David Kirkpatrick

May 1, 2010

Solar efficiency from a very unusual source

This is a somewhat surprising and actually interesting direction for solar efficiency research.

The release:

Purple Pokeberries hold secret to affordable solar power worldwide

Pokeberries – the weeds that children smash to stain their cheeks purple-red and that Civil War soldiers used to write letters home – could be the key to spreading solar power across the globe, according to researchers at Wake Forest University’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials.

Nanotech Center scientists have used the red dye made from pokeberries to coat their efficient and inexpensive fiber-based solar cells. The dye acts as an absorber, helping the cell’s tiny fibers trap more sunlight to convert into power.

Pokeberries proliferate even during drought and in rocky, infertile soil. That means residents of rural Africa, for instance, could raise the plants for pennies. Then they could make the dye absorber for the extremely efficient fiber cells and provide energy where power lines don’t run, said David Carroll, Ph.D., the center’s director.

“They’re weeds,” Carroll said. “They grow on every continent but Antarctica.”

Wake Forest University holds the first patent for fiber-based photovoltaic, or solar, cells, granted by the European Patent Office in November. A spinoff company called FiberCell Inc. has received the license to develop manufacturing methods for the new solar cell.

The fiber cells can produce as much as twice the power that current flat-cell technology can produce. That’s because they are composed of millions of tiny, plastic “cans” that trap light until most of it is absorbed. Since the fibers create much more surface area, the fiber solar cells can collect light at any angle – from the time the sun rises until it sets.

To make the cells, the plastic fibers are stamped onto plastic sheets, with the same technology used to attach the tops of soft-drink cans. The absorber – either a polymer or a less-expensive dye – is sprayed on. The plastic makes the cells lightweight and flexible, so a manufacturer could roll them up and ship them cheaply to developing countries – to power a medical clinic, for instance.

Once the primary manufacturer ships the cells, workers at local plants would spray them with the dye and prepare them for installation. Carroll estimates it would cost about $5 million to set up a finishing plant – about $15 million less than it could cost to set up a similar plant for flat cells.

“We could provide the substrate,” he said. “If Africa grows the pokeberries, they could take it home.

“It’s a low-cost solar cell that can be made to work with local, low-cost agricultural crops like pokeberries and with a means of production that emerging economies can afford.”

###

Wake Forest University’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials uses revolutionary science to address the pressing needs of human society, from health care to green technologies. It is a shared resource serving academic, industrial and governmental researchers across the region.

February 24, 2010

Is the Bloom Box the next Segway?

Filed under: Business, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:51 pm

That is, overhyped as a revolutionary game-changing technology that doesn’t even come close to expectations? Who knows. K.R. Sridhar is getting plenty of attention and if the Bloom Box comes near to delivering on its promise may well become a truly revolutionary piece of technology. The skeptic in me keeps me from holding my breath in excitement. (And yes, that last sentence is dripping with snark even though it doesn’t come through in the writing.)

From the link:

The hot energy news for this week comes in the form of a small box called the Bloom box, whose inventor hopes that it will be in almost every US home in the next five to 10 years. K.R. Sridhar, founder of the Silicon Valley start-up called Bloom Energy, unveiled the device on “60 Minutes” to CBS reporter Leslie Stahl on Sunday evening. Although Sridhar made some impressive claims on the show, he left many of the details a secret. This Wednesday, the company will hold a “special event” in eBay’s town hall, with a countdown clock on its website suggesting it will be a momentous occasion – or at least generating hype.

As Sridhar explained to Stahl, the Bloom box is a new kind of fuel cell that produces electricity by combining oxygen in the air with any , such as natural gas, bio-gas, and solar energy. Sridhar said the chemical reaction is efficient and clean, creating energy without burning or combustion. He said that two Bloom boxes – each the size of a grapefruit – could wirelessly power a US home, fully replacing the ; one box could power a European home, and two or three Asian homes could share a single box. Although currently a commercial unit costs $700,000-$800,000 each, Sridhar hopes to manufacture home units that cost less than $3,000 in five to 10 years. He said he got the idea after designing a device for NASA that would generate oxygen on Mars, for a mission that was later canceled. The Bloom box works in the opposite way as the Mars box: instead of generating oxygen, it uses oxygen as one of the inputs.

Update — Here’s the latest on the Bloom box from PhysOrg.

November 25, 2009

Self-assembling spherical solar cells

Via KurzweilAI.net — Pretty interesting solar concept. There is still a lot of innovation going on in the solar space.

Origami Solar Cells
Technology Review, Nov. 25, 2009

Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed self-assembling spherical solar cells capable of capturing more sunlight than flat ones.

If they prove practical, the devices could be wired up into large arrays that have the same power output as conventional cells, but that save on materials costs by using less silicon.


(PNAS)

 

Read Original Article>>

November 17, 2009

Nuclear power may not be the answer

Filed under: Business, Politics, Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:11 pm

And the reason might really surprise you — we’re running out of uranium. There’s a lot of talk about building new nuke plants — an idea I like — to help wean the west off of OPEC, et. al. What may come as a shock to many is uranium, the power source for nuclear plants, is going to offer just as many headaches in terms of shortages and being beholden parts of the world with reserves as petroleum provides right now.

Looks like it’s time to redouble the alternative power efforts if we want energy relatively free of the whims of geopolitics.

From the link:

Perhaps the most worrying problem is the misconception that uranium is plentiful. The world’s nuclear plants today eat through some 65,000 tons of uranium each year. Of this, the mining industry supplies about 40,000 tons. The rest comes from secondary sources such as civilian and military stockpiles, reprocessed fuel and re-enriched uranium. “But without access to the military stocks, the civilian western uranium stocks will be exhausted by 2013, concludes Dittmar.

It’s not clear how the shortfall can be made up since nobody seems to know where the mining industry can look for more.

October 22, 2009

Nanoantennas and high-speed optical data networks

Via KurzweilAI.net — Looks like this nanotech has applications in communications, medicine and alternative power, to name three.

Nanoantennas allow for high-speed optical data networks

KurzweilAI.net, Oct. 22, 2009

Gold nanoantennas smaller than 100 nm that transmit and receive light have been developed by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology researchers.

The antennas could be used in new optical high-speed data networks and in chip manufacturing and photovoltaic devices, and for the study of individual biomolecules.


(LTI)

More info

Solar costs are dropping

Interesting news from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The release:

Installed cost of solar photovoltaic systems in the US fell in 2008

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) released a new study on the installed costs of solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems in the U.S., showing that the average cost of these systems declined by more than 30 percent from 1998 to 2008. Within the last year of this period, costs fell by more than 4 percent.

The number of solar PV systems in the U.S. has been growing at a rapid rate in recent years, as governments at the national, state, and local levels have offered various incentives to expand the solar market. With this growth comes a greater need to track and understand trends in the installed cost of PV.

“A goal of government incentive programs is to help drive the cost of PV systems lower. One purpose of this study is to provide reliable information about the costs of installed systems over time,” says report co-author Ryan Wiser.

According to the report, the most recent decline in costs is primarily the result of a decrease in PV module costs. “The reduction in installed costs from 2007 to 2008 marks an important departure from the trend of the preceding three years, during which costs remained flat as rapidly expanding U.S. and global PV markets put upward pressure on both module prices and non-module costs. This dynamic began to shift in 2008, as expanded manufacturing capacity in the solar industry, in combination with the global financial crisis, led to a decline in wholesale module prices,” states the report, which was written by Wiser, Galen Barbose, Carla Peterman, and Naim Darghouth of Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division.

In contrast, cost reductions from 1998 through 2007 were largely due to a decline in non-module costs, such as the cost of labor, marketing, overhead, inverters, and the balance of systems.

The study—the second in an ongoing series that tracks the installed cost of PV—examined 52,000 grid-connected PV systems installed between 1998 and 2008 in 16 states. It found that average installed costs, in terms of real 2008 dollars, declined from $10.80 per watt (W) in 1998 to $7.50/W in 2008, equivalent to an average annual reduction of $0.30/W, or 3.6 percent per year in real dollars.

Costs Differ by Region and Type of System

Other information about differences in costs by region and by installation type emerged from the study. The cost reduction over time was largest for smaller PV systems, such as those used to power individual households. Also, installed costs show significant economies of scale—small residential PV systems completed in 2008 that were less than 2 kilowatts (kW) in size averaged $9.20/W, while large commercial systems in the range of 500 to 750 kW averaged $6.50/W.

Installed costs were also found to vary widely across states. Among systems completed in 2008 and less than 10 kW in size, average costs range from a low of $7.30/W in Arizona, followed by California, which had average installed costs of $8.20/W, to a high of $9.90/W in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Based on these data, and on installed cost data from the sizable German and Japanese PV markets, the authors suggest that PV costs can be driven lower through large-scale deployment programs.

The study also found that the new construction market offers cost advantages for residential PV systems. Among small residential PV systems in California completed in 2008, those systems installed in residential new construction cost $0.80/W less than comparably-sized systems installed in rooftop retrofit applications.

Cash Incentives Declined

The study also found that the average size of direct cash incentives provided by state and local PV incentive programs declined over the 1998-2008 study period. Other sources of incentives, however, such as federal investment tax credits (ITCs), have become more significant. For commercial PV systems, the average combined after-tax value of federal and state ITCs, plus direct cash incentives provided by state and local incentive programs, was $4.00/W in 2008, down slightly from its peak in 2006 but still a near-record-high. Total after-tax incentives for residential systems, on the other hand, were at an historic low in 2008, averaging $2.90/W, their lowest level within the 11-year study period.

The drop in total after-tax incentives for both commercial and residential PV from 2007 to 2008 more than offset the cost reduction over this period, leading to a slight rise in the net installed cost, or the installed cost facing a customer after receipt of financial incentives. For residential PV, net installed costs in 2008 averaged $5.40/W, up 1% from the previous year. Net installed costs for commercial PV averaged $4.20/W, a 5% rise from 2007.

###

The report “Tracking the Sun II: The Installed Cost of Photovoltaics in the U.S. from 1998�,” by Ryan Wiser, Galen Barbose, Carla Peterman, and Naim Darghouth may be downloaded from http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/emp/re-pubs.html. The research was supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (Solar Energy Technologies Program) and by the Clean Energy States Alliance.

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California. Visit our website at http://www.lbl.gov.

September 17, 2009

Nanosolar’s panels heading to the marketplace

Filed under: Business, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 6:36 pm

(Note this is the replacement for this lost post without some of the additional commentary on the feasibility of alternative power.)

Via KurzweilAI.net:

Advanced Solar Panels Coming to Market

Technology Review, Sept. 17, 2009

Nanosolar has opened an automated facility for manufacturing its solar panels, and says power plants made using these panels could produce electricity at five to six cents per kilowatt hour — near the cost of electricity from coal and significantly less than most solar power, which costs about 18 to 22 cents per kilowatt hour.

The panels are made by printing a semiconductor material called CIGS (copper, indium, gallium, and selenium) on aluminum foil.


Nanosolar’s new, fully automated solar-panel manufacturing facility (Nanosolar)

Read Original Article>>

Nanosolar’s panels heading to the marketplace

Filed under: Business, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:26 pm

[Note: this post was lost in WordPress somehow. Hit this link for new post sans my expanded commentary from the lost original.]

August 5, 2009

Solar cells, nanotech and plastics

This release involves using nanotechnology to help create that efficiently turn light into electricity, improving solar cells in the process.

