TECH

This award-winning Filipino invention can change the way we power our cities

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James Dyson Award winner Carvey Maigue talks about where AuReus is headed, the future of Philippine agriculture, and how the turning point of his sustainable invention came from the homemade innovation of a loved one: his grandma. Photo courtesy of the JAMES DYSON AWARD

Rizal (CNN Philippines Life) — Inventing wasn’t always on Carvey Maigue’s mind as a child. As a young boy, he had already set his sights on becoming a priest. But it was the casual encouragement of a teacher that made him reconsider why he was always looking up at the heavens — he was meant to find the answer to a different set of questions.

“Nanonood kami ng isang film [sa school] na may space shuttle na kailangan mag-landing pero walang mapag-landingan,” Maigue recalls. “So there was this scene na may mga nag-cocompute na scientists and engineers, kung paano i-sosolve yun. Then yung teacher ko sabi lang niya, ‘Uy, Carvey, sana balang araw maging ganyan ka din. Nagcocompute-compute.’”

This would spur his passion for inventing, one that took him to Mapua University to study electrical engineering, working as a freelancer on prototyping projects to fund his work, to assist in robotics competitions (he played a small part in the team that invented a bomb-disposal robot that won tech awards in Taiwan and China), and then eventually to create his own revolutionary invention, the AuReus System Technology, which recently won the sustainability prize of the James Dyson Award.

Carvey Maigue says that the main concept around his invention is similar to how the Aurora Borealis and Australis produce their beautiful lights. Photo courtesy of the JAMES DYSON AWARD

Intellectual property

The James Dyson Award is part of Dyson founder Sir James Dyson to champion engineers around the world and encourage technology innovations. The award has supported 250 inventions with its prize money since it began in 2005. “[It] challenges young people to solve a real-world problem,” explains Grace Ke, James Dyson Foundation Southeast Asia Manager.

“Winning entries typically illustrate an iterative design process, how it solves a real problem, and showcases its commercial and technical viabilities.”

Ke adds that while the award and the foundation are affiliated with a commercial brand, inventions that succeed or even submitted for consideration will still be under the inventors’ ownership. “Students will retain their rights to any intellectual property surrounding their idea,” Ke says. “Dyson or the foundation will not take a part of their idea. In fact, the James Dyson Award is a platform to help students find the right contacts to push their designs and inventions into the market.”

Maigue presents his tech as pliable bright neon yellow panels that can be manipulated into any form or shape. Functionally, AuReus is a new way of harvesting solar energy without relying on the heat or visibility of the sun. Meant to be attached to buildings as cladding in place of glass, it is able to capture UV rays, which current solar power systems are unable to do, and convert it into visible light. This makes it useful to power photosynthesis. Maigue imagines he can convert a whole skyscraper into a vertical solar farm.

Maigue with his own invention, AuREUS which is a new way of harvesting solar energy without relying on the heat or visibility of the sun. Photo courtesy of the JAMES DYSON AWARD

“The main concept around it is similar to how the Aurora Borealis and Australis, the Northern and Southern Lights, produce their beautiful lights. Essentially the concept is that high energy waves, in our case ultraviolet light, is converted to visible light. Then, visible light is converted to electricity using solar films,” Maigue explains. He says that drawing inspiration from the polar lights came from his interest in astrophotography — the way we capture detailed images of celestial bodies or even the night sky.

What is most interesting is that the material Maigue developed uses particles found in waste crops. (Maigue tested around 78 crops for viability, and only nine showed promise.) The bright yellow color of the AuReus panels, according to Maigue, comes from the natural colors of these crops — chief of which is turmeric, known locally as luyang dilaw. Once the waste crops are cold pressed, Maigue is able to extract the luminescent chemicals that he would have instead gotten from a synthetic source. The idea to use turmeric, he explains, came from his grandmother.

