As a society, reaching our global renewable energy goal does not just depend on increasing the integration of renewable energy sources. While this is a lofty ambition, it will not suffice for the level of global warming reduction that we desire. To this end, it is important that we come up with new, innovative ways of working around energy in our homes.
One of the most recent developments in this area is that of a smart wallpaper. Isn’t the name intriguing already? Well, you don’t have to wait for so long to unravel the suspense; just keep reading.
What is a Smart Wallpaper?
Think of it as a device that absorbs light and heat and can then transform the energy from these sources into electrical energy for use in the home. It sounds really easy, right? Well, researchers have spent millions of dollars, as well as millions of hours into ensuring that this idea sees the light of day. We also have other scientists are working on smart wallpapers that can generate energy from waste light or heat.
Usually, these smart wallpapers are solar panels but with a very thin and flexible structure.
At the moment, we have had a breakthrough from two different teams of researchers working on the subject. The underpinning technology is nanotexturing; growing graphene around a metallic structure.
The University of Surrey Team
Now, here’s a background text to help you better appreciate the result achieved. A conventional graphene is not the best material to be used for such a venture. This is as a result of its inability to capture or absorb light. So, this has been the situation for a long time and the material was disregarded.
However, the situation changed when researchers, particularly those at the Advanced Technology Institute, decided to study the material. They realized that it could be enhanced by up to 90% by leveraging the impressive electrical conductivity and strength. This provides a whole new approach to how we power our homes and devices.
Although the technology is still in its early stage, it is expected that upon maturity, the technology will become universal and that the devices will be affordable and accessible to the average person. One other benefit of this technology is that it will be instrumental to IoT-connected devices.
The Lepidoptera is the inspiration behind this device. The lead researcher, Professor Ravi Silva, mentioned the unique nature of the moth’s eyes. In his words, “the moth’s eyes are quite unique, containing microscopic patterns that actually channel available light into the center of the eye, this means that they can see quite clearly, even in the lowest of light levels.”
A similar approach was used to structure the graphene sheets, and this caused light absorption to increase by about 990%. The nanometer thin structure offers so much promise; either as a smart wallpaper or as a coating for windows and doors. This will further increase the exposure to light and heat and will even help in further generating more electricity.
Researchers at Virginia Tech
A team of scientists from the institution is currently working on a novel way of making solar panels more flexible; making them ideal to be used as wallpapers, shades, and even doors. The paper detailing this accomplishment was published in ACS Energy Letters and it talks about how the flexible solar panels are designed to absorb light from both the inner part and the outer side of the building.
If you’re familiar with a conventional solar panel, try to estimate the thickness of anyone you’ve seen and then guess how thin this material is. To save you the trouble, it is just half a millimeter thick and it has five layers that resemble the tiles being used in the bathroom.
A lot of elements go into making this technology the revelation it is and they are listed below.
- It can be produced easily at a low temperature.
- The equipment required for fabrication is easy to operate and they are not expensive.
- The panels can be created easily in sheet rolls, meaning that you can use the energy generated to power a host of devices.
- It absorbs both sunlight and diffused light from LEDs
The good news is that this technology is promising, and it is very much applicable to our everyday lives. However, at the moment a lot of effort is required to make it commercially available and this might take some time.