Discover how an Environment awards competition brought an innovative green energy technology into the light

James Coleman

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while someone actually does build a better mousetrap. For first year Planning student James Coleman, it wasn’t mice that his invention aimed to catch, but rather sunlight. By building a new, simple, cheap and sustainable way to harness sunlight for our homes and offices he’s landed in the spotlight of Waterloo’s entrepreneurial community.

Coleman’s idea, which he debuted in a pitch to judges at the Faculty of Environment’s 2013 Jack Rosen Awards, is brilliant in its simplicity.

He calls it SunRays, and it involves capturing natural sunlight using, “a magnifying glass type of lens,” Coleman explains. That light captured by the lens is then transmitted through a standard fibre optic cable to an output somewhere where a traditional electric light would be used.

Coleman doesn’t want to go into too much detail about the process because he does have some plans to commercialize it. What is important to know is that the SunRays system is 100 percent natural and sustainable. Of course the limitation being that the technology only works on sunny days. But just think of how many times indoor lights are used during daylight hours.

If the idea is so simple, easy and practical, why hasn’t anyone else thought of it?

“I don’t know,” says Coleman modestly.

The Jack Rosen Awards are a Dragon’s Den style competition whereby budding environmental entrepreneurs pitch their ideas about how to solve an environmental challenge and get feedback from a panel of expert judges.

Following Coleman’s two-minute Jack Rosen Awards pitch, the general feeling of wonder running through the audience was palpable. The panel of judges, which included Brett Shellhammer an Executive in Residence (EIR) at the VeloCity Program at University of Waterloo, Jean Andrey, a Professor in Geography and Environmental Management and Associate Dean of  Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Environment awarded Coleman first-place in the competition.

The win netted Coleman $1,000 to help develop his project. Since the pitch, he has also been working with Shellhammer to help commercialize the idea -- beginning with the patent process.        

 “My next step is the prototype,” says Coleman. “I have been working on several different configurations with sketches and simple tests, in an attempt to find the most efficient one, in terms of both costs and light output. Once I have found the best system I’ll be looking into a patent here in Canada, and eventually the States too. In the mean time, I have had a very generous friend offer his backyard shed as a ‘testing facility.’