UofT Engineering Student Named to Top 20 Under 20

Inexpensive roofing tile produces solar energy on the cheap.

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by DE staff

University of Toronto chemical engineering student David Castelino has been named one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20 by Youth in Motion, a national charitable organization that develops and implements dynamic programs for youth.

Castelino was recognized for his development of a thin-film solar tile, which uses solar paint made from organic dyes to convert the sun’s rays into energy.

The development of this new technology began in grade five when Castelino, preparing for his first science fair, became interested in solar energy. Working with a solar kit purchased by his mother, Castelino started to explore how the sun’s rays were captured and made into a usable energy source.

“There has been a lot of focus on solar cells, but the biggest challenge is the cost and the ability to implement them in a wide-scale manner,” Castelino explained. This led him to begin exploring the use of organic solar cells as a less expensive alternative to traditional silicon-based cells, which in addition to being costly are more fragile.

As Castelino prepared for his grade 11 science fair, he focused on developing a more highly efficient organic solar cell that took its inspiration from plants, something he credits to his parents’ love of gardening. He struggled at times with the innovation until he was connected with University of Toronto Chemical Engineering Professor Tim Bender, whose research focuses on organic solar cells.

In working with Bender, the younger Castelino developed a dye-sensitized solar cell that used natural plant pigments in place of synthesized dyes for converting light energy to electricity. As a result of his innovation, Castelino was able to build a cost-effective solar tile that could easily be manufactured in developing countries.

The invention not only won Castelino his local science fair, but led him to become a member of the 16-person Team Canada at the 2007 Intel International Science Fair in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There he was awarded a patent citation, which is recognition of original work by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, for his invention as well as Third Place in the Grand Award for Energy and Transportation.

Having just completed second year, Castelino is in the process of writing an academic article on his invention while exploring the possibility of obtaining a full patent. He is looking ahead to further research in the field through graduate studies.