Meeting the needs of rural schools

Technology company Riso Africa produced the world's first viable solar-powered printer, and extended the innovative technology to its range of duplicators and copiers too.

Primarily designed to meet the needs of schools in rural areas that have no access to electricity, the printer has a maximum draw of only 110 watts at an output of up to 90 pages a minute.

It is robust by design and empowering by function, said Ken Horn, Riso's business analyst.

"South Africa still has more than 3 000 schools not connected to the national grid. We believe quality material is essential to quality education, and our aim is to empower educators and learners across the country," he said.

The printer can be fitted with a PC interface and, when combined with a 3G-enabled laptop or computer, it allows users, wherever they are, to print downloaded material directly off the internet.

The natural progression, said Horn, was to apply the same principles to the rest of the company's product range by introducing back-up power systems and solar solutions.

"This enables users to maintain productivity even when the power goes out, or to completely eliminate reliance on the energy grid for their printing and copying needs."

Riso's products are developed on lifecycle assessments that aim to reduce their CO2 footprints by around 31% in comparison with previous models.

High printing speeds reduce electricity consumption time, a basic duplicator draws a mere 140W of power at 90 pages a minute, and the copiers draw substantially less than 1 000W at outputs of up to 150 pages a minute.

"Our highest-spec machine consumes 15% of the power for every page compared to other energy star-rated printers," Horn said. "Our inkjet printers have zero toner and ozone emissions, and our duplicators use recycled banana leaf-fibre masters. We also supply soy-based ink."

The digital duplicators don't use toner for printing and are not fitted with heated rollers, which mean they don't require warm-up time when switched on. Copiers use cold-process printing and are designed to minimise ink coverage.

"Energy efficiency is a big driver throughout our company," Horn said. "We have changed to energy-saving light bulbs wherever possible and reduced the number of lights turned on, as well as developing a more efficient hot-water system."

Operating in a sales environment, Riso is aware of the carbon footprint accrued by frequent travelling. The company calculates its emissions with its travel agent and offsets them by partnering with Food & Trees for Africa to plant trees and create food gardens.

"Energy efficiency is no longer an option, it's a must. Innovation and environmental concerns don't have to be mutually exclusive objectives," said Horn.

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