Inspired by auroras, this material could make you into a solar panel

One day you might be your own walking solar panel and the building you work in could generate its own power without direct sunlight, thanks to a revolutionary discovery that uses the technology of the Northern lights.

Filipino engineering student Carvey Ehren Maigue won the inaugural Sustainability Award of the James Dyson Award 2020 for inventing the panels. They use luminescent particles from fruit and vegetable waste to turn the sun’s ultraviolet rays into visible light which is then converted into electricity. The AuREUS particles are placed in a resin surface which can be moulded into different shapes.

Both of the AuREUS devices, the Borealis Solar Window and Astralis Solar Wall, use the same technology derived from the phenomena that governs the Northern and Southern lights. High energy particles are absorbed by luminescent particles that re-emit them as visible light. The AuREUS system uses technology synthesized from upcycled crop waste to absorb stray UV light from sunlight and convert it to clean renewable electricity.

James Dyson Foundation

The James Dyson Award is an international design award, run by the James Dyson Foundation, that inspires, encourages and celebrates budding inventors’ new, problem-solving ideas – and provides a platform to launch them. In 2020, more than 1700 young inventors from 27 countries and regions entered the James Dyson Award, showcasing a breadth of ingenious inventions addressing problems such as microplastic pollution, IV infiltration and coral-reef degradation.

“We need to utilize our resources more and create systems that don’t deplete our current resources,” Carvey says. “With AuREUS, we upcycle the crops of the farmers that were hit by natural disasters, such as typhoons, which also happen to be an effect of climate change. By doing this, we can be both future-looking, and solve the problems that we are currently experiencing now.” 

Of 78 types of local crops tested, nine showed high potential. They are crushed, juiced and filtered to extract the luminescent particles, which are then suspended in resin, reports EuroNews Green.

The resin can be moulded into cladding and clamped to walls, or sandwiched between two panes of double glazed window, to start generating renewable energy for the building by reflecting the converted light to the edges of the panel. Strings of regular photovoltaic (PV) cells capture and convert it into electricity. Buildings clad in AuREUS could become vertical solar farms, even if they didn’t face the sun, because they could absorb the ultraviolet rays that bounce off walls, pavements and other buildings.

As he works on ways to bring the product to market, Carvey is working to create threads and fabrics so that clothes could harvest ultraviolet light and convert it into electricity, he says. He also wants to create curved plates, for use on electric cars, airplanes and even boats. 

“AuREUS has the chance to bring solar energy capture closer to people,” he says. “In the same way computers were only used by the government or the military and now the same technology is in our smartphones, I want solar energy harvesting to be more accessible.”

He has been working on this idea for a long time, aided by serendipity – in this case, he saw neon plates glowing in a dark pub when exposed to blacklight. In 2019, he developed several prototypes proving the concept is feasible and in 2020, focused on using local fruits and vegetable dyes as key particles. The prototype for his winning entry was a three-by-two foot panel placed in a window of his apartment that could generate enough electricity to charge two phones each day.


Aureus: Aurora Renewable Energy and UV sequestration.

Solar panels built from waste crops can make energy without direct light. EuroNews Green, Feb. 21, 2022

Interview: Carvey Ehren Maigue, James Dyson Award Sustainability Winner 2020. Dyson Foundation.