An innovative Saudi-based solar windows startup has set its sights on solving the world’s growing demand for clean energy sources.
Called iyris, the award-winning company, incubated by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), has been set up to create special, high-tech glass that blocks heat, saves energy and produces electricity.
Four solar energy experts, Prof. Derya Baran, Dr. Daniel Bryant, Dr. Nicola Gasparini and Dr. Joel Troughton, are the co-founders and brains behind the enterprise.
“We’re bringing viable, sustainable and renewable solutions to this big problem, trying to find green alternatives,” said Baran, an assistant professor of material science and engineering at KAUST.
“We (iyris) are focusing on energy harvesting devices with an aim to convert sunlight, which is free and available everywhere especially in areas like Saudi Arabia, into a form of electricity,” she added.
The entrepreneurs strongly believe that the world is in dire need of energy and are trying to bring innovative solutions to Saudi Arabia.
Baran said iyris was a “very exciting dream” that started in her laboratories at KAUST. “The team and I were working on solar energy-related issues, and we came up with the idea behind our startup, as our findings can be a viable solution to the energy problems of the future.”
The startup produces transparent solar photovoltaics (PV) for future buildings and greenhouses in order to generate electricity from windows that can also block heat and be used as a power source.
A number of names inspired by the desert were first considered for the company, but then the team came up with the idea of iris, the membrane behind the cornea of the eye. “As a science team, we ended up putting a ‘y’ in there, which is the opposite of lamda, a Greek unit for ‘wavelength of the light,’ so it defines that you see true with your eyes, and it’s about the light,” said Baran.
KAUST solar center researcher Gasparini pointed out the difference between the firm and its competitors. “It’s a transparent solar technology different from conventional photovoltaics which are opaque, while iyris allows any window to generate electricity.”
Troughton said: “Because iyris is built into the envelope of the building, installation costs are much lower than traditional PV technologies.”
He added that projects like iyris were important for the environment because they allowed electricity to be generated, free from greenhouse gas emissions, right where the electricity was going to be used. In a sense, he said, the outside of a building became its own power station.
The company’s products will be targeted particularly at high-rise buildings and agricultural greenhouses in warm-climate areas such as the Middle East and North Africa.
“We are currently working very hard to commercialize this technology and we expect it to hit the market within the next couple of years,” said Troughton.
Bryant, iyris’ chief operating officer, said that KAUST helped with the initial development of the company by providing labs and facilities within the entrepreneurship center, and the university continued to support the venture’s development.
Last year iyris won in the second cohort of TAQADAM Startup Accelerator Program in KAUST, sponsored by SABB bank, and was recently awarded seed funding to begin its product development phase.