If all goes according to Manila engineering student Carvey Ehren Maigue’s ambitions, a future retrofit of the Montreal Convention Centre could turn the building’s fluorescent facade into a more-than-18-kilowatt solar farm. “The city itself could become a renewable energy plant,” says Maigue. “That’s what we’re aiming for.”
Maigue is the inventor of AuREUS, which converts the sun’s ultraviolet rays into green energy with a little help from garden-variety greens. Recently recognized with a 2020 James Dyson Award for Sustainability, his panel design works in two stages.
First, organic luminescent particles extracted from fruit and vegetable waste start to glow as they absorb incoming UV, producing visible light. Then, using the same type of photovoltaic plates found in conventional solar panels, that light energy is transformed again, this time into usable electric current.
Since the UV rays that AuREUS captures are present even when it’s cloudy and can bounce off surfaces to reach shadowed areas, the technology harnesses energy in places where conventional solar panels cannot — like building windows. The plastic- like material’s organic origins also cut down on food waste by upcycling spoiled or damaged crops.
To hear Maigue tell it, grinding, distilling and filtering the necessary particles from ingredients like rotten ginger is as easy as baking lockdown focaccia. “During the pandemic, I couldn’t use the laboratory equipment at my university, so I used my mom’s kitchen,” he says. “It’s worked so far.”
Like all the best inventors, Maigue also experienced his big Eureka moments during everyday life: The UV-sensitive transition lenses on his glasses revealed the solar energy present on overcast days, while a drink that he saw glowing under the black light at a local bar led him to research the fluorescent properties of certain foods.
A documentary about the particle physics behind the Northern Lights finished the puzzle — and gave the system its Aurora Borealis–inspired name. Maigue’s early prototypes have moulded his technology into thin films that can be easily sandwiched between double-paned glass.
Montreal’s exhibition hall is an especially good candidate for the invention since its colourful facade corresponds to the material’s neon hues, which are necessary to successfully absorb UV.
“One of the defects of my product is that it’s not a clear window,” Maigue admits. “But the building in Montreal is a big inspiration.” Evidently, if designers are willing to envision a more colourful future, a cleaner future could be close behind.
Winner of a 2020 James Dyson Award for Sustainability, the neon-hued AuREUS solar panel is made from upcycled crops.