Solar-powered phone screen could boost battery life

A French startup is testing a transparent panel that would use solar energy to increase cell phone battery life by 20 percent. SunPartner Group hopes to see its Wysips panels appear in cell phones beginning next year. At less than half a millimeter thick, they are unobtrusive and can be built into a phone or placed on top of an existing screen.

Wysips won’t replace products like Mophie’s Juice Pack Air case, which can double an iPhone’s battery life, but at a few dollars each they are an especially cheap option. They collect power with strips of thin solar cells. These are covered with a layer of lenses that render the cells nearly invisible while concentrating solar energy. Without any external accessory or charger, phones could use idle time to recharge with natural or artificial light — and even recover from a dead battery.

A boost from the sun would be especially useful in a disaster situation or an area with little power connectivity. Wysips won’t charge the phone endlessly, but it would allow a quick call here and there. Devices that use less power, such as a Kindle, could rely solely on a Wysips to stay charged.

SunPartner reports the screens are currently 90 percent transparent. That’s a step above more-expensive transparent solar cells, which absorb infrared but not visible light to preserve the screen’s visibility. The company wants to double the screens’ energy output by 2014.

Wysips wouldn’t replace the traditional phone battery. But they would provide an easy charge in a bind and make routine activities like listening to music have very little impact on battery life. SunPartner also isn’t stopping with small device screens either; it is working on embedding Wysips in glass and other materials, which would expand its territory to billboards, car windows, building surfaces and beyond.