The news a few weeks back that TCL communication, the world’s seventh largest phone manufacturer, paid €2.1 million ($2.78 million) to test a new technology (link in French) in their devices from an unknown startup, SunPartner, didn’t turn many heads. But if integrating SunPartner’s technology works, it could mean never being stuck with a dead cell phone again.
The hope for SunPartner’s new solar energy technology, Wypsis (What You See is Photovoltaic Surface) is to generate a small amount of reserve charge for your cell phone when its normal battery runs out and you have no access to electricity. Speaking to Quartz, SunPartner’s CEO Ludovico Deblois explained just how the technology would work: “Wypsis is a sandwich composed by photovoltaic strips and lens faces. This sandwich is integrated between the display and the touch screen.”
The sale allows TCL Communication to license the technology for testing. If the tests prove fruitful, SunPartner says the technology will cost between one to two euros per phone to manufacture, according to its pilot manufacturing client in France.
But don’t get too excited; Despite the company’s lofty claims, it’s still early days for the technology. For instance, SunPartner released a fully-functional integrated solar smartphone (pdf) in February, integrating their photovoltaic technology into an existing mid-market mobile device. The company’s press release claimed cell phone consumers would “NEVER run out of battery again!” But the technology only charges the phone’s battery up to 20%, and less if the cell phone user is not constantly outside.
Deblois told Quartz that “in places like Africa and India, the added value to the consumer is about 20% of energy.” In developed countries, where people spend more time indoors, the tech is mostly useful for emergency calls.
That’s still a lifesaver if, say, you run out of battery at the airport and had planned on using a mobile electronic boarding pass. The solar tech would store up reserve battery, allowing you to switch on your device long enough to board your flight. A similar scenario would apply if you lost cell phone access while on the street looking for directions.
The technology could also have other applications, for instance, as the primary power source for e-readers, which use very little energy (most energy is used when turning pages). SunPartner also has a license with the company that supplies Boeing with its windows, hopefully to provide the aircraft maker with new solar windows that provide local energy. Deblois is also hoping to link up with the automobile industry.
SunPartner has another a license with a marketing firm that works with billboard companies to provide, “a fully autonomous billboard,” says Deblois. The young French startup may not be famous yet, but its creations could soon be boosting energy levels across your daily life.
Quartz is launching in Africa in June 2015. Sign up for announcements and updates here.