spoke to vendors about the benefits of LEDs and sold more than a dozen Schatz-manufactured lamps at a market-rate price of $10.

“We found that LED products are likely better for people than kerosene lighting,” Johnstone says. “They tend to be less expensive in the long run to own and operate, and do not emit dangerous particulate matter.”

As a gift to the vendors who participated, Johnstone and Radecsky took photos of the vendors and gave them a copy. Each portrait was labeled with “Off Grid Lighting Project 2008, Humboldt State University, Asante Sana,” Swahili for ‘thank you very much.’

“With the research results we can make recommendations to manufacturers who design lighting products so that they can deliver better lights to customers living in locations like Kenya,” Radecsky says.

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