Ricoh creates world’s first commercial solar panel that charges under indoor light

Ricoh has created a solar panel capable of charging under indoor lights.

Technically, the new panel is a solid-state, dye-sensitised solar cell that mimics the same photosynthesis process plants use to harness the sun’s energy to make glucose and oxygen from carbon dioxide and water.

“This is perfect for the Internet of Things (IoT) world we live in today,” says Jacques van Wyk, CEO of Ricoh SA. “Our digital workplaces use a lot of battery-operated technologies, including things like the battery-operated multifunction printers that we make for use in warehouses and other areas. Being able to keep the devices charged from the normal lighting while working indoors has a huge impact on productivity and efficiency.”

The DSSC technology replaces chlorophyll with light-absorbing dyes. Incoming light excites the molecules, creating energy that is collected by an electrolyte and catalyst structure that operates like a leaf does in nature.

DSSC technology that generates affordable electricity has been around for some time but has never been safely usable in commercial applications until now. The iodine and organic solvents that were traditionally used are easily made volatile and leak. But the solid-state electrolyte solves those problems. It also incidentally makes more power under weaker light sources, such as the light in warehouses, because the organic dyes work optimally with those light wavelengths.

The biggest of Ricoh’s new solar panels, the DSSC5284, is being used for an office desk that keeps mobile devices on the desk charged up throughout the day. The desk is called LOOPLINE T1 and was made by Taisei Corporation and Design Office Line.

“We recognise the need – both within business and society – to identify new sources of renewable energy. In today’s IoT era, we are even more committed to our energy harvesting efforts,” says Tetsuya Tanaka, GM of the Energy Harvest Business Group at Ricoh. “Originally, our DSSC technology applied the organic photoconductor technology that we developed to drive our multifunction printers. The power of innovation and belief in technology that fuels the future led us to leverage that same DSSC technology to fuel renewable energy in environments critical to our customers, such as offices with little natural light. We’re thrilled to introduce solid-state DSSC technology to the world and are eager to continue developing new applications for this critical renewable energy source.”

This announcement is one of many steps Ricoh is taking as part of the company’s pledge to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including a commitment to affordable and clean energy.

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