Interview: Carvey Ehren Maigue, James Dyson Award Sustainability Winner 2020
Winning the inaugural Sustainability Award of the James Dyson Award 2020, 27-year-old Carvey Ehren Maigue is the mind behind AuREUS System Technology - a new material, made from waste crop, which converts UV light into renewable energy. After discovering he won the Award, we caught up with Carvey to hear about his journey so far, the inspiration behind his invention, what lies ahead and why persistence is key.
Congratulations on winning the first Sustainability Award of the James Dyson Award 2020. What was it like the moment you found out?
It really surprised me and it took a few more days before it dawned on me. I was very happy because I know that through this Award, I will be able to reach more people. This is my second time applying and, through persistence, I managed to win. I’m very, very happy and excited that I have this chance.
What did you study and what have you done to get to this point?
I studied at Mapúa University - it’s one of the leading engineering schools in the Philippines. I'm in my tenth year, but I will finally graduate soon. To be able to fund my schooling, I take prototyping projects and fabrication projects from different students, as well as helping people who need support with their projects and their theses. It's taken this many years because I've had to pause my studies from time to time - the finances would just not be enough. But that’s okay with me - by taking on different projects, from different students, in different schools, I was able to expand my horizon of what I know. So there are a lot of learnings that I got, especially in terms of design, and how it would affect the user, and on the business side of things.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
It was my science teacher. We were watching this film in our laboratory class when I was 13 about trying to land the space shuttle. There were engineers in the opening scene doing calculations and my teacher said, “Carvey, I hope someday you will be someone like that.” It sparked me that and from then on, I knew I had a passion for physics and sciences and the desire to translate it into real products through engineering.
Who are the people or engineers that have really inspired you?
One of them is Elon Musk. I'm inspired by how he blazed a trail for his solution to reach the market. What really struck me is that he believed in his idea and said, “if you don't want to believe in me, then I’ll do it myself.” And then he proved it. You don’t have to start big, you just have to start with a really, really good product. It's the same with James Dyson and the vacuum. It's these people that I really look up to and I hope that someday I will also create a difference, in the same way they did.
How did you discover the James Dyson Award and what made you apply?
I first saw on Facebook in 2018 that the Award was launching in the Philippines, so I first entered it (unsuccessfully) for that year. I realised the scope of the Award is very expansive, but this is what really interested me in it. Was the problem I was trying to solve something that other people, globally, also thought was important or not? It was like an acid test for my idea.
So what does AuREUS System Technology do and how does it work?
When I first entered in 2018, my invention was just a window that aimed to utilise ultraviolet light, from sunlight, and convert it into electricity. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to create that glass but I continued to develop the product and I lifted the concept and the technology and found other applications for it. AuREUS is actually a material, or a technology, that allows other devices to harvest ultraviolet light and convert it into electricity. AuREUS is based on a plastic material, so it can be formed into different shapes.
How is your invention sustainable?
We need to utilise our resources more and create systems that don't deplete our current resources. While AuREUS aims to generate electricity from natural resources, I also want to show that, even if we want to become more sustainable, it’s not only the future generation that would benefit, but also us, the present generation. With AuREUS, we upcycle the crops of the farmers that were hit by natural disasters, such as typhoons, which also happen to be an effect of climate change. By doing this, we can be both future-looking, and solve the problems that we are currently experiencing now.
Now that you have won the Award, what are the next steps for you?
I want to work on the ways I can bring the product to the market immediately but also much of it will be dedicated to more research and development. I want to create threads and fabric so that even your clothes would be able to harvest ultraviolet light and convert it into electricity. We are also looking to create curved plates, for use on electric cars, aeroplanes and even boats. AuREUS has the chance to bring solar energy capture closer to people. In the same way computers were only used by the government or the military and now the same technology is in our smartphones, I want solar energy harvesting to be more accessible.
How will the James Dyson Award help you on your journey?
For me, the Award is the recognition that after two years of working on it, I created something that is good and useful to promote a more sustainable way of life. It's a very big confidence boost for me. I think the Award will also enable me to reach more people and hear their feedback on how we can further develop and improve this technology. And, as for the prize money, it will be great to be able to buy some equipment that can be used to further the manufacturing process. Added to that, the money will mean I can finish my time at university!