Solar energy has expanded nearly 46-fold in the United States since 2008, according to Pew Research Center. Today, solar energy produces an estimated 62.5 gigawatts—enough to power 12 million American homes—according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The average cost to install solar photovoltaic panels has also dropped over 70% over the last decade, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. But conventional solar panels cannot generate energy when the sun isn’t shining, which limits their efficiency to 15–20%, according to EnergySage.
Enter Carvey Ehren Maigue, a student at Mapúa University in Manila, Philippines. He created a more efficient solar panel system that can produce energy almost half of the time, above the levels of current solar panels. His system, called AuREUS, which stands for Aurora Renewable Energy and Ultraviolet Sequestration (inspired by the aurora borealis), can absorb sunlight even during cloudy weather. While conventional solar panels can't absorb ultraviolent (UV) light, Maigue’s can.
Maigue recently received the inaugural James Dyson Sustainability Award for his resin solar panels, which are made from waste crops and convert UV light into renewable energy.
The AuREUS system aims to make solar energy more efficient while also solving the growing problem of food waste. To create his solar panels, Maigue turns fruit and vegetable food waste into an organic luminescent compound. These compounds turn high-energy UV waves into visible light, he explained in a video on Dyson’s YouTube channel.
The compound is mixed with resin, and then edged with photovoltaic (PV) cells, which convert the light waves into electricity.
“When these particles [in the food waste compound] are hit by UV light, they absorb and reflect light,” Maigue said in an article in My Modern Met. “The reflections of visible light are concentrated to the edges of the panels, where PV cells capture them to convert to DC electricity.”
AuREUS solar panels, approximately 3 ft. tall and 2 ft. wide, can be used instead of typical glass windows and can be made in many different colors to complement building design and interior decor. They can even be added to clothing.
“I want to create threads and fabric so that even your clothes would be able to harvest UV light and convert it into electricity,” Maigue said in an interview on Dyson’s website. “We are also looking to create curved plates, for use on electric cars, airplanes and even boats.”
Since these solar panels still generate electricity even when not directly facing the sun, they can be used to build vertical solar farms instead of current horizontal ones.
A pilot project using AuREUS is planned for a medical clinic on the island of Jomalig, Philippines, where one of Maigue’s friends works as a doctor, according to an article in Fast Company. After storms, the clinic is often without power.
“For me, the Award is the recognition that after two years of working on it, I created something that is good and useful to promote a more sustainable way of life,” Maigue said in the interview with Dyson. “I think the Award will also enable me to reach more people and hear their feedback on how we can further develop and improve this technology. And, as for the prize money, it will be great to be able to buy some equipment that can be used to further the manufacturing