The solar leaf device does something similar: it captures solar energy, changes the energy form to match it with the needs of a specific reaction, and also directs that light to the reaction channels where the reaction takes place. ‘Consequently, we can absorb much more light than a traditional photoreactor, as up to seven times more photons hit the reaction channels,’ Noël added. Energy efficiency challenges remain

and the group has developed a ray-tracing model to determine the fate of every photon hitting the device. This should help improve the device’s performance over the next few years, according to Noël. He added: ‘For scalability, we are using

a numbering up strategy. Simply said, that is copy pasting the device until you have enough throughput. So actually, you are placing many devices in parallel to reach

“I am an idealist and I want to help people with my inventions. My hope is that it will be used in regions where there is no access to a power grid”

the required production capacity. Here, the challenge is to make sure that every device performs in exactly the same way. We are close to finalising this work and submitting it for publication.’ The research is in the early stages, but

the team did not patent this technology in order to speed up its development. Noël said: ‘I am an idealist and I want to help people with my inventions. So, my hope is that it will be used in those regions where there is no access to a power grid, for example, in Africa, deserts, war zones, even in space.’

Uncertain future Unfortunately, the current political climate does not match these ideals. Noël added: ‘It seems some politicians do not want to listen at all, despite the overwhelming evidence – look at the newest worrying evolutions in the USA. So, we as people and scientists should take action and continue working on the use of renewable energy sources.’ It is hoped that the economic need and benefits of alternative solar technologies will shine through, as Conklin of SolarWindow explained: ‘As policies are implemented in the future, we will assess their effects on the solar industry, but I believe President Trump will ultimately rely and build on his foundation of economic principles, and recognise the importance that renewable energy represents in

28 Electro Optics March 2017 SolaRoad installed its solar bike path in The Netherlands in 2014

terms of a growth economy, energy and infrastructure, and job creation.’ De Wit of SolaRoad added: ‘Solar energy is not only a solution for carbon emissions reduction, it is also good business as solar starts to deliver electricity at price levels that can compete with electricity from fossil fuels. And the costs of solar keep falling. The plans of the US administration to make large investments in infrastructure can offer interesting opportunities for solar pavements, which are cheaper than regular pavement over the life cycle.’

Photonic factors For alternative solar applications to reach full commercial maturity and offer a significant business opportunity to open the eyes of current high-profile political figures, they need to realise improved material efficiencies. This is where photonics companies can

help, as Rob Morris, marketing manager at Ocean Optics, explained: ‘Ultimately, solar technologies are about gaining the maximum efficiency from the solar storage

media, for the least cost. Optical sensing technologies help manufacturers refine different elements of their products.’ Morris said: ‘There are several types of spectroscopy measurements that can be performed – applications such as measuring the transmission efficiency of panel materials, performing QC [quality control] on the solar flashers that are used for panel testing, and using endpoint detection techniques to monitor coatings, thickness and the like. Each customer has slightly different needs, but some process applications can be challenging, and some testing environments can test the performance limits of the spectrometers used for testing,’ he added. In other words, alternative solar

represents a huge commercial opportunity for the photonics industry. If companies can tap into this emerging market, work with the diverse range of applications leaving the world’s research institutions, and answer the challenges it presents to the renewable energy sector – there could be light at the end of the tunnel. EO

@electrooptics |



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