Environmentally friendly solar-powered light could be a life-saver

Press release: 4 July, 2002

Lives could be saved in developing countries around the world, thanks to a bright idea from a young, London-based designer. His invention - 'Re-light' - is an alternative light source for rural communities where thousands of children are killed or maimed each year in fires started by oil lamps or candles.

Re-light is the brainchild of Sylvain Willenz, a Design Products student at the Royal College of Art, and Yves Sinner, a Luxembourg-based designer. Sylvain received a special environmental design award of £2,000 on July 4 2002 from the British Standards Institution. Sylvain says: "Re-light is solar-powered and environmentally friendly, and can continue to be used at the end of its natural life - as a photo-frame. In addition to being useful in rural communities in developing countries, Re-lights could be used by people on the move like motorists, cyclists and campers who need a lightweight, convenient source of illumination". 

The award was presented by Vivian Thomas CBE, Chairman of the BSI group of companies, who said: "Sylvain has developed an impressive concept which addresses both social and environmental issues in relation to the developing world. This is an area which has had little attention from contemporary designers, and I wish Sylvain every success in commercialising his prototype. BSI grants a number of design awards each year. Through these, we aim to help encourage environmentally sensitive innovations which help society find better ways to work and live."

How does 'Re-light' work?

The design takes advantage of state-of-the-art light emitting diode (LED) technology which outperforms many other kinds of light by lasting up to a hundred hours in use while using significantly less power.

To protect the Re-light from exposure to dust or water, it has been designed without external moving parts like switches or buttons. Instead, the light is activated by an internal tilt switch. This enables the entire circuitry (solar panel, LEDs, batteries and tilt switch) to be completely encased in clear resin.

When the solar panel faces upwards, the light is off and can charge in the sunlight. Turning the light into any other position will switch it on automatically. The Re-light will give up to ten hours light a day, and is designed to last for four years.

Although the Re-light's ability to be used as a picture-frame means that recycling or disposal are not necessary after the light function stops working, the inventor has still made sure that the tilt-switch and rechargeable batteries are free of cadmium and mercury.

A major advantage of the Re-light is that it uses low-cost components. Sylvain expects a commercial model to sell for around £5.

Sylvain has sent a Re-light to Angola for field testing by the aid organisation Medicins Sans Frontieres. He is also talking to the Intermediate Technology Development Group, a charity which specializes in helping people use technology for practical answers to poverty.

The presentation took place on July 4 2002 at the Royal College of Art in London - the world's only wholly postgraduate university of art and design.