In preparation for the Uppsala Innovation Day on 5th of September 2019, the CEO of Peafowl Solar Power gives an interview at Ångström Laboratories about the history of the company and future plans.
Link for the Swedish version of the article
Startups that change the world (Text: Anders Melldén. Foto: LILLA Produktionsbolaget)
Keep in mind the idea of having your mobile, tablet or laptop charge with light while using it. It may become a reality if Peafowl Solar Power gets what they want. Relation went to a basement at the Ångström Laboratory to find out more.
It takes time for me to really understand what Peafowl Solar Power is doing. For us ordinary mortals, nanotechnology feels advanced, and when it is also explained in another language it becomes an even greater challenge. But after an hour, I think I have realized that this is a technology that may revolutionize our lives in the future.
I meet the founding couple Cristina Paun and Jacinto Sá at the Ångström Laboratory in Uppsala. Outside, it feels like most of it has been excavated, here is a lot of redevelopment and the parking situation is chaotic. But Jacinto receives and shows us down in the basement’s windowless premises. The company name, Peafowl Solar Power, testifies that it is about taking advantage of sunlight.
– But we will not reinvent solar panels, laughs Jacinto.
No, this is something completely different from the solar panels we see on roofs today. From a refrigerator, he and Cristina pick up a bunch of jars of different colored liquids. The fluid contains so-called surface plasmons. These arise from the interaction between light and a metal, in this case silver in nanoparticle size.
– They are a thousand times smaller than a strand of hair, explains Jacinto.
Depending on how the particles in the liquid are formed, different reflections arise that for our eye are perceived as different colors. And that is where the company name comes from – the contents of the flasks form all the colors of the entire rainbow – or perhaps rather the colors of a peafowls’s feathers. But there is an even simpler explanation too, namely that founder Cristinas Paun’s last name also means peafowl.
However, the different colors are just different ways to reach the goal, namely to generate electricity. With the knowledge of how electromagnetic radiation from the light interacts with electron clouds from the silver, electricity can be created. The interesting thing about Peafowl’s technology is that it can provide cost-effective and sustainable solar cells – which are also transparent. So instead of having solar panels on the roof, you can let all the windows in a building be solar cells, or the windows of a car, the display on your phone, and more, and more…
Smart products are Jacinto and Cristina’s first focus. And especially then so-called smart windows, those that regulate heat and light inputs. Here Peafowl collaborates with the Uppsala company Chromogenics, among other things. Instead of connecting their windows with electric cables to the mains for them to function, the windows, with Peafowl’s technology, would become self-sufficient. In practical terms, the liquid containing the silver nanoparticles can be used as a kind of ink that can be pressed between a plus and a minus pole on the window. Then the whole window becomes a solar cell that can generate electricity which in turn is stored in a small battery built into the window sill.
The different colors of the liquid absorb different types of light. The more color, the more activity, simply. So a completely transparent liquid gives relatively little energy.
– But it is enough to operate these products, says Jacinto.
In the future, he and Cristina see that these type of sensors will be everywhere. That is why it is so important that they are aesthetically pleasing.
– Sustainability is the future, but sustainability must be combined with aesthetics, otherwise people will not want it.
Disposable batteries is a major environmental problem, they say, and hope their technology will be able to reduce the need for such in the future, and extend the life of existing ones. In addition, their solar cells require less energy to produce than the silicon cells, and unlike other new photovoltaic technologies, they contain no toxic or rare substances. The most rare material they use is silver, and it is in extremely small quantities.
– And there is quite a lot of silver in the world. We may not be able to save the Earth on our own, but at least we can do our part, says Jacinto.
He was born in Portugal and has educated, doctorated and researched at various places in the world, including in Belfast where he met Cristina. The two are now a couple both as start-up entrepreneurs and privately.
She is Romanian and completed her doctorate in Belfast. Together, the two moved to Switzerland where they worked at ETH in Zurich. While Jacinto went on to the EPFL research institute in Lausanne, Cristina took care of the couple’s newborn son. Five years ago, they saw an advertisement where Uppsala University sought researchers for ten open research services
– Almost 500 people applied. I was one of the eight who got a job, Jacinto says.
The family moved in, and Cristina was now eager to start working. As a combination of research and business, they started the company together a year ago.
– We were connected with UIC (Uppsala Innovation Center) and it was really perfect for us. Their program put our business plan to the test – we soon realized that we could not compete with the silicon solar panels yet, so instead, the aesthetic became our thing. And to create power sources for smart gadgets that do not draw as much electricity.
In addition to smart windows, we are trying to power IoT sensors and smart shelf marketing systems for grocery stores.
– Within five years, we will create products for higher current as well, such as mobiles or laptops. The surface of, for example, a mobile phone is not so large, which means that the amount of energy that can be generated is limited. But since the mobile phone, on the other hand, does not have such high voltage, it can still work, we only get the opportunity to develop the efficiency.
This spring, Peafowl Solar Power is moving into the next phase, raising SEK 5 million in new capital. Almi Invest invests a total of SEK 4 million and other capital comes from a private investor.
Is the goal to be able to sell Peafowl Solar Power in the future?
– Yes it is. The day Apple or Samsung are interested, we will only have a chance, so it is important that we are prepared.