29 May 2024

Glass that isn't glass... It's the future of energy use!

Glass that isn't glass... It's the future of energy use!

At first glance it looks like ordinary window glass. Pure deception. It's glass, yes, but coated with a thin layer of a transparent material that captures invisible sunlight and converts it into visible radiation ideal for powering photovoltaic cells. Developed at Universidade de Aveiro (UAveiro), in the laboratories of the Department of Physics and CICECO - Aveiro Institute of Materials, the film contains photonic converters and can be applied to more sustainable energy buildings.  
Coordinated by researcher Rute Ferreira, from the Department of Physics and CICECO, one of UAveiro's research units, the PLANETa project has developed a prototype of a life-size window which, in addition to generating electricity, also functions as an optical temperature sensor powered by the sun or LED lighting. The project was carried out in collaboration with the Telecommunications Institute (IT), the Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) and the company Lightenjin.

"This innovative window is intended to be a way of integrating devices for generating energy from the sun into buildings that already exist or are under construction," says Rute Ferreira. "It is a pane of glass coated with a thin layer of transparent material that captures ultraviolet sunlight and converts it into visible radiation that is trapped inside the glass and guided to the edges where there are photovoltaic cells hidden in the frames. These small photovoltaic cells at the ends can generate enough electricity to power low-consumption devices such as routers, sensors and USB devices," she explains.

The distinguishing factor of this prototype, emphasizes Rute Ferreira, "is its ability to work with both solar and artificial lighting - LED lighting systems have been included in the window frames - guaranteeing continuous operation, even when there is no sunlight."  

Furthermore, by taking advantage of the sensitivity of the glass coating material to temperature, the window becomes a dual-function device: energy generation and temperature sensor. "By taking advantage of the commercial configuration of double windows, we can simultaneously measure the inside and outside temperature," says the researcher.

"The energy generated powers an IoT [Internet of Things] system capable of monitoring the temperature and making these values available on an online platform accessible to the user.

The ultimate goal is to integrate this data into the building's home automation system, contributing to more efficient management of heating and cooling systems, promoting greater energy efficiency," she says.

PLANETa thus combines technological innovation and sustainability, and wants to contribute to the future of intelligent and energy-efficient buildings.

"The applicability and versatility of these materials and devices could be tested for more visionary applications, such as the aerospace environment to increase the efficiency of photovoltaic converters used in satellites and thus lower the cost of the energy component of these devices," predicts Sandra Correia, a researcher at UAveiro's Telecommunications Institute.

In addition, these photonic converters can also be used as receivers in visible light communication systems. This communication solution is expected to complement and even replace current Wi-Fi systems, using optical signals to communicate with mobile devices such as tablets and cell phones. This additional application extends the functionality of these materials, contributing to a more advanced and sustainable communication infrastructure, thus promoting greater connectivity in smart cities, says Gonçalo Figueiredo, a Doctorate student at IST and UAveiro.

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