The release:

Plastics that convert light to electricity could have a big impact

IMAGE: David Ginger, a University of Washington associate professor of chemistry, displays the tiny probe for a conductive atomic force microscope, used to record photocurrents on scales of millionths of an…

Click here for more information. 

Researchers the world over are striving to develop organic solar cells that can be produced easily and inexpensively as thin films that could be widely used to generate electricity.

But a major obstacle is coaxing these carbon-based materials to reliably form the proper structure at the nanoscale (tinier than 2-millionths of an inch) to be highly efficient in converting light to electricity. The goal is to develop cells made from low-cost plastics that will transform at least 10 percent of the sunlight that they absorb into usable electricity and can be easily manufactured.

A research team headed by David Ginger, a University of Washington associate professor of chemistry, has found a way to make images of tiny bubbles and channels, roughly 10,000 times smaller than a human hair, inside plastic solar cells. These bubbles and channels form within the polymers as they are being created in a baking process, called annealing, that is used to improve the materials’ performance.

The researchers are able to measure directly how much current each tiny bubble and channel carries, thus developing an understanding of exactly how a solar cell converts light into electricity. Ginger believes that will lead to a better understanding of which materials created under which conditions are most likely to meet the 10 percent efficiency goal.

As researchers approach that threshold, nanostructured plastic solar cells could be put into use on a broad scale, he said. As a start, they could be incorporated into purses or backpacks to charge cellular phones or mp3 players, but eventually they could make in important contribution to the electrical power supply.

Most researchers make plastic solar cells by blending two materials together in a thin film, then baking them to improve their performance. In the process, bubbles and channels form much as they would in a cake batter. The bubbles and channels affect how well the cell converts light into electricity and how much of the electric current actually gets to the wires leading out of the cell. The number of bubbles and channels and their configuration can be altered by how much heat is applied and for how long.

The exact structure of the bubbles and channels is critical to the solar cell’s performance, but the relationship between baking time, bubble size, channel connectivity and efficiency has been difficult to understand. Some models used to guide development of plastic solar cells even ignore the structure issues and assume that blending the two materials into a film for solar cells will produce a smooth and uniform substance. That assumption can make it difficult to understand just how much efficiency can be engineered into a polymer, Ginger said.

For the current research, the scientists worked with a blend of polythiophene and fullerene, model materials considered basic to organic solar cell research because their response to forces such as heating can be readily extrapolated to other materials. The materials were baked together at different temperatures and for different lengths of time.

Ginger is the lead author of a paper documenting the work, published online last month by the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters and scheduled for a future print edition. Coauthors are Liam Pingree and Obadiah Reid of the UW. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Ginger noted that the polymer tested is not likely to reach the 10 percent efficiency threshold. But the results, he said, will be a useful guide to show which new combinations of materials and at what baking time and temperature could form bubbles and channels in a way that the resulting polymer might meet the standard.

Such testing can be accomplished using a very small tool called an atomic force microscope, which uses a needle similar to the one that plays records on an old-style phonograph to make a nanoscale image of the solar cell. The microscope, developed in Ginger’s lab to record photocurrent, comes to a point just 10 to 20 nanometers across (a human hair is about 60,000 nanometers wide). The tip is coated with platinum or gold to conduct electrical current, and it traces back and forth across the solar cell to record the properties.

As the microscope traces back and forth over a solar cell, it records the channels and bubbles that were created as the material was formed. Using the microscope in conjunction with the knowledge gained from the current research, Ginger said, can help scientists determine quickly whether polymers they are working with are ever likely to reach the 10 percent efficiency threshold.

Making solar cells more efficient is crucial to making them cost effective, he said. And if costs can be brought low enough, solar cells could offset the need for more coal-generated electricity in years to come.

“The solution to the energy problem is going to be a mix, but in the long term solar power is going to be the biggest part of that mix,” he said.

 

###

March 9, 2009

NanoMarkets report on organic photovoltaics sector

News from the inbox today.

