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UNB Prof Studying Solar Power ‘Coating’

An associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of New Brunswick is developing an economical alternative to solar panels — a coating people can use to paint their shingles or siding.

Felipe Chibante believes it may be the way to persuade people to try solar energy.

Judges with the New Brunswick Innovation Fund like the idea and recently awarded Chibante $460,000 to continue his research at the university’s Fredericton campus.

Chibante has a long history of working with fullerenes — carbon molecules that can store the sun’s energy. He was part of the research team that discovered fullerenes in 1985.

He says they can be added to liquid, spread over plastic and shingles and marketed as a cheaper way to convert sunlight into electricity.

“What we’re trying to do in New Brunswick with the science research and innovation is we’re really trying to get the maximum bang for the buck,” said Chibante.

As it stands, fullerenes cost about $15,000 per kilogram. Chibante hopes to lower the cost by a factor of 10.

He wants to establish his project and this region as a key supplier for fullerene materials, he said.

The owner of Urban Pioneer, a Fredericton company that sells alternative energy products, likes the concept, but doubts there’s much of a market in New Brunswick.

“We have conventional solar panels right now and they’re not that popular,” said Tony Craft.

“So I can’t imagine, like, when you throw something completely brand new into it, I don’t know how people are going to respond to that even, so it may be a very tough sell,” he said.

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s funding will support a three-year project that employs 12 to 15 students a year.

The foundation investment brings Chibante’s research funding to about $6.2 million.