Tuesday, October 21, 2008

One of These Days

With all of the energy and drama of these days, its not easy to focus on how we are actually going to survive the next few decades. As we watch the world head into this sea change in technology and in political realization, the tips of the technologies that might well change everything are beginning to emerge.

Thanks to Technology Review, here's one that just might be a game changer:

Mass Production of Plastic Solar Cells
A novel photovoltaic technology moves into large-scale production.
Technology Review
Friday, October 17, 2008
By Kevin Bullis

In a significant milestone in the deployment of flexible, printed photovoltaics, Konarka, a solar-cell startup based in Lowell, MA, has opened a commercial-scale factory, with the capacity to produce enough organic solar cells every year to generate one gigawatt of electricity, the equivalent of a large nuclear reactor.

Organic solar cells could cut the cost of solar power by making use of inexpensive organic polymers rather than the expensive crystalline silicon used in most solar cells. What's more, the polymers can be processed using low-cost equipment such as ink-jet printers or coating equipment employed to make photographic film, which reduces both capital and manufacturing costs compared with conventional solar-cell manufacturing.

The company has produced its cells in a relatively small pilot plant with the capacity of creating about one megawatt of solar cells a year. The large gigawatt capacity of the plant was made possible by the fact that Konarka does not require specialized equipment to make its solar cells.

Indeed, the factory and equipment were formerly owned by Polaroid and used to make film for medical imaging. With minor modifications, the same equipment can now be used to make solar cells. Richard Hess, Konarka's president and CEO, says that the company's ability to use existing equipment allows it to scale up production at one-tenth the cost compared with conventional technologies. (clip)

The solar cells are based on a design by Alan Heeger, a professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who won the Nobel Prize in 2000 for his work helping to develop electrically conducting polymers.

His solar-cell design included two main components: a polymer that releases electrons when exposed to sunlight, and carbon nanostructures called fullerenes, which escort those electrons away from the polymers and to an external electronic circuit, generating electricity. Konarka's solar cells use similar polymers and fullerene-like nanostructures.

These materials, as well as positive and negative electrodes made from metallic inks, can be spread over a sheet of plastic using printing and coating machines to make solar cells. (clip)

The technology has several drawbacks that will initially limit its applications. The solar cells only last a couple of years, unlike the decades that conventional solar cells last. What's more, the solar cells are relatively inefficient. (clip)

Because the solar cells can be made transparent, Konarka is also developing a version of its solar cells that could be laminated to windows to generate electricity and serve as a window tinting."

One of these days, we are going to be covering every man made structure that sees large amounts of light with advanced materials that convert those photons to electrons. And those electrons are going to be used to run your computer and to power the photon emitting surfaces inside your home and office.

The excess will be used next door, or in the next state, or it will go into solid state super capacitors which are stationed on your electric poles much like transformers are today.

One of these days, we're going to have an advanced solid state photonic energy web that is as smart as it is powerful.

And organic solar cells will likely be an important part of the picture.

And a pretty picture it will be.

One of these days.

"One of these days, one of these days, one of these days,
And it won't be long, it won't be long." Neal Young

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting article. I don't know where you find such good photos everyday, but they are always excellent and much appreciated.

6:31 AM  

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