Friday, July 20, 2007

Some Day Sun Day


One of my ultimate solar cell scenarios is one in which every computer and printer becomes a micro manufacturer of panels. The implications are significant. The manufacturing infrastructure is relatively already in place. It is highly decentralized. It is mobile. It is readily transferable to the third world. If it only wasn't just a product of my rich imagination.

Apparently the folks at the New Jersey Institute of Technology have imagination too.

Here's the story thanks to the Energy Blog.

NJIT Researchers Develop Inexpensive, Easy Process To Produce Solar Panels

Researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets.

“The process is simple,” said lead researcher and author Somenath Mitra, PhD, professor and acting chair of NJIT’s Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science. “Someday homeowners will even be able to print sheets of these solar cells with inexpensive home-based inkjet printers.”

“We foresee a great deal of interest in our work because solar cells can be inexpensively printed or simply painted on exterior building walls and/or roof tops. Imagine some day driving in your hybrid car with a solar panel painted on the roof, which is producing electricity to drive the engine. The opportunities are endless,” said Mitra.

The science goes something like this. When sunlight falls on an organic solar cell, the energy generates positive and negative charges. If the charges can be separated and sent to different electrodes, then a current flows. If not, the energy is wasted. Link cells electronically and the cells form what is called a panel, like the ones currently seen on most rooftops. The size of both the cell and panels vary. Cells can range from 1 millimeter to several feet; panels have no size limits.

The solar cell developed at NJIT uses a carbon nanotubes complex, which is a molecular configuration of carbon in a cylindrical shape. The name is derived from the tube’s miniscule size. Scientists estimate nanotubes to be 50,000 times smaller than a human hair.

Nevertheless, just one nanotube can conduct current better than any conventional electrical wire. “Actually, nanotubes are significantly better conductors than copper,” Mitra added. Mitra and his research team took the carbon nanotubes and combined them with tiny carbon Buckyballs (known as fullerenes) to form snake-like structures.

Buckyballs trap electrons, although they can’t make electrons flow. Add sunlight to excite the polymers, and the buckyballs will grab the electrons. Nanotubes, behaving like copper wires, will then be able to make the electrons or current flow.“Using this unique combination in an organic solar cell recipe can enhance the efficiency of future painted-on solar cells,” said Mitra.

Someday, I hope to see this process become an inexpensive energy alternative for households around the world.”

The full report “Fullerene single wall carbon nanotube complex for polymer bulk heterojunction photovoltaic cells,” is featured as the June 21, 2007 cover story of the Journal of Materials Chemistry published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. The Society, based at Oxford University, is the British equivalent of the American Chemical Society.

There are very exciting technologies in labs around the earth

that can change everything.

But in order for "Some day" to become "Sun"day,

We must choose to move beyond our present state.

As long as the status quo is accepted,

We will continue,

the wars,

the poverty,

the pollution,

and the dangerous change of our climate.

If We knew what was good for us,

we would defund our weapons of war,

and we would develop these tools of peace.

And "Sun"DAY would be here before Tuesday.

And it would never be the same.

I suspect we don't.



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5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome technologies! Once again, those of us living in Texas don't have far to go to find work underway on fullerenes and carbon nanotubes. The late Dr. Rick Smalley, who everyone knows, from Rice University in Houston won a nobel prize for discovering fullerenes.

His group and various technology spin offs have been working to create a carbon nanotube self-selecting manufacturing process. Currently, when carbon nanotubes are manufactured, the tubes are produced along with different shapes of carbon molecules. The nanotubes have to be sorted and selected from among the different types. This is costly and cumbersome. New processes of "growing" nanotubes exclusively are being studied. Predictions vary on development time - 5 years or more.

Perhaps with more money and more resources, the R&D development time could be accelerated.

Many scientists and policy groups have called for a national Appolo-type project of funding, organizing, connecting and building the new technologies we need to fully shif to renewables like solar.
TKR

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Texas Has the Wrong Policy for Solar!

Continuing, most Texas universities are doing great work in nano - UT, UTD, Rice, likely UH - but little or no work in nano-solar.

Recently, I attended Govenor Perry's Bio-fuels non-announcement Press Conference in Houston. (He's giving $5 Million more to A&M for BioFuels "marketing.") He correctly cited the statistics that Texas is Number One in Wind.

But Perry INCORRECTLY stated that Texas is Number Two in Solar! In fact, Texas is almost dead last in solar generation. If you check the ERCOT website for RECs - you will see almost zero RECs for solar.

About the only solar deployment is in Austin nurtured by AE's programs.

Texas universities likewise, though doing great work in nano tech research - are doing very little in solar tech. Rice has a bit of quantum dots... but mostly, Texas schools have only dribbles and dabs in solar tech research.

If we had a Feed-In Tarrif policy, like Germany and Spain or it's equivalent - or an RPS that specifically requires a significant minimum generation from solar, then we would have a solar industry - including a significant focus on solar tech research at our educational institutions.

It is no mistake that New Jersey has the research underway described in this article - New Jersey has a progressive State Solar Policy! Just as does California with its CSI and rapid growth in solar generation - as well as basic research.

Our Texas policy MUST require solar production or we WILL NOT get solar. It is as simple as that.

We won't get it by having our govenor say we have it when we don't.
TKR

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ilove solar but urge caution with nano anything, which I recall reading somewhere kills living things exposed to them. And, once in your tissue, no way to remove it.
I know this sounds alarmist. Anyone else read anything about that?
Worrier!

10:13 AM  
Blogger OZ said...

At breakfast yesterday, we had a brief talk about the health issue of nano tech.

I wrote a piece on it several years back called nanomats.

Like any new technology, there will be unknown side effects of our engineering at this scale, and they sould be understood sooner and not later.

Buckyballs and nanotubes have been around for a while now. The health effects of other nano materials are less known though.

I'll put together a piece on what is known in the near future. If anyone has any reports or studies, please send them in.

thanks,

oZ

8:34 AM  
Blogger Charlie Loving said...

The sun could produce enough power to run the planet if we could just get rid of the oil mindset. There is no money in Mother Fature's free energy is their thinking.

9:19 AM  

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