Solar panels have gained a slew of news coverage over the past few years, making them a popular global product.
This form of renewable energy is traditionally harvested in two ways, photovoltaic panels (PV) and concentrated solar thermal, the former being the more popular option.
Photovoltaic panels work by installing sizable solar cell panels on buildings, water, or open fields. The panels absorb sunlight and create an electrical charge that produces energy. Solar panels have gained a significant amount of notoriety over the past decade, resulting in a substantial price drop and higher accessibility.
Concentrated solar thermal uses large mirror-like systems to reflect the sun onto a nearby receiver, collecting the sun's heat to produce energy.
Both methods produce far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels, making them popular contenders for climate change remediation.
But all great things come with challenges. In the realm of solar energy, those challenges lie within the sun itself and its lack of 24/7 availability. Because of this inconsistency, solar energy isn't as reliable as we would like. Most researchers and companies have addressed the issue by turning to battery storage and storing excess energy to continue power output when the sun isn't out.
Battery storage is a viable option that has the potential for long-term success. But there is always room for innovation. One of those innovations is currently located in a university student's Philippines apartment, a concept that works similar to solar PV panels - minus the need for sunlight.
No Sunlight Required
Carvey Ehren Maigue, a student at Mapua University, has come up with the brilliant idea to remove a primary challenge for solar energy.
His concept involves a novel solar panel that generates energy via ultraviolet rays rather than direct sunlight. In theory, the idea is genius. UV rays can penetrate clouds. The ability to convert UV to energy would eliminate a significant obstacle for solar power enthusiasts. One source suggests that Maigue's design could produce energy across 50% of the day, which is substantial compared to the 15-22% of traditional solar panels.
The ingenuity doesn't stop there. Maigue constructed his unique panels using the luminescent particles of fruit and vegetable waste - the same particles that allow fruits and vegetables to absorb ultraviolet rays to produce their own energy for growth. These particles can capture UV rays and convert them to visible light and usable energy.
Maigue's product can "be directly used as a stand-alone or can be connected in groups to produce a higher output." "It can also be easily integrated into existing solar photovoltaic systems since its electrical output is suitable for such systems as well."
So far, Maigue's invention is still in the prototype stage, with only a small 3-by-2-foot panel in operation, enough to charge a couple of phones. With time, funding, and exposure, he plans to expand his concept further, designing a curved model for installation on aircraft or automobiles.
Maigue calls his product the AuReus system. The design has already won several notable awards. Recently, the AuReus system became the first global sustainability concept to win the James Dyson Award.
"In the conception of AuReus, I aimed to create a future-facing solution in the form of renewable energy and at the same time integrate a present-day value-creating solution for our farmers, who are being affected negatively by the present-day effects of climate change," said Maigue.
"In this way, we can show people that adapting sustainability to fight climate change is something that can benefit both the present and the future generation and in doing so, we can rally more people in this fight against climate change."
The idea can help combat the sunlight consistency challenge while simultaneously aiding food waste management. And considering that a university student built the prototype in his apartment, the manufacturing process requires few resources and space, producing a relatively low environmental footprint. Even if the concept were to be scaled up, the potential for minimal impact remains.
Maigue's story is both impressive and inspiring. He took his vision from idea to success, benefiting the future of renewables and acting as a powerful example of how a single idea can make change outside of traditional supply and demand. Maigue's work should prompt others around the globe to follow through with their ideas to advance sustainable development.