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Providing energy for developing world aim of local company

PhD student Anas Labak worked through an entire night assembling a new portable solar-powered digital LED lighting system for his industrial partners at a local manufacturing firm. The fact that he was able to see what he was doing for all that time – unlike the potential customers the system is aimed at – wasn’t lost on him, or his partner.

“There are two billion people in the world who don’t have any energy at all,” said Steve Pokrajac, president of Tesla Digital Lighting Systems.

Labak helped with the design and optimization of the system for the Windsor company under the guidance of electrical engineering professor Narayan Kar, who received a grant for the project from the FedDev Ontario Applied Research and Commercialization Initiative.

Aimed at addressing the gap between research and commercialization by encouraging collaboration between post-secondary institutions and small- and medium-sized enterprises with pre-market needs, the initiative’s goal is to improve productivity and competitiveness for businesses located in southern Ontario. UWindsor faculty and student researchers worked with 18 companies on a variety of projects through the program.

Mounted on an aluminum frame on wheels, Labak’s system consists of two solar panels, two car batteries and a small bank of digital LED lights. The group’s goal is to create a product that could be used in developing countries that don’t have access to an electrical grid. Their target is to create enough energy to power the equivalent of a standard-sized North American LED street light for about 36 hours.

“I expect that within six months to a year, this will be a marketable product,” said Pokrajac, adding there is still some fine tuning required on the design of the prototype to improve its size, weight and durability before it can go into production.

“It’s actually not that complicated,” Labak said of the system. “We were just trying to optimize the power we were able to get from these panels. Basically, it’s for anyone who doesn’t have access to electricity.”

According to the company’s web site, unlike traditional LED light bulbs, the patent-pending technology they use to make digital bulbs produces about 10 times as much energy, allowing those who use them to drastically reduce their carbon foot print.

Pokrajac said his company recently expanded the size of its Ellis Street facility. It employs about a dozen people currently, but he said he’s been hiring at the rate of about “one or two a week” in anticipation of some of the other manufacturing initiatives he has in the works. He described his first experience working with the university as a productive relationship.

“We had a lot of fun,” he said. “This will open up doors for many other things. Many other things.”

An event to celebrate all of the university’s partnerships through the FedDev program will be held on March 19 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the lobby of the Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation.  Tours of the building are being offered beginning at 3:30 p.m.