How energy-generating billboards are speeding up the energy transition

18 Jun 2021

A billboard that consumes no energy and yet lights up in the dark. This almost magical technology is what start-up Lusoco is bringing to the market.

Innovation Origins wrote this article about it.

 
"Our technology is going to complement the current printed, illuminated communication," says Jeroen ter Schiphorst, Chief Technology Officer and co-founder at Lusoco. The company initially focuses on sustainable billboards. These consume a considerable amount of energy, some three hundred to six hundred kilowatt hours each year. "We are, of course, making more and more use of sustainable energy, but our demand for energy will also increase significantly in the years to come, for example due to the emergence of electric cars," explains Ter Schiphorst. "All the energy that we do not or do not have to generate, saves again."

Energie opwekkende afbeelding


The billboards that Lusoco targets are made of a glass or plastic sheet with fluorescent inks. "We see a similar principle in the green, luminous stars that children used to hang above their beds. Only the ink glows when the light goes out," he says. The fluorescent particles in the inks absorb light, either from the sun or from artificial lighting. This causes the ink to glow. The absorbed light is transported to the side of the glass plate via waveguiding. "This is actually the same principle as the internet through a cable, only now we are not using a round cable but a flat plate," says Ter Schiphorst. This creates a concentrated beam of light on the side of the plate. "We then put a narrow, self-designed solar cell on it," he continues. "That way the image can generate energy."

The solar cell is in turn connected to a battery that stores the energy generated during the day to be used at night. Then LED lights shine on the side of the glass. "Because the ink itself glows, the contrast with the background is greater than when you shine light on or behind an advertising sign," says Ter Schiphorst. That makes the sign more visible while consuming less energy.

Competing with solar panels

The idea used to be that Luminescent Solar Concentrators, the technology Lusoco works with, could completely replace solar cells. A window or a piece of plastic could then generate energy. "Only the efficiency of solar panels is much higher so it remains more interesting in terms of cost," Ter Schiphorst outlines. "That is why we focus on selling products that use the generated energy again. In this way, we no longer have to deal with the price of energy, but we make applications possible that were not possible before."

Inventing the wheel

Ter Schiphorst and his partner Teun Wagenaar set up Lusoco four years ago as a spin-off from Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). They focus mainly on the technical components of the product, such as the fluorescent ink and the electronics. "In the Netherlands, just under two thousand companies operate in the advertising market. If we really want to get off the ground, we need a large marketing and sales team. To be able to sell the products all over the world, we would also need a distribution centre," Ter Schiphorst outlines. "We do not want that. That is why we are concentrating on offering the technology to large parties in the market so that we can work together. They already have the channels for marketing and distribution and we can really contribute something with our technical knowledge."

Pilot project

The first billboards have already been placed in Eindhoven. This is as a pilot project so that the company can further test the technology. "We have already put up a few signs. We are now working with a party to also produce this on a large scale," he says. With this, Ter Schiphorst wants to test the scalability of the technology. "We offer the technology and the knowledge to this party. So the signs are all through one customer, not many separate customers," he continues.

Emergency exit

In addition to the practical development of the first billboards, Lusoco is also looking at new applications for the technology. "We can also create images on glass that are (almost) invisible. We can then make these light up in the event of an emergency, for example." Ter Schiphorst thinks for example of signs of emergency exits or indicators on the windows of cars. "Emergency exit signs often hang high and are therefore less visible in the event of smoke development. We could have arrows glowing on the windows to indicate an escape route." Lusoco approaches this application with the same business case. "We don't want to sell individual signs but link up with manufacturers of current emergency exit signs," he says.

Ter Schiphorst expects the company to be fully independent by 2026. "In recent years we have worked with various convertible and subordinated loans, for example from the Brabant Startup Fund and Rabobank," he says. "We are now looking for an investor to take the next steps. For example with our lauching customer of the billboards and tapping into new markets." Ter Schiphorst believes it is important to find an investor who really fits the company. "We are looking for an investor who understands chemistry and new materials and who wants to exploit new opportunities with us," he says. "It's almost a marriage you enter into with an investor," he laughs. "It is really very important that there is a good match."

Ter Schiphorst hopes that in ten years' time he will see billboards with Lusoco technology on the streets of the world. "During my education I didn't think I would become an entrepreneur," he says. "But I did know early on that I didn't want to work for a big company. I really wanted to make my own mark on society." Through several meetings with entrepreneurs, including his business partner, Ter Schiphorst dared to take the plunge. "We tested the technology on a small scale in the laboratory and then applied it on a large scale. This way we can really have a positive impact on society."

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