BARCELONA — Looking into a glass ball has always meant looking into the future, speculating, daring to be visionary. But André Brössel, the German-born head of a Barcelona-based start-up called Rawlemon, has given the term a whole other meaning.
His firm has developed futuristic solar collectors — collectors that look very different from the usual installations. They are not flat, right-angled panels, but spheres. The role of the glass balls turns out to be much the same as that of classic collectors: to turn light into electrical current.
Like large lenses, the transparent liquid-filled glass spheres collect rays of light. Depending on the diameter of the sphere, fire point increases up to 20,000 times. Photovoltaic cells and heat-driven mini-generators transform the energy into current.
The light concentration resulting from this principle is so effective that Rawlemon’s collectors don’t only work when the sun is shining, but when it’s cloudy and even at night.
Yes, after sundown, the balls can even gather moonlight and transform it into electrical energy.
With regard to the solar panels presently in use in Germany, Rawlemon technology has two big advantages. For one, it delivers constant, efficient current because sunlight is bundled in the spheres. What’s more, they are designed to pivot so that the photovoltaic modules and thermal generators are always optimally aligned to the sun.
In a mere fourth of a square meter, prototypes are already creating as much current as traditional installations filling a square meter of space. In diffused light, this strength is particularly significant.
View from your window
The second advantage is that the Rawlemon solutions are real “lookers.” They are the top models in solar energy production. The glittering spheres in their elegant casings are a hit visually; and Brössel’s training as an architect and his high aesthetic standards play a key role in their popularity.
But is the technology suitable for mass production?
Since it was founded three years ago, the start-up has made huge strides in getting the product ready for the mass market. "Beta.ey," the first serial product, is due out in September. It’s a hip solar charger equipped with a glass ball about the size of the ones used by fortune tellers, and it uses solar current to charge mobile phones.
The funding for all this is as innovative as the gadgets: Rawlemon, working via the Indiegogo website, uses crowdfunding.
Another application called "Beta.ray" is presently in the prototype stage. Including the mount and glass sphere the device is around two meters high and should provide enough solar energy to charge an electric car. When there is no car charging up, Beta.ray saves the energy in a large battery that acts as buffer.
But both these products are mere steps towards Brössel’s main aim: "I want to develop Rawlemon technology to the point that it can be built into large windows, for example in office buildings." With an efficiency factor of over 50% the elements would change incoming light into a hybrid of current and thermal energy.
"A building equipped like that would create more energy than it used," says Brössel. "Over and above that, three fourths of the sun’s rays would be collected so that the building could be cooled in a natural way, particularly in the summertime."
In four to five years, Rawlemon wants to start serial production of these facade elements. Looking into a glass ball would then replace the view out the window for many office workers.