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Vinisha Umashankar: Innovator who replaced charcoal with sunshine


Fourteen-year-old Vanisha Umashankar designed this solar-powered clothing iron. Her invention fetched her the 2020 Children’s Climate Prize for clean air, an Annual Swedish award honoring child climate champions from across the world. The teenager from Tiruvannamalai of Tamil Nadu won Rs. 8.46 in prize money.

Vanisha said she conceived the idea to provide India’s ironing vendors( local presswalas) an alternative to charcoal. Vanisha said “ one day when I was walking home from school, I noticed one of the ironing men in my street using charcoal. Charcoal contributes to air pollution and creates more toxic air pollutants. So I researched for a viable solution to prevent air pollution and increase air quality”

It took her two months to find the coal replacement. Ultimately, Vanisha placed solar panels on the ironing cart that came fitted with a battery. This battery can fully charge in 5 hours allowing vendors to use it for 6 hours. The cart is mobile which also allows them to go door to door rather than remain fixed at one spot thus adding to their daily income.

Indians have used Charcoal to iron clothes since the 19th century. Still a popular method for street vendors. 10 million ironing carts run on Charcoal according to some reports. Every cart burns approximately 5 kg of Charcoal daily. The total adds up to 5 crore kg a day. With help from Gujarat’s National Innovation Foundation Vanisha developed a fully functional prototype of her product.

She said “ It was a full-scale prototype and everything was working. I rode it across the street and I charged my mobile phone. Everything was working really well. At that moment, it clicked to me that this innovation could change the system of ironing clothes completely in this country”.

Vanisha’s invention falls right in line with India’s solar aspirations. Over the last decade, India has ramped up solar power capacity 3,000 times. With her prize money, Vanisha plans to improve her design, so it can also work in cloudy or rainy conditions.

The Children’s Climate Prize was just another feather in Vanisha’s cap. Previously, she’s won the Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam IGNITE Award in 2019 and was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Rashtriya Bal Shakti Puraskar 2021. She says she is also working on developing “touchless products” to help curb the transmission of Covid-19.

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