Solar-Powered LED Lanterns for the Replacement of Oil Lamps in the Developing World

EPA Grant Number: SU833155
Title: Solar-Powered LED Lanterns for the Replacement of Oil Lamps in the Developing World
Investigators: Lilly, Brian
Current Investigators: Walsh, T. Patrick , Barot, Suhail , Kumar, Rahul , Kumar, Shantanu , Kumar, Vikash , Lilly, Brian , Mahto, Tarkeshwar , Majure, Lydia , Mishra, Dhanada , Parikh, Harshil , Singer, Andrew , Singh, Amit , Somers, Maren , Thompson, William , Weissman, Jon
Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Current Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign , Jagannath Institute for Technology and Management
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: May 1, 2007 through April 30, 2008
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2006) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Energy , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Two billion people light their homes with oil lanterns. These lamps produce a minuscule amount of light, but due to their inefficiency are estimated to result in the additional consumption of one third of the total energy used globally for all electrical home lighting, with a disproportionately large contribution to carbon dioxide and soot emissions. In a continuing trend, light emitting diodes (LEDs) have recently become more affordable and more power efficient. It is hoped that within five years, large manufacturers will produce solar-charged battery operated LED lanterns suitable for the world’s off-grid poor. This enormous market would make for huge economies of scale, replacing billions of dollars in annual sales of petroleum products with clean technology. But due to low profit margins, high risk, and distribution difficulty, sensible products for the developing world’s poor are sometimes overlooked. Our goal is to demonstrate to large investors the viability of this opportunity, by designing and putting into service simple, rugged, low-cost solar LED lanterns.


Our students demonstrated LED lights and gathered information in a poor area of rural India over a two-month stay, and set a target production cost of $20 per complete lantern based on our research. This is a great but manageable amount of money for most villagers. These lanterns will save in the long term approximately 60% of a lighting budget, which is itself a large part of total spending. Furthermore, overnight indoor air quality will improve with the use of renewable clean technologies. Our design specifications differ significantly from anything currently being made: The lantern will produce a small but useful amount of light, allowing for a sustainable, inexpensive power-supply.

Expected Results:

Our phase one goal is to complete a lantern design by October, 2006 and then fabricate 100 prototypes for delivery to our partners in India for assessment in their real-world environment. Changes will be incorporated in phase two with the design of a scalable model for the manufacture of 10,000 lanterns, delivered to dealers by September, 2007. A large-scale production run is necessary to take advantage of bulk pricing and lower manufacturing costs, so a sizeable phase two capital base of roughly $200,000 will be required.

Our goal is to gain invaluable experience as people and as engineers, develop an innovative technology actually useful to people in desperate situations, and affect a reduction in an overlooked source of considerable greenhouse gas emissions.

Supplemental Keywords:

RFA, Scientific Discipline, TREATMENT/CONTROL, Sustainable Industry/Business, Sustainable Environment, Technology, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Environmental Engineering, clean energy, clean technologies, green design, kerosense alternative, solar powered LED lanterns, carbon dioxide, environmentally friendly green products, alternative energy source, pollution prevention

Relevant Websites:

Phase 2 Abstract

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report
  • P3 Phase II:

    An Innovative System for Bioremediation of Agricultural Chemicals for Environmental Sustainability  | 2008 Progress Report  | Final Report