“Mahilig siya sa mga herbs-herbs eh. Nagtatanim siya,” the 27-year-old Maigue says with a laugh. “Yung luyang dilaw, may personal experience talaga ako diyan. Noong bata ako, palagi akong nadadapa every now and then. Instead ng alcohol and Betadine, ‘yun yung ginagamit ng lola ko [sa sugat ko]. So nakita ko na na-eextract siya through this method of cold pressing and all. And I found out that the same compounds doon sa turmeric, or sa luyang dilaw, is almost in the same family ng chemicals na ginagamit ko na synthetic.”

Meant to be attached to buildings as cladding in place of glass, AuREUS is able to capture UV rays, which current solar power systems are unable to do, and convert it into visible light. Photo courtesy of the JAMES DYSON AWARD

Pilot Project

Maigue says that following AuReus’ success at the James Dyson Awards, he’s already focused on bringing it to market, aiming to implement a structure clad in his crop-based solar capture technology by first quarter 2021.

“It would be a school — a very, very advanced school I should say. They teach coding kasi. So very techy,” Maigue says. “They would be adapting the use of the windows and the wall panels for their building.”

While he couldn’t reveal more, Maigue told CNN Philippines Life that the school is in an area affected by the typhoons. He believes that his technology can help communities hit hard by natural disasters — first, because the panels are so easy to deploy (“You just have to put it on your existing windows. They don’t have to build it from scratch.”); and second, because purchasing waste crops would help farmers who put in time and money to grow crops, but can’t sell them in the market anymore because they have been crushed or destroyed in bad weather. “As they say circle economies… yung waste from other sectors, magagamit mo ba siya?”

Maigue isn’t the type to simply throw out ideas once they’ve used up their initial utility. In fact, this was the second time he attempted to join the James Dyson Award. Back in 2018, he submitted the same technology, but stumbled when he realized that it would not be cost-efficient to produce.

“Self-acceptance would be one of the key factors on how we can approach failure din in terms of design,” Maigue says. “By accepting that it didn’t win, or there are lapses there, I can look into it in an unbiased manner. Looking back, [I knew] definitely it will become tiring. It will become cumbersome. But if you look back at the reason why you started your journey, it will be something that will push you forward.”

So he went back to the drawing board and sought out a new way to produce the technology — and found that not only would he be able to make AuReus at a much lower cost by using waste crops, doing so would also benefit an entire industry that has long struggled to recoup their costs. Through Maigue’s technology, Filipino farmers might find a way to thrive.

Maigue is able to extract the luminescent chemicals that he would have instead gotten from a synthetic source. The idea to use turmeric, he explains, came from his grandmother. Photo courtesy of the JAMES DYSON AWARD

Powers of resin

He’s already planning to innovate on his current design, and perhaps expand the list of available waste he can recycle for AuReus, including food waste.

“The main advantage of the technology kasi is that it’s not based on a glass material, it’s based on a resin material,” Maigue says.

And resin has so many uses.

Because resins are in the same family as polyester, which is the common thread used for clothes made by fast fashion, Maigue wants to explore spinning his resin material into threads, which can eventually be spun into clothing and wearables. “It would allow these people to experience renewable energy on a more personal level, on a more experiential level,” he says.

Related: This designer explores the weird and wonderful through resin art

He also says his cladding can be used for places that get little light; solar energy is rarely considered as a practical power source in colder climate countries. “Yung UV nakakatagos siya sa clouds, nagrereflect siya sa snow,” Maigue says. “So in that manner, we can also bring the solar energy solution to [these countries] na kahit ganon yung setup nila.”

While he is set on fine tuning his work further, he knows that AuReus is not the essence of his passion, merely a product of it, and he’s the first to caution young inventors not to fall into that hubris.

“Wag kang ma-in love doon sa product. In that manner, hindi ka ma-attach na ito yung gusto ko, ito yung kunin ninyo,” Maigue says. “Magiging way ‘yun para pwede ko pa siya i-refine nang i-refine. Hindi naman yung goal ko is to make a product eh. Yung goal ko is to solve a problem.”