Their invention – a thin, flexible dye-sensitised solar cell that harvests electricity extremely efficiently and can be custom-printed in almost any texture, shape or colour – can be integrated into a wide range of electronic devices.
“With their flexible solar cells, Henrik Lindström and Giovanni Fili have spearheaded the drive towards the development of next generation self-charging electronic devices,” said EPO President António Campinos. “With robust patent protection behind them, they are at the cutting-edge of this pioneering solar cell technology, which has the potential to change how we use electronics and play a significant role in reducing carbon emissions.”
The 2021 European Inventor Award ceremony was held digitally and, for the first time, was open to the public who tuned in from around the world. The Award, one of Europe’s most prestigious innovation prizes, is presented annually by the EPO to outstanding inventors from Europe and beyond who have made an exceptional contribution to society, technological progress and economic growth. The finalists and winners in five categories (Industry,
Research, SMEs, Non-EPO countries and Lifetime achievement) were selected by an independent international jury.
Solar powering everyday life
Scientist Henrik Lindström and entrepreneur Giovanni Fili combined their complementary skills and expertise to pioneer the production of an innovative solar cell technology, and successfully commercialise their invention.
In 2008 Fili founded the company Exeger, with the aim of bringing to market highly promising dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSCs), which at the time were still commercially unviable. This was the same technology that Lindström had successfully reproduced in 1994, during his PhD at Uppsala University. Convinced by Fili’s vision, Lindström became the start-up’s Chief Technology Officer in 2009.
DSSCs usually feature a transparent substrate plate topped with a conductive oxide material (indium tin oxide). The cost of these materials however has limited their commercial viability. Lindström and Fili’s breakthrough was finding a way of replacing these expensive and inefficient materials with a new electrode material that offers 1 000 times higher conductivity.
One distinguishing feature of their innovation is that the electrode is located directly behind the light absorbing layer. This means that more light reaches the cell, and more electrical current is generated. Secondly, screen printing was chosen as the ideal manufacturing method, opening up new possibilities in design integration.
Lindstrom says: “It’s thin, flexible and efficient; when applied to any device, that device can create its own electricity, like in photosynthesis.” Fili adds: “We will never need to charge our headphones or e-readers or other devices again, they will recharge themselves from ambient light, even indoors.”
Their invention, called Powerfoyle®, was first integrated into bike helmets that use self-charging lights, and several potential uses are currently being researched. These include powering smartphones, and installation on surfaces such as façades, rooftops and windows. The company currently employs 140 staff at its factory in Stockholm and plans to begin construction on a second plant with tenfold capacity later this year to enable them to enter many more markets.