Sunlight in the Shadows

Thursday 7th November 2013

A pair of researchers from the University of Cincinnati (UC) have seen the light – a bright, powerful light – and it just might change the future of how building interiors are brightened.

In fact, that light comes directly from the sun, and with the help of tiny, electrofluidic cells and a series of open-air "ducts," this sunlight can naturally illuminate windowless work spaces deep inside office buildings. So the excess energy can be harnessed, stored and directed to other applications.

This new technology is called SmartLight, and it's the result of a research collaboration between UC’s Anton Harfmann and Jason Heikenfeld. Their research paper "Smart Light – Enhancing Fenestration to Improve Solar Distribution in Buildings" was recently presented at Italy's CasaClima international energy forum.

"The SmartLight technology would be groundbreaking. It would be game changing," says Harfmann, an associate professor in UC's School of Architecture and Interior Design. "This would change the equation for energy. It would change the way buildings are designed and renovated. It would change the way we would use energy and deal with the reality of the sun. It has all sorts of benefits and implications that I don't think we've even begun to touch."

The tiny electrofluidic cells are just a few millimeters across, and contain a fluid with optical properties - the same or even better than glass. The fluid’s surface tension is able to quickly transform its cells into prisms which can then control the sunlight passing through. The energy for the transformation comes from photovoltaics within the cells, requiring 10,000 to 100,000 times less power than an incandescent light.

The whole system does not need switches and can be controlled from a smart phone app, which allows setting the rooms brightness and keeping light levels steady through the day, despite changing levels of sunlight externally.

When sunlight is plentiful this can be directed to be harvested and stored in a central hub in the building. This energy could be used to power light overnight, or other appliances, heating and cooling.

So a good idea - use the sun to light enclosed rooms and harvest excess light to provide power for other devices.

Source: University of Cincinnati

Categories: General, Renewable, Reviews, Technology

Thursday 7th November 2013

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