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From Research to Reality

Turn your windows into solar panels, plus more ingenuity from U of A spinoff companies

By Michael Brown

May 17, 2019 •

What if every window on a downtown skyscraper was its own little solar panel, collecting the sun's energy and creating electricity?

The idea isn't new. But one company has taken a big step toward making this a reality with the help of tiny silicon dots that have the power to create, well, power, and revolutionize urban spaces in the process.

Applied Quantum Materials, a U of A spinoff founded by chemistry professor Jonathan Veinot and David Antoniuk, '78 BSc(ElecEng), '83 PhD, is already conducting commercial tests of its luminescent solar concentrator technology.

Luminescent solar concentrators have long shown promise in the quest to retrofit buildings. The silicon-based film showcases a specialty of Veinot's U of A chemistry lab: quantum dots and nanomaterials. The film collects sunlight - both direct and diffuse - and channels it to photovoltaic cells inside window frames.

In January, AQM received $420,000 in clean technology development funding from Alberta Innovates, an organization that speeds research to market.

While still a few years from being ready for market, the product creates solar potential for downtown towers that have a lot of glass and small rooftops. The company is working with partners All Weather Windows and PCL Construction to conduct the tests.

"We hope to demonstrate that our technology will revolutionize the building industry," says Antoniuk.

U of A research has spawned other energy-related companies. Here is a look at a few of them. 

Forge Hydrocarbons

David Bressler, '96 BSc(Hons), '01 PhD, professor of agricultural food and nutrition sciences

Forge Hydrocarbons transforms waste fats and industrial oils into hydrocarbons such as diesel, gas and jet fuel. This technology uses pressure and temperature, like the geological conditions that created crude oil - except in a matter of hours, not millions of years. Forge plans to open a demonstration plant in Sombra, Ont., that is projected to produce 19 million litres per year of renewable liquid hydrocarbon. forgehc.com

WiDyne Technologies

Pedram Mousavi, engineering professor, Adam Maunder, '12 BSc(EngPhys), '13 MSc, and Telnaz Zarifi, '16 MSc

After developing technology to transfer electricity through a single wire (rather than the double wires currently used), the researchers behind WiDyne have teamed up with Edmonton-based Landmark Homes and Levven Electronics (which also began at the U of A) to save money on home construction.

Quantum Silicon

Robert Wolkow, physics professor

Quantum Silicon uses atomic level science and "quantum dot" technology to create the same binary state used by computers (1s and 0s) - but using only a fraction of the physical space and only one-thousandth of the electricity. Past partners have included U.S. technology giant Lockheed Martin, which provided funding through an agreement with the Alberta government. quantumsilicon.com

AdvEn Industries

Weixing Chen, professor in chemical and materials engineering

AdvEn Industries provides materials for making electrodes such as supercapacitors or lithium-sulphur batteries using Alberta oilsands wastes, agricultural wastes, recycled plastics and biochar (a type of charcoal produced from organic waste matter). In particular, the company provides high-end specialty activated carbons, which are highly porous, for applications such as energy storage and gas adsorption. It has completed pilot trials of three to five tons per year and is now waiting for funding to build a 100-ton-per-year demo plant in Edmonton. adven-industries.com

-with files from Mara Simmonds, '89 BA, '90 BA(SpecCert)

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