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Source: Tai-Wen Ko,
Photo available. Contact or 785-532-6415.
Video available. Access at
Note to editor: Justin Curry is a graduate of Olathe Northwest High School;
and Karen Tieszen's maiden name is Snook.
News release prepared by: Kristin Hodges, 785-532-6415,

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


MANHATTAN -- A Kansas State University student is combining engineering and nature to design a more affordable and more sustainable lighting source for those living without electricity.

Tai-Wen Ko, K-State senior in electrical engineering, Hutchinson, is designing a solar lantern with a more affordable initial cost. He is focusing his efforts for people living in Sub-Saharan Africa, which he said is the least electrified region in the world.

Ko is designing the lantern for K-State's McNair Scholars program and for the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program on sustainable energy, being offered this summer through K-State's department of chemical engineering.

The 10-week summer research program, "Earth, Wind and Fire – Sustainable Energy for the 21st Century," is for K-State students and students from other institutions who study science or engineering.

K-State's Keith Hohn, associate professor of chemical engineering, and Larry Erickson, professor of chemical engineering, are co-directors for the program whose title represents the various sustainable energy sources the students are exploring. Earth represents the growth and harvesting of energy from biomass; wind represents using wind to generate electricity; and fire represents harvesting solar energy.

Ko said kerosene lamps are the most affordable option for people without electricity, but the lamps can be expensive to maintain and they produce carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming. He said solar lanterns are a popular alternative to kerosene lamps because they run on renewable energy and aren't at risk of starting a fire.

"Solar lanterns are not hard to make," Ko said. "You have to find the right parts and have ideas on how to build a circuit. I wanted to make a design that would be easy enough for someone living in Sub-Saharan Africa to build on their own, which would lower the cost because they wouldn't have to have it shipped."

Ko said his solar lantern has three main components: a solar panel, battery and a white light-emitting diode. He researched different types of these materials and chose the cheapest options. Ko said his lantern is about 30 percent cheaper than the average market value.

Most solar lanterns available use florescent tubes, which draw too much power, Ko said. He decided to use a white light-emitting diode because it's cheaper, lasts longer and is brighter. He chose the cheapest option for his solar panel and also for his battery, which is a sealed lead-acid battery and is similar to a car battery.

Ko said an environmental concern for his lantern is that the battery contains lead, so he is researching a recycling plan that could be implemented in the Sub-Saharan African region. A lithium ion battery would be better for the environment, Ko said, but its current cost is expensive.

Ko is working on the project with Justin Curry, K-State freshman in electrical engineering, Olathe. Ko is serving as a mentor for Curry through K-State's CampuS Internship Program, or CSI, that gives undergraduates research experience while they are taking basic science and math courses. Ko's project adviser is Anil Pahwa, professor of electrical and computer engineering at K-State.

Students participating in "Earth, Wind and Fire -- Sustainable Energy for the 21st Century" are conducting individual projects to be presented at an open symposium with posters and oral presentations Aug. 7. The students are also involved with group projects. One of the group projects involves developing a science cafe event for sustainable energy and is planned for 7 p.m. July 30 at the Manhattan Public Library. The other group project involves designing a solar electric shade for a portion of the new K-State parking garage.

Along with Ko, K-State students also participating in the summer research experience and their projects include:

Richard Reed, senior in chemical engineering, McPherson, who is researching how well algae grow in wastewater as a pretest to connecting an algae culture to an anaerobic digester. The research has potential to take waste streams, such as from animal feeding facilities, and convert that into fuel, oxygen and energy with no waste.

Randi Isham, senior in geology, Spring Hill, who is working on the modeling of seismic monitoring and implications of carbon and purification technologies in geological carbon sequestration.

Jose Armesto, senior in chemical engineering St. Marys, who is working on optimizing solid-state solvation in luminescent solar concentrators.

Karen Tieszen, senior in chemical engineering, Lebanon, Ore., who is researching the production of a useful chemical feedstock from biomass rather than petroleum. The chemical feedstock would be used to produce chemicals that can be useful, such as a fuel additive and to produce synthetic rubber.