Transparent solar collector to turn skyscrapers into power plants

We may soon be able to create electricity using the screens of our phones, windows in buildings and any other clear surface.

Researchers have created a ‘transparent’ surface that can capture light and convert it into electricity using solar technology.

The team, from Michigan State University, developed organic molecules that are able to take in waves of sunlight which are not visible to the human eye.

It is the first time that a transparent solar concentrator has been created.

Richard Lunt who worked on the research, said that the unique nature of the transparency means we may be able to incorporate it into our everyday lives and create energy from clear surfaces.

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

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As the materials used do not absorb or emit any light that can be seen by the human eye, this means they appear transparent when we look at them.

Instead they rely on infrared light, which is guided to the edge of the material where it is converted to electricity by solar cells.

“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” explained Lunt. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared.”

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The previously developed coloured concentrators developed by MIT

However the future for the technology isn’t yet crystal clear as work needs to be done on improving the energy-producing efficiency.

Currently its solar conversion rate lies close to one percent, but the researchers believe they will be able to get it close to five percent when everything has been fully optimised.

At present coloured variations of the concentrator have efficiency levels of around seven percent.


Featured image and image one courtesy of the Michigan State Univeristy. Image two courtesy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Researchers call for wind turbines to be installed under city bridges

Renewable power could be brought to city environments in droves with the installation of wind turbines underneath tall bridges and viaducts, according to new research by teams in the UK and Spain.

Using the Juncal Viaduct in the Spanish island of Gran Canaria as a model, the researchers determined that positioning wind turbines under such bridges was a viable way to generate power, with such installations suitable for both urban and rural areas.

By carrying out computer simulations of the air resistance in relation to the different configurations of wind turbine, researchers from Kingston University in London were able to determine the best combination of turbines, and, surprisingly, the largest turbines weren’t the best option.

“As natural, the more surface is swiped by the rotor, the more power can be produced; however, it was seen that in small turbines the power rate per square meter is higher”, explained Oscar Soto, a researcher at Kingston.

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If the only consideration was power production, the best combination would be either two turbines of different sizes, allowing the space available to be used most efficiently, or a matrix of 24 little turbines.

However, once financial and practical considerations were taken on board, the researchers determined that the best combination was actually two medium-sized turbines.

Power output would vary depending on the bridge in question, but in the case of the Juncal Viaduct, the two turbines would produce 0.5MW, which is considered medium power for wind turbines.

“This would be the equivalent to 450-500 homes’ average consumption,” said Soto.

“This kind of installation would avoid the emission of 140 tons of CO2 per year, an amount that represents the depuration effect of about 7,200 trees”.

Image courtesy of José Antonio Peñas (Sinc).

Image courtesy of José Antonio Peñas (Sinc).

Published in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, the research is rather unusually being promoted by a company: ZECSA, based in Gran Canaria.

It has also involved two other universities in Spain, where teams have been tasked with researching different aspects of the concept.

Researchers at Vigo University have been working on the feasability of the electrical connections, while Las Palmas de Gran Canaria University’s team has been working on integration of the renewables.

Whether the idea becomes a reality remains to be seen, but with commercial backing, along with its inclusion in PAINPER, a project to boost the integration of renewable energy in infrastructure, prospects for the idea are looking good.

And with so many bridges and viaducts in cities across the world, the locations for such an installation are numerous.

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Automated shops: Image recognition knows when shelves are empty

Supermarket shelves can use image recognition cameras to scan the amount of stock on the shelves and alert staff when new products need to be delivered to stores. The technology, which already exists, can help to lead to a more automated shop and processes for those who provide the products.

Image recognition Company Trax, which says it has analysed more than 36 million images in real-time, has created a ‘smart-cooler’ system which can analyse what is on the shelves of a drink cabinet.

“We’ve done a couple of pilots recently where we’ve took the human interaction out of it,” Neil Gowing, Trax’s General Manager, said.

“We’ve put a camera with our image recognition software onto the cooler door, whereby it takes 10 images per hour, for example, so head office is still getting that report back automated and they’re able to look at stock levels, they’re able to look at promotional compliance, and more.

“That’s one thing that we’ve been trialling and we can see a lot of demand for that from the market, particularly across Europe.”

At present the system is planned for manufactures who are providing shops with stock, to allow them to monitor sales, see the items are  positioned in the way they planned and to monitor stock levels. However, Gowling said that in the future, the company could work more closely with supermarkets themselves.

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Image courtesy of Trax

In this new setup, which is being tested in cooling cabinets to start with, the system can upload data into the cloud, allowing manufactures away from the store to assess levels of stock not only of their own products but also those of competitors.

As Google proved this week, image recognition tech and the algorithms that power them are not easy to get right.

The company says its set-up can recognise different products based on their size, and when it comes to drinks it can even tell the difference between different products by the colour of the liquid.

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As well as testing the cameras in refrigerated cabinets, the company has also been working on capturing what is on the shelves using image recognition by video.

This method allows a member of staff to walk down an aisle and capture all of the products that are on the shelves using a mobile phone. The data is then uploaded to the cloud and can be accessed remotely, as well as via the phone used to take the video.

Gowling said that the approach was an improvement over having to take separate images of different sections of the shelves, as it would allow staff from product manufacturers to get a view of how their products are performing and being displayed.

It said two major manufacturers are testing the video set-up at present and it hopes to have a beta released later this year.


Featured image courtesy of S_E / Shutterstock.com