That beautiful LCD screen on your favorite gadget uses a ton of power — but could it soon be used to generate power, too?
There have been plenty of improvements in battery technology and substantial increases in processor efficiency in recent years, but our mobile gadgets could always use a little bit more juice. Some companies — like Samsung — have started integrating low-cost solar panels into some of their products. Others are working on technology that can sip small amounts of power right out of the air. At UCLA, a team of researchers is working on another option that could one day find its way into just about any mobile gadget with a display.
The engineering team has developed a polarizing organic photovoltaic film — quite a mouthful, but it’s easy enough to understand what the film does.
Liquid crystal displays need a polarizer in order for us to see an image when we look at them. If you look at an LCD panel that’s had the polarizer removed, all you’ll see is white. The polarizer re-orients the light created by a display’s backlight so that it can properly transmit images back to your eyes.
But there’s a missed opportunity with current polarizers, and that’s where the UCLA team comes in. Backlit displays are the single biggest drains on our devices, consuming from 80 to 90 percent of their power. UCLA’s photovoltaic film, however, can be inserted to capture up to 75% of the backlight’s wasted photons and convert them into electricity and allow a device to passively extend its own battery life.
If the film can convert a backlight’s photons into electricity, you might be thinking that it should also function like a tradtional solar panel — and you’d be right. UCLA materials professor Yang Yang says that the film works with indoor and outdoor light sources as well, adding “So next time you are on the beach, you could charge your iPhone via sunlight.”
The team is now looking at ways to further boost the film’s efficiency and hopes to begin working with manufacturers to bring to market a new breed of self-charging devices. If UCLA’s film can be easily integrated into current display manufacturing processes (especially without a big bump in cost), there’s every reason to believe gadget makers will want to get in on the battery-boosting action.