Thinking of ways to reduce the impact of pollution is on everyone’s minds. Some are working on methods to reduce air pollution by introducing or adopting electric vehicles and some are trying to reduce the impact on water bodies by reducing the use of plastic. What about ironing?
This is how 14-year-old Vinisha Umashankar, a student of SKP Vanitha International School in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, is also doing her part to save the planet.
In 2018, she designed a solar ironing cart so that the use of charcoal can be reduced. A year later, in November 2019, her idea was brought to life by a group of engineers at the National Innovation Foundation, Ahmedabad.
Vinisha says, “To make 1 kg of charcoal 12 fully-grown trees are cut down and it is estimated that there are 10 million ironing carts in India and each burns at least 5 kgs of charcoal every day. This simple design can address the serious problem of air and water pollution.”
Her idea won the Dr APJ Abdul Kalam IGNITE award and an international award called the Children’s Climate Prize, one of the world’s largest international climate awards for young innovators. Along with the award, she also received a cash prize of Rs 8 lakhs.
Here’s what inspired her
In 2018, when Vinisha was returning home from school, she noticed a man who was ironing clothes at the end of her street. She saw him throw a few pieces of hot charcoal on the pathway and then pour water on it. When she asked him why he was doing that, he explained that his day’s work was done and that he was cooling the hot charcoal before he could throw it in the dustbin.
“Once these pieces reach the dustbin, they would be sent to a large landfill in the city where it would lie around for many years, waiting to decompose. On reaching home, I did a little quick research on the internet and learnt that to make 1 kg of charcoal, 12 fully-grown trees need to be cut down. And, this vendor was using charcoal every day. It was not just him, everyone who owned an ironing shop was using charcoal to produce heat. Apart from that, burning of coal emits harmful gasses like carbon monoxide,” says Vinisha, adding that she knew these vendors could not afford to use electricity every day.
That is when she started to think of alternative sources of heat to iron clothes, and the first idea that popped into her mind was solar energy.
“There’s so much of it. So, I told my father, Umashankar, about this and he encouraged me to sketch out my idea, and further work on a technical research paper on how the cart would work,” she says.
Studying about solar energy
While the 14-year-old knew that solar energy can be harnessed to generate power, she did know how to harness it. To learn about that, she referred to college-level Physics books and also took help from her parents to understand the concepts.
“It was not too hard to learn about because science has been my passion since I was five years old. On my 5th birthday, my parents bought me an encyclopedia and since then I was hooked on learning more about scientific concepts,” she says.
By September 2019, Vinisha had finished working on the technical paper that addressed various aspects of the solar ironing cart such as how it would look, how many solar panels it would use, its benefits to the environment and the buyer, and how much it would approximately cost.
About the ironing cart
Impressed with her work, Umashanker submitted her paper to different competitions and soon it was picked up by a group of engineers at the National Innovation Foundation, Ahmedabad.
Rakesh Maheshwari, the Head of Engineering at NIF says that a team of five engineers from the Mechanical, Electronics, and Renewable energy departments worked on the prototype.
He says, “The prototype design is similar to Vinisha’s diagram but has several changes on the technical front. The ironing cart has solar panels as the roof, which is connected to a 100 Ah battery. The panels produce 250 watts of power per hour and it takes five to six hours to charge the battery. Once the battery is fully charged it will power the steam iron box for six hours.”
Apart from that, the cart can be pushed by a cycle and has USB ports which can be used to charge mobile phones, too.
The approximate cost of this patent-pending ironing cart is yet to be determined, and for the future, Vinisha hopes to use her prize money to deploy a few ironing carts in her hometown and get feedback from the ironwalas.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)