What if we can harvest the harmful ultraviolet light reflecting on our glass windows and tap it as renewable energy source? And what if we can create value for spoiled crops that were damaged by typhoons or pests?
It started out as a ‘what if’ for fifth year Electrical Engineering student Carvey Ehren Maigue of MAPUA University. Until a Eureka moment occurred to him one cloudy-rainy day. He was wearing his transition lenses when he noticed that they turned dark even when they weren’t hit by the sun.
“Naisip ko na kahit maulap at maulan, meron pa ding ultraviolet light na tumatagos at napupunta sa atin. Sayang, hindi natin nakukuha ang enerhiyang ito gamit ang mga conventional na solar panels,” he shares in a video presented by James Dyson Foundation. If only there is a way to tap this and make it a renewable energy source, Carvey thought.
With this puzzle in mind, the aspiring scientist developed a solar window made of synthetic and entered it to the 2018 James Dyson Award. Dyson’s charity arm annually holds the international design competition to encourage and celebrate the ingenuity of the next generation of engineers and inventors. Carvey’s invention unfortunately didn’t advance to the finals that year.
But not the type to easily give up, Carvey stuck to his guns and found ways to further develop his invention—make it more inclusive (integrating more people into the value chain) and environmentally sustainable (make use of available resources).
This year, he joined the prestigious tilt once again, presenting an improved version of his previous design which he now calls the AuREUS System Technology. This time, his hard work and diligence paid off: his invention won the Sustainability award against over 1,700 entries from 27 countries. This is the first year the foundation launched the new category on sustainability. For his invention, Carvey won a cash prize of £30,000 (or almost P2 million) from Dyson.
Inspired by the auroras
Carvey says his invention is inspired by the principle that governs the auroras or polar lights. These bright dancing lights, according to the Northern Lights Centre, a unique facility that features this amazing phenomena, “are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere.”
His AuREUS (Aurora Renewable Energy and UV Sequestration) technology, says Carvey, mimics the auroras’ method of how particles in the atmosphere get charged by high energy waves from the sun, then converts it into visible lights. “UV light is sequestered, absorbed, and converted to clean and renewable energy through particles derived from upcycled fruits and vegetable waste,” he says.
Damaged crops that would otherwise be put to waste are an important component of his invention, says Carvey. “Yung mga organic luminescent compounds, nagmumula ito sa mga iba’t ibang prutas at gulay. So ang nangyayari doon, yung high energy waves, kino-convert niya into visible light. Gumagamit ako ng mga solar panels and solar films para i-convert yung visible light na ito into electricity,” he explains in the video.
If the AuREUS technology is applied to glass walls and windows of homes and buildings, it can generate electricity by absorbing the UV light. In a way, it functions like a vertical solar energy farm. “It doesn’t need to be directly facing the sun, because it capitalizes on how UV is being bounced around,” he explains when he presented his invention to ANCX. “So even if the walls and windows are under the shade, or even if the side of the building is not facing the sun, we would still be able to generate electricity.”
Also, unlike solar farms that require hectares of land, the AuREUS technology can be installed in houses and buildings located in urban areas, allowing closer, easier access to renewable energy.
Use for crop waste
Carvey showed a 4”x6” plate that was created using particles from turmeric or luyang dilaw. “We’ll only need two of these plates to charge a smartphone,” he tells this writer. A 42”x21” sized window, on the other hand, can harvest 27 watts of electrical power. “That is the approximation on its output power. Definitely, there is still lots of room for optimization, so we can create a larger energy density for capturing sunlight and ultraviolet light.”
The 27-year-old scientist says he has tested the technology with 78 local crop combinations—among them tomato, kamias, bark and root from trees such as mahogany, anato, mayana, jackfruit and strawberries. He is also exploring how the chlorophyll from the leaves of plants can be more efficiently extracted for this purpose.
According to Carvey, the technology he invented just goes to show that utilizing solar energy doesn’t have to be limited to having rooftop panels. “We can actually create solar energy from things we already have—like walls and windows.”
The technology, in fact, presents so much promise because it can be incorporated even in automobile technology and in textile. Clothes that can power up your portable electronic devices? Or how about charging an electric powered car while in traffic? Those are only a few possibilities, he says.
Winning the James Dyson Award, says Carvey, is both a beginning and an end. It marked the end of years of doubting whether his idea would find global relevance and also the beginning of his journey to finally bringing AuREUS to the world. “I want to create a better form of renewable energy that uses the world’s natural resources, is close to people's lives, forging achievable paths and rallying towards a sustainable and regenerative future,” declares Carvey.
The soon-to-be-engineer is preparing to submit patents on his project by the end of the year and has already been approached by start-ups in the waste management and agricultural industries.