SANTA FE, N.M. — The Los Alamos-based startup Ubiquitous Quantum Dots, or UbiQD LLC, believes it can harness the solar rays that beam through windows every day to power consumer products, and eventually entire buildings.
The company, which is commercializing a low-cost method for manufacturing quantum dots, won a $225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to apply its dot technology as a coating on glass windows. As the sun beams through, the quantum dots would absorb solar energy and then channel photons to solar cells attached to window frames, said UbiQD founder and President Hunter McDaniel.
“Our vision is to turn ubiquitous, every day windows into sunlight harvesters.” Hunter said. “Think of skyscrapers that power cities.”
The concept isn’t new. But most companies today are working to attach transparent solar cells directly to windows, which is a more complex and potentially expensive process. In contrast, using UbiQD’s low-cost quantum dots as a glass coating and attaching photovoltaic cells to the window frames could make the process much more simple and affordable.
It’s the latest potential application for UbiQD’s quantum dot manufacturing process, which it licensed from Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hunter helped develop that technology as a post-doc at LANL.
Quantum dots are tiny, three-dimensional structures measuring about 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. The structures manipulate light in unique ways, absorbing it and emitting it back out in specific colors. They’re used in everything from transistors and sunscreen to LCD televisions, tablets and smartphones. But traditionally, they’ve been extremely expensive to make, and they’re usually composed of toxic materials.
UbiQD’s product, however, is made through a new, inexpensive process that uses low-cost and low-toxic materials. Until now, the company had focused on other commercial applications for its dots, such as creating luminous paints for signage, or in plastics to make them glow.
While at LANL, McDaniel assisted scientists on integrating quantum dots into plexiglas. Now, with the NSF grant, his company will adapt that coating process to glass. It will first apply its solar window technology for charging consumer products like smartphones, and later move onto automobiles and buildings.
“This new investment will further important research at UbiQD to strengthen the intersection of solar energy and advanced materials such as nanoparticles,” said U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., in a prepared statement announcing the NSF grant. “It’s another great example of how technology developed at our national laboratories can spur industry and create jobs here at home.”