- TORONTO (CP) -- Researchers
at the University of Toronto have invented an infrared-sensitive material
that's five times more efficient at turning the sun's power into electrical
energy than current methods.
- The discovery could lead to shirts and sweaters capable
of recharging our cellphones and other wireless devices, said Ted Sargent,
professor of electrical and computer engineering at the university.
- Sargent and other researchers combined specially-designed
minute particles called quantum dots, three to four nanometres across,
with a polymer to make a plastic that can detect energy in the infrared.
- Infrared light is not visible to the naked eye but it
is what most remote controls emit, in small amounts, to control devices
such as TVs and DVD players.
- It also contains a huge untapped resource -- despite
the surge in popularity of solar cells in the 1990s, we still miss half
of the sun's power, Sargent said.
- "In fact, there's enough power from the sun hitting
the Earth every day to supply all the world's needs for energy 10,000 times
over," Sargent said in a phone interview Sunday from Boston. He is
currently a visiting professor of nanotechnology at the Massachusetts Institute
- Sargent said the new plastic composite is, in layman's
terms, a layer of film that "catches" solar energy. He said the
film can be applied to any device, much like paint is coated on a wall.
- "We've done the same thing, but not with something
that just sit there on the wall the way paint does," said the Ottawa
- "We've done it to make a device which actually harnesses
the power in the room in the infrared."
- The film can convert up to 30 per cent of the sun's power
into usable, electrical energy. Today's best plastic solar cells capture
only about six per cent.
- Sargent said the advance would not only wipe away that
inefficiency, but also resolve the hassle of recharging our countless gadgets
and pave the way to a true wireless world.
- "We now have our cellphones and our BlackBerries
and we're walking around without the need to plug in, in order to get our
data," he said.
- "But we seem trapped at the moment in needing to
plug in to get our power. That's because we charge these things up electrically,
from the outlet. But there's actually huge amounts of power all around
us coming from the sun."
- The film has the ability to be sprayed or woven into
shirts so that our cuffs or collars could recharge our IPods, Sargent said.
- While that may sound like a Star Trek dream, venture
capitalists are keen to Sargent's invention.
- Josh Wolfe, managing partner at Lux Capital, a New York
City-based venture capital firm, said while such a luxury may be five years
away, the technology knows no bounds.
- "When you have a material advance which literally
materially changes the way that energy is absorbed and transmitted to our
devices... somebody out there tinkering away in a bedroom or in a government
lab is going to come up with a great idea for a new device that will shock
us all," he said in a phone interview.
- "When the Internet was created nobody envisioned
that the killer app (application) would be e-mail or instant messaging."
- Sargent's work was published in the online edition of
Nature Materials on Sunday and will appear in its February issue.
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