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An innovative way to bring sunlight to windowless rooms

Posting in Energy

Living in a basement apartment, the amount of sunlight that makes it to my living space is limited. On top of that my apartment is sandwiched between two other townhouses meaning only two of the four walls have windows and one room in the middle has no windows at all. Needless to say, since I've lived in this apartment, I've wondered if there was a good way to get some of that sunlight into that windowless room.

Now I know. They're working on it.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have developed an innovative lighting system, called SmartLight, that funnels sunlight to windowless rooms (not as easy as it sounds) through "open-air ducts" (that look oddly similar to windows).

Of course, it wouldn't just be awesome for apartments, but also the dreaded windowless office and large commercial buildings. Here's how it works:

A narrow grid of electrofluidic cells which is self-powered by embedded photovoltaics is applied near the top of a window. Each tiny cell – only a few millimeters wide – contains fluid with optical properties as good or better than glass. The surface tension of the fluid can be rapidly manipulated into shapes such as lenses or prisms through minimal electrical stimulation – about 10,000 to 100,000 times less power than what's needed to light a traditional incandescent bulb. In this way, sunlight passing through the cell can be controlled.

Plus, the researchers say, the SmartLights can be installed without new wiring, ducts, tubes or cables and the system is controlled by a smartphone that can change the brightness in the room.

What about cloudy days? There's a storage system that collects sunlight on those extremely sunny days that produce more energy than you need to light a room.

The biggest challenge now for the SmartLight is funding. According to a press release: "We're going to look for some substantial funds to really put a meaningful program together," said Jason Heikenfeld one of the researchers at University of Cincinnati. "We've already done a lot of the seed work. We're at the point where it would be a big, commercially driven type of effort. The next step is the tough part. How do you translate that into commercial products?"

I, for one, will be watching closely to see if it can clear those hurdles.

Read more on SmartLight.

Photo: University of Cincinnati

— By on November 7, 2013, 11:50 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure