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The Future of Solar is Bright March 26, 2008

Posted by OldGuy in Alternatives, solar.
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Instead of stiff and heavy traditional solar cells, recent advances are creating light-weight and flexible structures that can be used in more situations.  Although not quite at the 8% minimum power efficiency, new methods are getting close.

The first approach is using “organic plastic” solar cells that have “nano-filaments”  embedded in light absorbing plastic, similar to the veins in tree leaves.  This process  is able to capture more of the sun’s light, although state of the art is still only 6% efficiency, only half of traditional, rigid solar cells.

David Carroll, director of the Wake Forest nanotechnology center, where this technology is being developed, expects to reach 10 percent in the next year.

Meanwhile, at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets.  Dr Somenath Mitra is looking for the day when sheets of solar cells could be printed on home printers, similar to today’s inkjet printers.  “Consumers can then slap the finished product on a wall, roof or billboard to create their own power stations.”

Or you could paint the solar cells on buildings or other exposed surfaces.  Imagine painting the top of an electric or hybrid car.  The car could recharge itself while sitting in the parking lot while you’re at work, providing enough power for a normal commute home. (My commute is 7 miles.)

NJIT’s approach uses carbon nanotubes, which are better conductors than copper, and tiny carbon Buckyballs (known as fullerenes) to grab solar electrons and pass it along the nanotubes.

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Information for this report came from Science Daily,  here and here.

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note:  A large part of Dr Carroll’s research at Wake Forest is funded by the United States Air Force, which is interested in the potential uses of more efficient, light-weight solar cells for satellites and spacecraft.  Other members of Carroll’s research team include Jiwen Liu and Manoj Namboothiry, postdoctoral associates at Wake Forest’s nanotechnology center, and Kyungkon Kim, a postdoctoral researcher at the center, who has moved to the Materials Science & Technology Division at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology in Seoul.

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