Taiwan has been providing financial, agricultural and technological aid to its African diplomatic ally Burkina Faso since the countries resumed ties in 1994. But for the first time, Taiwan is able to use its high tech prowess to light up the dark nights for the French-speaking under-developed “land of honest men.”
In Burkina Faso, electricity is only available in big cities, but since last month, students in rural provinces have tested 120 Taiwan-made bulbless light-emitting diode (LED) lamps. These lamps, supplied by Taiwan’s Chuntex Electronic Co (CTX, 中強電子), are powered by rechargeable lithium-iron (Li-iron) batteries — an advanced kind of lithium-ion battery — and they cost only about US$10 each.
The rechargeable Li-iron batteries can be used for 20 years and supply 1 kilowatt of electricity to power the LED lamps for up to 4.5 hours after being plugged into a system that harnesses solar energy, which is installed near a local primary school, for about 20 minutes.
With loans from the World Bank, Burkina Faso, where the sun shines for 12 hours a day, will receive 20 million solar-powered lamps within the next four years for its 1.5 million residences, which translates into virgin business opportunities in Africa for Taiwanese solar energy-related businesses.
“With the revolutionary Li-iron batteries, which are highly efficient in power storage, we can replace [existing] power grids in Africa and anywhere in the world,” CTX chairman Chen Ming-der (陳明德) said during an interview with the Taipei Times.
Behind the Burkina Faso solar lamp project are 59-year-old Chen and Tsao Hsing-chien (曹行健), director of the bureau of employment and vocational training under the Central Training Center in Taichung.
“During a recent trip to Burkina Faso, the daughter of one of the energy officials there told me that the lamp is exactly what students there need,” Tsao said. “The progress of any civilization always comes along with lighting.”
Tsao, who travels to Burkina Faso on a regular basis to facilitate its vocational training system, is actually the one who first came up with the idea.
He said that he was deeply troubled by power shortages there. Impoverished students study under street lamps or outside hotels when night falls because there is no electricity service outside the capital city Ouagadougou, where electricity rationing is also common. He sought help from his good friend Chen, who was formerly the CEO of the Central Taiwan Science Park’s (中科) business alliance committee.
Chen called upon Changs Ascending Enterprise Co (長園科技), where he is an advisor, and several other solar energy and LED manufacturers, including Everlight Electronic Co (億光電子) and Pontex Polyblend Co (邦泰複材), to brainstorm possibilities for lighting that could be powered by Burkina Faso’s inexhaustible solar energy. The outcome is satisfactory and “hassle-free” in every aspect including a short charging time, great capacity, 20 year life cycle and affordable cost.
Moreover, interest in the lamp has now spread from Africa to countries such as Indonesia and other Pacific island nations, Chen said, adding that “orders are placed non-stop.”
It all started with Chen’s firm belief in the Li-iron battery and its 100 percent capacity for power storage.
Although traditional lead-acid rechargeable batteries are six times cheaper than Li-iron batteries, they only have a 40 percent power storage capacity and fewer charge/discharge life cycles.