Solar windows: Power offices and homes with energy collecting curtains

The sun could be used to power our homes and offices simply by switching our curtains and blinds to versions with solar panels built into them. That’s the dream of one organisation that is set to change how skyscrapers and buildings of the future will collect renewable energy.

Nanergy Solar, which consists of academic researchers and entrepreneurs, wants to use solar curtains and sunshades to collect energy to power the home.

It says that this technology will enable those living in large urban communities to benefit from solar energy in a similar way to those living in rural areas – despite them not having access to land to place panels.

“The amount of sunshine going through windows is large. In the US for example, if we count both residential and commercial east, south and west facing windows, this comes out to more than 20 meter square per resident,” it says.

“If all this sunlight is converted with 15% efficiency, we could generate 1000GW of electricity.”

Nanergy Solar says that both the sunshade and curtains are lighter than outdoor solar products and that they can be installed in around an hour.

The products also do not have any PV materials that include toxic substances.

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For example, in high-rise blocks of flats or office buildings with huge numbers of windows, collecting energy could help to power the building and the appliances inside.

The group is running a funding campaign on the website Indiegogo and hopes to raise $150,000.

It says it would be possible to power most of a home’s appliances using the technology as long as there is enough window space.

“Exploiting the light coming through widows, patio doors, any sources of outside light, Sunshades and Suncurtains in Solar Windows convert it to SPV (Solar PV) electricity inside your home,” it says.

“In the pictured apartment it is possible to generate over 2kW of electricity. It would be enough to operate most of your electrical appliances.”

The crowd funding will allow them to complete the design of the Sunshade and Suncurtain products as well as paying for tooling needed to begin mass production and to carry out the necessary certifications and approvals that are needed.

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The idea behind the product seems like a simple one, but it could help to harness energy in cities that use a lot of power.

In theory the blinds or curtains could be left closed while the owner leaves the flat or apartment and goes to work.

When they return home the windows could have collected enough power for them to use while in the property.

The power would be collected in batteries because in the US it is against regulations to feed it back into the energy grid.

Like traditional curtains and sunshades, the solar versions can be pulled out of the way to let light come through the windows.

It is planned that solar curtains will be rolled out in October 2014, if the group is successful with its funding campaign.


Images courtesy of Nanergy Solar 


Self-Healing Plastics: Materials that Can Restore Their Molecular Structure

Plastics have found their way into an incredible number of items in our lives, from cars and gadget cases to furniture and accessories, but they have traditionally been seen as ‘cheap’ materials because of their easy-to-scratch finish.

This could soon be changing, as scientists from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have developed a way of creating plastics with a built-in self-healing method to repair cracks, scratches and other damage.

The molecules in the plastic are linked together by a reversible chemical reaction, turning them into something called a switchable network that can be broken down into its constituent materials and then reassembled again.

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This process can be initiated just by using heat, light or a chemical substance, making it a straightforward method for use in non-lab situations.

“Our method does not need any catalyst, no additive is required,” said KIT group leader Professor Christopher Barner-Kowollik.

Not all plastics can be used, but in a press release KIT confirmed that the “self-healing properties can be transferred to a large range of plastics known”. Of those, healing can be triggered within a very short time at temperatures between 50°C to 120°C.

Most of the research has been to speed up the time healing takes and to confirm that the plastic’s original strength and tension could be completely restored. In some instances the team has been able to improve material strength with the process.

“We succeeded in demonstrating that test specimens after first healing were bound even more strongly than before,” said Barner-Kowollik.

The technology can also be used to mould plastics, which could potentially make it a rival for 3D printing – the scientists have suggested that the technology could be used to produce reinforced plastic components for aircrafts and vehicles.

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The technology could turn plastic into a far more valuable and durable material – it would no longer be so firmly associated with a throwaway culture if it could heal itself, which could result in less waste from plastics.

One of the best potential applications of this would be for vehicle chassis – scratches and chips could be fixed within seconds using just a hairdryer.

Similarly, phone cases, apparel and wearables could all benefit – being able to easily heal your product would keep it looking new long after it had been bought, which could again result in a less throwaway approach to these gadgets and items.


Inline images courtesy of Esther Simpson and Henning Mühlinghaus.