Friday, January 20, 2012

Researcher Adds Photovoltaic Cells to OLED Screen, Starts on Path to First Self-Sustaining Smartphone

Here is some very interesting news for you. A crafty little researcher at the London Center for Nanotechnology managed to stuff a bunch of little solar power cells behind the display of a smartphone. According to Arman Ahnood, who just unveiled his design at the Materials Research Society at the end of last year, only 36% of the light produced by an OLED display is projected straight out. The other 64% is wasted as scattered light or bleeding from the edge of the display.

Ahnood created photovoltaic cells that line the back of and sides of an OLED display in order to capture some of this 64% of wasted light. The result? Free, harvested energy that can subsequently be used to power the phone or charge the battery. In other words, you now have a nearly self-powering smartphone.

The best part is that Ahnood's cells take the form of a thin film, similar to OLED and LCD displays themselves. Ahnood's idea is to bond this photovoltaic layer to the stack of films that make up an OLED display, which would ultimately produce OLED screens that automatically harvest wasted light. In addition to that, because OLED and LCD screens are not 100% opaque, these thin photovoltaic cells will gather ambient light from overhead lights or the sun.

As of right now, Ahnood's system only consists of a supercapacitor and some circuitry and only has an 11% efficiency rating. This is very low considering that commercial photovoltaic cells are reaching 30%, but Ahnood's is free energy. Ahnood's system can currently output a total of 5 milliwatts for a 3.7" smartphone screen, which is definitely a step in the right direction.

Ahnood's next step, as well as the next step for all the other researchers at the London Center for Nanotechnology, is to experiment with designs and materials to get the efficiency up to 90%. Once they get to that point, the system could extend the life of a phone battery by a few hours. Add in some more energy harvesting technology and we could very well see smartphones that can last more than a day on a single charge.

Source: ExtremeTech - Smartphone screens with built-in solar cells
IEEE Spectrum - Solar Cells in Smartphone Screens
Engadget - Arman Ahnood teases OLED display with solar cells, idealizes the self-sustaining smartphone

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