An engineering student from the Philippines named "Carvey Ehren Maigue" was just awarded the first-ever James Dyson Global Sustainability Prize for developing a potentially groundbreaking new solar technology.
Unlike conventional solar panels, which require direct sunlight to generate an appreciable amount of power, Maigue's new solar panels can produce electricity from the invisible ultraviolet sunlight that passes through the clouds on overcast days.
The upshot is that while conventional solar panels are only capable of generating power less than 25 percent of the time, in preliminary testing Maigue's new tech was shown to produce power almost 50 percent of the time.
But that's just the first environmental benefit of this remarkable new tech.
Besides more than doubling the amount of time that solar energy can be harvested, Maigue's invention also has the potential to cut down on global waste since it's made from wasted crops.
Inspired by the Aurora Borealis
Maigue named his new tech “AuREUS” after the “aurora borealis" because his invention was inspired by the physics behind the famed "northern lights."
The northern lights are the result of luminescent particles in the atmosphere that absorb high-energy light waves like ultraviolet or gamma rays and then emit them as visible light.
Realizing that fruits and vegetables contain similar bioluminescent particles, Maigue created a material from recycled food waste that can convert the dim ultraviolet sunlight that manages to break through on cloudy days into usable electricity.
To filter out the bioluminescent particles from wasted fruits and vegetables, Maigue developed a process that crushes them and extracts their juices, which are then distilled.
The extracted particles are suspended in resin, which is then molded into a covering material that can be clamped onto walls or sandwiched between the two panes of a double-glazed window.
Just as they do in plants during photosynthesis, the particles in the material convert UV light into visible light, which then gets reflected toward the panel's edges.
"The light relies on internal reflectance of the material to self-correct and guide itself towards the emitting edge," explained Maigue, who is a student at Mapua University in the Filipino capital of Manila. "This can be controlled by specific laser etching patterns as well."
After getting channeled to the panel's edges, the newly created visible light gets captured and converted into electricity by a string of regular photovoltaic (PV) cells.