Solar cells printed on paper

Paul Raven @ 06-05-2010

Chalk up another point for MIT, bounteous font of great boffinry – their latest offering to the world is a solar cell you can print out onto paper. However, I wouldn’t get too excited about it:

… the new solar cells are created by coating paper with organic semiconductor material using a process similar to an inkjet printer.

The MIT researchers used carbon-based dyes to “print” the cells, which are about 1.5 to 2 percent efficient at converting sunlight to electricity. That falls well short of the more than 40 percent efficiency record for a multi-junction solar cell, or even the recent 19 percent efficiency record for silicon ink-based solar cells. But Vladimir Bulovic, director of the Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Research Center, told CNET any material could be used to print onto the paper solar cells if it was deposited at room temperature.

It will still be some time before solar cells can be installed with a staple gun, however, as the paper variety are still in the research phase and are years from being commercialized.

Drill, baby, drill?

Solar roadways

Tom James @ 14-09-2009

solarroadwaysOne of those brilliant ideas that I wish I had thought of first: paving roadways with electricity-generating solar cells. Idaho-based startup Solar Roadways have been awarded $100 000 to develop their road-based solar panel technology:

The 12- x 12-foot panels, which each cost $6,900, are designed to be embedded into roads. When shined upon, each panel generates an estimated 7.6 kilowatt hours of power each day. If this electricity could be pumped into the grid, the company predicts that a four-lane, one-mile stretch of road with panels could generate enough power for 500 homes. Although it would be expensive, covering the entire US interstate highway system with the panels could theoretically fulfill the country’s total energy needs.

Furthermore the panels would create road markings with embedded LEDs.

It occurs to me that roads are the perfect media for ground-source heat pumps as the constant passage of cars heats up the road surface, even on cold days. When a new road is laid down (or an existing road is resurfaced) you fill it with the necessary pipework and plug it into the heating systems of nearby houses. Heat pumps would be more useful in urban areas of more northern, colder countries than solar panels due to shorter days in the winter.

[via Physorg][image from Physorg]

Japanese plan space-based solar power

Tom James @ 03-09-2009

714px-Space_solar_powerThe Japanese government has taken another step towards actually building a space based solar power plant. Mitsubishi Electric Corp and industrial design company IHI Corp are to develop a design for a SBSP plant to be up and running at some point in the next three decades:

By 2015, the Japanese government hopes to test a small satellite decked out with solar panels that beams power through space and back to Earth.

There are still a number of hurdles to work through before space-based solar power becomes a reality though. Transportation of the solar panels into space is too expensive at the moment to be commercially viable, so Japan has to figure out a way to lower costs. Even if costs are lowered, solar stations will have to worry about damage from micrometeoroids and other flying objects. Still, space-based solar operates perfectly under all weather conditions, unlike Earth-based panels that are at the mercy of the clouds.

It makes sense to start moving in this direction, but will practical implementation arrive fast enough to help reduce global warming emissions?

[from Inhabitat, via Slashdot][image from Wikimedia]

Space-based solar again

Paul Raven @ 10-07-2009

solar eclipseSpace-based solar power is about as science fictional as an energy solution can be, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping people from trying to make it a reality. We mentioned Solaren’s combined energy platform and hurricane killer idea back in April; now here’s PowerSat, who (naturally) have their own unique selling point:

Most proposals for space-based solar have involved a constellation of satellites, each transferring those 17MW to a central unit for transmission back to earth. This adds to the complexity of the system and means at least one satellite has to integrate a very large amount of power. PowerSat hopes to avoid all that. The satellites will receive a pilot signal from the ground and use that to coordinate their energy-carrying return signal to the ground-based receiver. “The satellites act as a radio frequency cloud to create a phase array of phased arrays,” Maness says.

When the microwave signal hits the ground, the transmission from each satellite should be additive—all of which dramatically cuts down the weight and complexity of the hardware that has to be put into orbit.

There are, of course, concerns about the effects of the power transmission beams when they reach the surface, but PowerSat are convinced (after researching thoroughly) that there would be no harm to humans, animals or anything else living. However, the beam would certainly knock out your mobile phone signal – which is a pretty minor flaw, but one that’s bound to create a significant obstacle to PowerSat’s plans… [image by James Jordan]

Fusion power: now even more futuristic!

Paul Raven @ 29-05-2009

Fusion power is just around the corner, it’s often said… but my father told me they told him the same thing when he was an apprentice back in the early sixties. It seems to be fusion’s destiny to have its reality date rolled back perpetually – the latest example being the announcement that the France-based ITER international experimental fusion project is being scaled down, with the prospective date for its first actual power-generating experiments delayed by a whole five years from the original schedule:

Faced with ballooning costs and growing delays, ITER’s seven partners are likely to build only a skeletal version of the device at first. The project’s governing council said last June that the machine should turn on in 2018; the stripped-down version could allow that to happen. But the first experiments capable of validating fusion for power would not come until the end of 2025, five years later than the date set when the ITER agreement was signed in 2006.


Indeed, the plan is perhaps the only way forward. Construction costs are likely to double from the €5-billion (US$7-billion) estimate provided by the project in 2006, as a result of rises in the price of raw materials, gaps in the original design, and an unanticipated increase in staffing to manage procurement. The cost of ITER’s operations phase, another €5 billion over 20 years, may also rise.

Bit of a bummer – but then maybe we’d be better off investing in energy technologies that we already have working versions of. €10 billion could probably make a huge difference to the current state of play in solar, geothermal and other sustainable energy sources , I’d have thought. [via SlashDot]

But don’t despair, fusion fans – the wonderfully-named National Ignition Facility in California is working on a laser-fusion method that comes with all the too-cheap-to-meter promise of those thast have come before. I’d love to see fusion arrive in my lifetime, and perhaps I will – but in the meantime I think I’ll stick to pragmatism. The Chinese seem to be on a similar wavelength, as they’re suddenly ploughing a whole lot of cash into developing renewable energy sources like solar power. Place your bets, ladies and gents, place your bets…

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