Irish researchers aim to shine more sunlight into buildings

15 Nov 2023

IERC researchers. From left: PhD candidate Tianren Chen, Prof Brian Norton and PhD candidate Sahar Rostamzad. Image: Gerard McCarthy

The IERC team are developing devices that can store solar energy to bring natural light deeper into buildings for longer periods.

Researchers from the International Energy Research Centre (IERC) are looking at novel daylight enhancing techniques to reduce the need for electrical lighting and improve health.

There have been various studies that suggest exposure to natural daylight is beneficial for people’s physical and mental health, by improving alertness, mood, sleep patterns and more. But getting the right amount of natural light exposure can be difficult, particularly in countries like Ireland with frequent cloudy conditions.

To address this, the IERC team, based at the Tyndall National Institute at University College Cork, are looking at new ways to improve the amount of daylight exposure people receive – even during cloudy or overcast days.

This research team claims to be developing the world’s first luminescent devices that capture and spread daylight deeper into buildings. The team claims these devices can also modify the light’s spectrum to meet the requirements of the non-visual receptors in our eyes that control our circadian rhythms.

The project’s leader, Tyndall’s Prof Brian Norton, said these devices use “quantum dots” to absorb solar energy, which can then be used in buildings for longer periods.

“These luminescent systems will extend the period for which daylight can be used, resulting in improved biorhythmic health for occupants, as well as displacing the energy and greenhouse gas emissions associated with artificial lighting,” Norton said.

Norton claimed that artificial lighting can represent up to 20pc of a commercial building’s energy use, which means these devices could lead to significant energy savings. The team estimates that using more natural light could save up to 75pc of the energy a building uses for artificial lighting.

“I am delighted to conduct research which will help us to better harness light from the sky at Tyndall National Institute, named after renowned Irish scientist, John Tyndall, who was the first to discover why the sky is blue,” Norton said. (Blue light is scattered more than other colours because it travels in shorter, smaller waves).

Earlier this month, researchers from Tyndall joined a collaborative €2.6m project with UK academics to address key challenges on the road to quantum computers. While last year, the IERC revealed a research project that aims to reduce the amount of ‘dispatch downtime’ that occurs in Irish solar power plants.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic