Solar cell innovation may revolutionize mobile and IoT device charging
Image: Ubiquitous Energy
Back in December of 2014, Lyndsey Gilpin wrote a TechRepublic article about eight individuals who were at the forefront of cleantech. One of her picks, Miles Barr, CEO of Ubiquitous Energy, appears ready to justify his being chosen.
Barr, along with cofounders Vladimir Bulović and Richard Lunt, are close to bringing their clean technology to market. “Ubiquitous Energy established prototyping and pilot production capabilities in Silicon Valley with a complete set of fabrication, characterization, and environmental testing tools,” from the company’s press release. “This facility is designed to prepare ClearView Power for mass production.”
Image: Ubiquitous Energy
ClearView Power is a film-coating process. The website adds, “Non-toxic, readily available materials are deposited by vacuum deposition techniques common in high-throughput film coating processes, and the low-temperature deposition process can utilize rigid or flexible substrates.”
Two things make this particular film coating special: It has photovoltaic properties, and the film is transparent to visible light. Put the two together, and ClearView Power film coatings are capable of creating electricity using radiation in the ultraviolet and infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum while ignoring light in the visible portion of the spectrum.
Loss of efficiency?
Not converting light in the visible spectrum to electricity raises the concern that this technology is much less efficient. However, in this YouTube presentation, Barr states, “Two-thirds of the light available for energy harvesting is in the ultraviolet and the infrared, leading to practical efficiencies over 10% while maintaining up to 90% visible transparency.”
It takes a few minutes to grasp the extent of what the people at Ubiquitous Energy have accomplished, especially when Barr says that initially transparency was not a requirement. However, he adds, “The idea of transparency has risen to the top as something that has much value for a wide range of applications.”
First, mobile devices
I am betting you are familiar with handheld solar-powered calculators. Barr and the crew at Ubiquitous Energy are looking to extend that approach to all mobile devices.
With the company’s transparent photovoltaic film technology, the display area on mobile devices becomes a prime candidate for solar-power generation. The advantages of having a display-sized solar cell charging the battery without loss of display quality should excite mobile device users, especially international travelers currently resigned to carrying various power adapters.
In the video, Barr and Lunt mention the immense potential they see for their technology powering IoT devices — for example, the small digital signs (Electronic Shelf Labels — ESLs) beginning to appear on store shelves. ESLs are network connected, have a display, and currently use batteries. From the Ubiquitous Energy website: “The electricity generated from indoor or outdoor ambient light can be used to recharge small, low-cost capacitors instead of batteries for infinite device life — all with no aesthetic impact.”
What about all those windows?
My thoughts turn to converting every window into a solar panel. That may be in the future, but for now the company is focused on how transparent solar photovoltaic technology can be used to power smart windows.
Daniel Akst, in this August 28, 2015 Wall Street Journal article about smart-window technology, writes, “They (researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) used nanotechnology to come up with a two-part coating that, when triggered by a small electrical impulse, lets windows admit light while repelling heat…. The researchers also describe the development of a different coating that permits a ‘warm’ mode letting windows admit heat while blocking light.”
Akst asked lead scientist Dr. Delia Milliron, a professor of chemical engineering at UT-Austin, if smart windows were cost effective. He writes, “Dr. Milliron estimates that the package of features her team is building into windows could save 10 percent to 25 percent of the energy used for heating and cooling compared to standard building code windows that do not have argon and other improvements.”
This is definitely a big deal, and even more so, if the smart window has a self-contained power supply. Applying a solar cell film coating seems much easier, more cost effective, and safer than running power to every window in the building. Enter Ubiquitous Energy and the technology to supply power for that “small electrical impulse.”