Innovations in streetlighting are not always the kind of scientific discoveries that get the masses jumping for joy. But researchers at Malaysia’s University of Malaya have come up with a particularly cool and multitasking streetlight, one with an extra-bright LED light powered by the sun and wind that—bonus!—also happens to trap and kill mosquitos.
Chong Wen Tong, who headed the University of Malaya team, says the invention was partly motivated by a slowly unfolding outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue fever , which killed an estimated 200 people in Asia in 2015. But if the researchers determine that the light is an ace mosquito killer—“We are still evaluating the performance of our designed mosquito trap now,” Chong tells CityLab by email—it could prove helpful in combatting dengue’s close cousin, the zika virus.
How exactly does a streetlight kill mosquitos? The blood-thirsty creatures are attracted to UV light, so weak UV wavelengths are integrated into the lamp’s design. The streetlight is also coated with titanium dioxide, with which the UV light interacts in what’s called a “photocatalytic” reaction to create carbon dioxide. This is the same carbon dioxide that you and I emit every day while breathing, so the chemical fools mosquitos into thinking there’s food close by. Top all that off with a fan to suction the curious and hungry suckers in, and Malaysia has itself a genuine mosquito trapper. That is, if all goes according to the research team’s plans.
The team has installed eight streetlight units around in the University of Malaysia campus and in broader Kuala Lumpur for an initial pilot project. Officials can plunk these down where needed, without spending time, money, and energy hooking them up to the wider electrical grid.
But in rural communities, the lights are arguably even more helpful. They can, again, operate independently of the grid, which is useful in areas that don’t have one to begin with. But they can also “be adapted to power weather data collectors, flood monitoring systems, or as emergency beacons for hikers and travelers,” as the researchers wrote in a paper published last June. That’s because the light generates more energy from its wind turbine and photovoltaic panel than it needs to power the mosquito trapper and LED, leaving what can be saved in its internal battery free for other uses.
Each streetlight costs between $3,000 and $3,300 a pop (between 12,500 and 13,700 Malaysian ringgit). The team also has a patent on a wind and solar powered streetlight that also harvests rainwater, Chong says, so stay tuned for more multi-talented lighting.