When it comes to renewable energy, solar panels are great. Their efficiency has improved and their costs have dropped to the point where it would be feasible to move every U.S. home to solar power and save money in the process.
But then the clouds roll in. The intermittency of the skies has been one of the major challenges for this otherwise valuable renewable energy source. Though we can’t control cloud cover, a new invention has found a way to work around the inconsistency of solar energy by harvesting unseen ultraviolet light that’s present no matter the weather. It could soon be turning the windows and walls of buildings into a rich new source of electricity.
The concept is called AuREUS (which stands for Aurora Renewable Energy and UV Sequestration), and it was invented by Carvey Ehren Maigue, an electrical engineering student in the Philippines. It involves a combination of organic luminescent particles that absorb UV light and convert it to visible light, and a solar film that then converts that visible light into energy. “It’s similar to how we breathe in oxygen and we exhale carbon dioxide,” Maigue says. “It takes in ultraviolet light, and then after some time it would shed it as visible light.”
Produced in the form of a resin similar to what’s used in bulletproof glass, this light-harvesting technology can be used to create windows, walls, or any other part of a building’s exterior, evolving the traditional rooftop solar array. The invention was recently selected as a winner of the first James Dyson Sustainability Award, which comes with a $35,000 prize.
Maigue developed AuREUS by turning fruit and vegetable crop waste into a luminescent material that can convert UV light. Mixing that with a resin and lining it with a solar film, he created glass-like panels that can produce a surprising amount of electricity. His prototype is a single 3-by-2-foot panel that he installed in the window in his apartment. Tinted lime green but transparent, the test panel can generate enough wattage per day to charge two phones. Scaled up, he says, these panels could enable buildings to produce all their own electricity.