A 27-year-old engineering student from the Philippines has won the inaugural James Dyson Sustainability Award for an invention that generates clean energy from agricultural crop waste.

Carvey Ehren Maigue, a student at the Mapúa University in the Philippines, created the translucent AuREUS material using luminescent particles obtained from certain fruits and vegetables. Maigue was inspired by the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) phenomenon where high energy particles in the atmosphere are absorbed by luminescent particles that re-emit them as visible light.

Similarly, the AuREUS system uses crop waste-derived luminescent particles, which are then suspended in a resin substrate and applied to surfaces such as windows and facades to absorb invisible UV rays passing through clouds or bouncing off the pavement and buildings in the area.     

The AuREUS system is more efficient than traditional solar panels, which need clear conditions, have to face the sun directly and can only capture and convert visible light into renewable energy. Unlike solar panels, which can produce energy only 15-22% of the time, the AuREUS material can harvest power almost half of the time thanks to its ability to capture invisible UV rays even when not facing the sun, thereby, maximising clean energy generation. A building with AuREUS panels on all sides becomes a vertical solar farm. Conventional solar farms are built horizontally, and require large expanses of land.

Maigue hit upon the idea of using upcycled crop waste after seeing the impact of natural disasters on agricultural crops in his country. The luminescent particles for the AuREUS technology are obtained by crushing specific fruits and vegetables, extracting the juice and synthesising the dyes. The particles are suspended in resin and the resulting substrate, which is moulded into panels, is placed on exterior walls or windows.

The particles absorb UV light and re-emit the degraded visible light along the edges of the panels due to internal reflectance. Photovoltaic cells placed along the edges capture the visible light photons, which are converted into DC electricity. Regulating circuits will process the voltage output to allow battery charging, storage, or direct utilisation of electricity.Carvey Ehren Maigue

Commenting on the sustainability of his concept, Maigue said, “While AuREUS aims to generate electricity from natural resources, I also want to show that, even if we want to become more sustainable, it’s not only the future generation that would benefit, but also us, the present generation. 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.

“Winning the James Dyson Award is both a beginning and an end. It marked the end of years of doubting whether my idea would find global relevance. It marks the beginning of the journey of finally bringing AuREUS System Technology to the world. I want to create a better form of renewable energy that uses the world’s natural resources, is close to people's lives, forging achievable paths and rallying towards a sustainable and regenerative future,” he added.

Future plans for Maigue include creating threads and fabric that would allow clothes to harvest ultraviolet light and convert it into electricity, as well as curved plates for use on electric cars, aeroplanes and even boats.

“As a farmer, I see great potential in Carvey’s technology to generate clean renewable energy. AuREUS System Technology conserves space using pre-existing structures, utilises current resources and waste streams, and supports local agricultural communities. His bright idea to use upcycled crop waste develops a closed loop system. This element of his invention is particularly clever and shows the close link between farming and technology,” James Dyson, founder and chief engineer at Dyson said.

The Sustainability category was added to the James Dyson Awards program for the first time this year. The 2020 edition received a record number of entries, from which the international winner, Judit Giró Benet and the sustainability winner, Carvey Ehren Maigue were selected. Both winners will each receive £30,000 for further research and development.

Image credit: The James Dyson Foundation