Two researchers at the University of Cincinnati
have collaborated across disciplines to create a new technology called SmartLight, which uses tiny, electrofluidic cells and a series of open-air ducts to transport light directly from the sun throughout a building, even into windowless workspaces.
Anton Harfman, an associate professor in UC’s School of Architecture and Interior Design and associate dean of UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP), and Jason Heikenfeld, professor of electrical engineering and computer systems and creator of the SmartLight's electrofluidic cells, first began working on the idea in 2007.
“UC was participating in an event called the Solar Decathlon
in Washington, D.C. (a biennial competition put on by the U.S. Department of Energy),” Harman says. “It was quite an intense project, and it was there that the brainstorming for SmartLight began. We honed in on the idea of how to better take advantage of the light that hits the side of a building.”
The innovations of Harman, Heikenfeld and their team of researchers may prove to be groundbreaking and trigger a shift not only in building design, but also in the way we use energy and sunlight. A typical photovoltaic array (think solar panels on a roof) loses most of the sun’s energy when it gets converted into electricity, which is often then going back into powering light bulbs. But with SmartLight, Harfmann says the sunlight channeled through the system stays, and is used, in its original form, which is far more efficient and sustainable.
“Traditionally, the way light has been channeled through a building is through fiber optics, which is very expensive and needs to be physically run through the building,” Harman says. “Smartlight is unique in that it’s all done without needing to install new wiring, ducts, tubes or cables.
Harman and Heikenfeld recently presented their research paper, "Smart Light—Enhancing Fenestration to Improve Solar Distribution in Buildings" at Italy’s CasaClima
international energy forum. In the meantime, they are working on securing funding to build out a fully functional prototype of the technology.
To learn more, read UC’s press release on SmartLight here
By Mike Sarason