Shedding Light on the Moser Lamp

In the midst of yet another electricity blackout in the Brazilian countryside in 2002, Alfredo Moser, a mechanic from Southern Brazil’s Uberaba, and his friends discussed ways to beckon rescuers during an emergency. During these blackouts, factories tended to have power while homes were left in the dark. Moser and his friends pictured emergencies when homes had no power and there were limited ways to start a signal fire. Moser’s boss offered the idea of using a bottle of water to focus the sun’s rays onto dry grass to light a fire. The thought stayed with Moser and he began to play with the idea of refracting light. Refraction, as defined by Merriam- Webster, is a “deflection from a straight path undergone by a light ray… in passing obliquely from one medium (as air) into another…”  Moser, who has a knack for constructing household items such as wooden furniture, used refraction to create makeshift lamps for his home that would light the space during the day without electricity. The invention uses only a plastic bottle, water, a bit of bleach, and a sealing component to construct.

Time to install: Moser fills a two liter plastic bottle with water. He suggests adding two capfuls of bleach to the water to inhibit algae growth and keep the water inside the bottle clear. Drilling a hole through a roof tile, Moser pushes the water bottle’s cap and neck from the inside of the home through the hole, keeping the body of the bottle inside the room. The bottle, preferably one with a black cap, is fixed into place with a polyester resin, which also inhibits leaks during rain. Refraction of sunlight through the bottled water does the rest, lighting the interior of the home.

So what does Moser’s invention mean in terms of energy and costs savings? An engineer who visited Moser to measure the light produced, determined that, depending on the strength of the sun, the bottle of water produced the same amount of light as a 40 to 60 watt bulb. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change article A Litre of Light,

The household will be bathed in refractive light of 60 watts on a clear day, and the water in the bottle refracts the light 360 degrees to all corners of a 40 square meter [420 square foot] room for less than a US dollar in total plus labor. Savings in electricity expenditure every month is at an average of USD $6.00 / month. The carbon footprint of manufacturing one incandescent bulb = 0.45 kg [0.99 lbs] CO2,  usage of a  50 watt light bulb running for 14 hours in daytime is still 0.77 kg [1.69 lbs] per kwh so 30 days is 16.17 kg [35.64 lbs] a month or 200 kg [440.92 lbs of CO2] a year.

Compare that to Moser’s lamp, which emits zero CO2, and the benefit is obvious. Energy is also saved in the processing of the bottles as they are typically up-cycled through the community. However, to some, these benefits can mean so much more than a few dollars saved.  ”There was one man who installed the lights and within a month he had saved enough to pay for the essential things for his child, who was about to be born. Can you imagine?” Moser says.

The installation is catching fire in many different countries including Argentina, India, and Fiji. MyShelter, a foundation that specializes in sustainable housing, began making the lamps in 2011 after hearing of Moser’s technique. At the time, some of their homes were comprised of mud-filled and water-filled bottles composing walls and windows, respectively. MyShelter also teaches how to create and install the lamps, which can provide individuals with a new source of income. The lamps are particularly widespread in the Philippines, where just over a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Now spreading to even some of the remotest communities around the world, the beneficial impacts of the Moser lamp have seemingly just begun to be realized.

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Author: Samantha Longshore

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