The (data) science of sunlight

The sun is the core of everything, a burning mass of hydrogen that produces an abundance of electromagnetic radiation to fuel all life. Problem is some places get too much sunlight; others, not enough.

With the United Nations projecting the global population to reach ten billion by 2057, research scientists and agricultural producers alike are thinking about how to access sunlight in new ways. Alberta's G2V Optics' grow lights and solar simulators are two technologies at the forefront of the science of sunlight. 

High-fidelity solar spectrum

During his initial research into solar cells, it was apparent to company founder and Chief Technology Officer, Michael Taschuk (pictured), that many artificial sunlight sources for testing solar cells were poor and had long-term stability issues.

"In order to tell whether research is going well, you must be able to test the cell reliably," says Taschuk. "But the instrumentation that was available at the time was terrible. It took a half hour to warm up and was difficult to use. It wasn't precise, and good cell results were always suspect."

Taschuk's background was in lasers and felt this was a problem he could address. As such, he set out to invent the world's most precise light-emitting diode (LED) solar simulator. This led to an idea of using an array of stable and differently-colour LEDs to "dial up" whatever frequency and intensity of light was desired.

Sunbrick solar simulators

Out of this work came two solar simulators: the large area Sunbrick, which can be combined in a much larger array; and the small area Pico. Both have provided researchers in areas like photovoltaics, solar fuels, satellites, and more, with increased data accuracy thus improving the reliability of the research.

Food production

This led to creation of a product they call Perihelion for indoor and vertical farmers. Perihelion is a product that uses variable spectrum technology and improves the lighting options available to growers.

"It was clear that the technology we'd invented had much broader applications than solar cells, and that it was also possible to impact food production, and that really spoke to me at a mission level," says Taschuk.

Tuning the spectrum

"Full-spectrum lighting is a marketing term. What they mean is that the lighting covers lots of colours," says Taschuk. "Basically, the human eye perceives colour from blue to red, and so full spectrum is a light that emits at most of those colours."

That doesn't work for plants, though. "What the plant biologists tell us is that plants use electromagnetic radiation outside of that range-in the ultraviolet and infrared ranges-to  their environment and grow."

What sets Perihelion apart is that it gives the grower the ability to fine-tune the light in those ranges, so the plants get exactly what they need to grow and flourish.

Sunrise - early support sets the stage

The genesis of G2V Optics grew out of Taschuk's work as a research associate at the University of Alberta with Dr. Michael Brett in around 2003. At the time, Brett was funded by the precursor to Alberta Innovates as the Industrial Research Chair in Thin Film Engineering. The goal was to investigate the fabrication and characterization of nanoscale materials, in part for application to solar cells.

Taschuk was able to take his work with Brett to manufacture and commercialize his first solar simulator. He credits previous Alberta Innovates partnerships like the nanoBridge project for getting the company off the ground. "I think it's fair to say there would be no company without their funding of that program because the work I did there enabled us to take the first commercial order."

The company's CEO, Ryan Tucker, himself a recipient of an Alberta Innovates Graduate Student Scholarship, also worked in Brett's lab. He joined the company in 2017.  More recently, they've received funding through our  Campus Alberta Small Business Engagement program, which supports collaboration between Campus Alberta and Alberta SMEs. This program allowed G2V to get the support of Richard Uhrig, an UofA Plant Biologist expert to identify how plants use electromagnetic radiation to grow.

Sunset - later support sets the bar

Another advantage for the company was the relationship they'd built with Technology Development Advisor (TDA) Rick Davidson. "I met these guys a few years back, and I've seen them grow from just a few employees to over 20," says Davidson. "And the science behind their tech is first rate. They're able to substantiate the claims they make."

As a TDA, Rick also helped G2V access some funding programs like our Commercialization Associates and Product Demonstration programs. "The Product Demonstration Program is going to be especially exciting as it'll give them a chance to test their products with three different companies from three separate sectors."

Additionally, Jeremy Gilman from our Executive Business Advisor program advised them through a recent fundraising process, where they raised $1.875 million in seed financing. G2V Optics is now looking to shine a light on global markets.

Update: May 4, 2021 - G2V Optics raises $2.6 million CAD