The release:

NanoMarkets Issues New Report on Materials for Organic Photovoltaics Sector

GLEN ALLEN, Va., March 9 /PRNewswire/ — NanoMarkets, a leading industry analyst firm based here, today announced the release of its newest report, “Organic Photovoltaic Materials Markets: 2009 – 2016”.  The report projects that sales of materials for both “pure” organic solar cells (OPV) and hybrid organic/inorganic dye-sensitized solar cells (DSC), are expected to reach almost $600 million ($US) by 2016. The report goes on to note that the willingness of materials firms to meet the small demands from organic PV manufacturers today stands a good chance of being rewarded with substantial orders today. Details about the report are available at www.nanomarkets.net.

The firm will also be holding a webinar to present findings from the report on Tuesday, March 17th at 10:00 EDT.  See the NanoMarkets website for details.

Other Findings from the Report:

As there are no settled architectures or materials structures for organic PV there is considerable potential for materials firms of all sizes to set industry standards. According to NanoMarkets’ new report, three areas of special opportunity are (1) more efficient organic absorber materials, (2) improved electrode materials, (3) new layers for OPV cells that enable these cells to leap to greater energy conversion efficiencies. With regard to new materials, the new NanoMarkets report discusses in depth the role of nanomaterials and new dye types for DSCs. It notes in the latter case that today’s DSCs use ruthenium, one of the rarest metals on the planet.

New materials and architectures will similarly spell opportunities for equipment makers. Today, OPV/DSC cell manufacturers require production equipment that is good enough for prototype production. The next step will be to create production equipment that is optimized for production runs of working devices.  NanoMarkets believes that OPV may eventually be helped from the development of large scale manufacturing of OLED lighting applications, which are likely to be very similar to those required for OPV and DSC fabrication, so there may be some synergistic opportunities in providing R2R production equipment for both applications.

About the Report:

Organic Photovoltaic Materials Markets: 2009 – 2016 analyzes and quantifies the markets for OPV/DSC materials of all kinds. Coverage includes the latest R&D and commercialization efforts in the area of the core absorber layers for pure OPV and DSC solar cells, as well as the materials used for electrodes, encapsulation and substrates. The report discusses the materials products and strategies of the key players and companies, including both firms that are specifically focused on OPV materials (e.g., Plextronics) and those that develop materials for their own solar panels (e.g., Konarka). The new NanoMarkets study also provides a roadmap for improvements in OPV lifetimes, materials prices, efficiencies and other factors, along with a detailed eight-year forecast of OPV/DSC materials in both volume and value terms.

This report focuses on developments at the materials level that are impacting the commercialization of OPV/DSC and will be invaluable to strategic planners and marketing managers at materials and solar panel firms of all kinds, as well as electronics companies and investors.

About NanoMarkets:

NanoMarkets tracks and analyzes emerging market opportunities in electronics created by developments in advanced materials. The firm has published numerous reports related to organic, thin film and printable electronics materials and applications and maintains a blog at www.nanotopblog.com that comments on industry trends and events. NanoMarkets research database is the industry’s most extensive source of information on thin film, organic and printable (TOP) electronics. Visit www.nanomarkets.net for a full listing of NanoMarkets’ reports and other services.

Source: NanoMarkets

Web Site:  http://www.nanomarkets.net/

November 20, 2008

Wind turbine generator improvement

Filed under: Business, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:03 pm

To quote my friend Wes:

This is the basic research that should have been funded back the 1980s and available now .

Amen. I’d even toss that ball back to the 70s. At any rate this sounds pretty promising.

From the (second) link:

While the costs of solar power have continually dropped over the past couple decades, wind power has only decreased slightly in cost, owing to a relative lack of sources of improvement.  Much of the wind power research has focused on either building larger turbines which are naturally more cost effective or trying to fit turbines into new areas.  Few looked to reinvent the base structure of the turbine.

Startup ExRo is not your average wind power company, though.  This think-outside-the-box firm has reinvented one of the most basic components of wind turbines — the generator.  Its new design promises up to 50 percent more efficiency and lower production costs as well.

Ordinary wind power generators have an optimal rate which is fine tuned to local average wind conditions.  When the wind is blowing at this speed, the turbine produces electricity at an outstanding efficiency of around 90 percent.  However, when the wind blows faster or slower the efficiency significantly decreases. This is a major cause of why wind power is more expensive than coal, which burns in plants with turbines that turn at steady rates, maintaining the higher efficiency.

In the past, some have tried blades that change pitch to catch more or less wind and maintain a steady pace.  Others have used mechanical transmissions.  However, these components tend to be expensive, raise maintenance costs, and only help so much.

The new generator scraps the mechanical transmission, replacing it with an electrical one.  The new transmission still requires a bit of blade pitching when winds are extremely high.  However, it is able to extend the peak efficiency range significantly, balancing gusts and lulls, and producing, over the course of the year, up to 50 percent more power.

ExRo)

A rendering of the stack illustrates how two rings of rotating magnets connect to the shaft (blue) generate power by passing coils (green and red). These coils can be selectively turned on and off by the electric transmission. Multiple stacks can be collected to a single shaft for better performance. (Source: ExRo)

 

July 29, 2008

Tidal power goes live

Filed under: Business, Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:07 am

This is great news for fans of alternative energy sources. The world’s first tidal power system is now part of the grid in Northern Ireland. The system is built by UK company, Marine Current Technologies (MCT), and is call SeaGen

I’m pretty excited about the various innovations around the world in solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and other alternative energy. The more the merrier.

We’re not going to get away from petroleum-based energy anytime soon, but as more options become feasible and implemented in the real world, the vetting process of what works and what doesn’t gets away from the drawing board and computer models and into actual application. Good for all. Well, except for a handful of emirs out in the desert (and maybe a few dictators — yeah, I’m thowing the current Russian leadership in that category.)

From the Technology Review link:

The system is currently being tested and has briefly generated 150 kilowatts of power into the grid. But it has also damaged one of its rotors due to a failure in the control system when the rotor began turning too fast. Although the problem was a minor setback, the unit is not expected to start running continuously and at full capacity until November, says Peter Fraenkel, the technical director at MCT.

The technology works like a wind turbine, but instead of wind, the turbines are driven by the flow of tidal currents. It offers a significant advantage over wind because currents are predictable, says James Taylor, the general manager of environmental planning and monitoring at Nova Scotia Power, a company that also has plans for a one-megawatt tidal-power project. “Wind is intermittent and, because of that, is much more difficult and expensive to integrate in a power system,” he says.

June 20, 2008

New display tech and low-cost wind power

From KurzweilAI.net.

This display tech really gets beyond an interactive touch screen. I’ll look forward to see what game developers can do with this sort of distance interactivity once this technology becomes cost-effective for the home.

A Display That Tracks Your Movements
Technology Review, June 20, 2008

Samsung and interactive advertisingcompany Reactrix Systems plan to bring 57-inch interactive displays to Hilton hotel lobbies by the end of the year.

These displays can “see” people in 3D standing up to 15 feet away from the screen as they wave their hands to play games, navigate menus, use maps –and interact with ads.

 
Read Original Article>>

A new wind turbine from BroadStar breaks the $1per watt barrier. It looks like there’s real headway being made in both solar- and wind-power efficiencies.

BroadStar Achieves Breakthrough In Low-Cost Energy Production With New Generation Wind Turbine
Energy Daily, June 9, 2008

BroadStar Wind Systems’ new AeroCam wind turbine is the first to break through the $1/watt cost barrier, the company claims.

Designed with a low profile on a horizontal axis with multiple blades, it automatically and interactively adjust the pitch or angle of attack of the aerodynamic blades as the turbine rotates, thereby optimizing its performance, like a bird’s wings.

It enables distributed power generation in almost any setting, including densely populated urban areas and unconventional sites such as commercial developments and corporate campuses.

 
Read Original Article>>