Printable A3-sized solar cells hit a new milestone in green energy
Imagine a future where solar panels speed off the presses, like newspaper. Australian scientists have brought us one step closer to that reality.
Researchers from the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) have developed a printer that can print 10 meters of flexible solar cells a minute. Unlike traditional silicon solar cells, printed solar cells are made using organic semi-conducting polymers, which can be dissolved in a solvent and used like an ink, allowing solar cells to be printed.
Not only can the VICOSC machine print flexible A3 solar cells, the machine can print directly on to steel, opening up the possibility for solar cells to be embedded directly into building materials.
“Eventually we see these being laminated to windows that line skyscrapers,” said David Jones, a researcher at University of Melbourne who is involved with the work. “By printing directly to materials like steel, we’ll also be able to embed cells onto roofing materials.”
Printing 10 meters of solar cells in a minute means good things for solar.
NASA’s cold fusion tech could put a nuclear reactor in every home, car, and plane.
When we think of nuclear power, there are usually just two options: fission and fusion. Fission, which creates huge amounts of heat by splitting larger atoms into smaller atoms, is what currently powers every nuclear reactor on Earth. Fusion is the opposite, creating vast amounts of energy by fusing atoms of hydrogen together, but we’re still many years away from large-scale, commercial fusion reactors.
A nickel lattice soaking up hydrogen ions in a LENR reactorLENR is absolutely nothing like either fission or fusion. Where fission and fusion are underpinned by strong nuclear force, LENR harnesses power from weak nuclear force — but capturing this energy is difficult. So far, NASA’s best effort involves a nickel lattice and hydrogen ions. The hydrogen ions are sucked into the nickel lattice, and then the lattice is oscillated at a very high frequency (between 5 and 30 terahertz). This oscillation excites the nickel’s electrons, which are forced into the hydrogen ions (protons), forming slow-moving neutrons. The nickel immediately absorbs these neutrons, making it unstable. To regain its stability, the nickel strips a neutron of its electron so that it becomes a proton — a reaction that turns the nickel into copper and creates a lot of energy in the process.[…]
So why don’t we have LENR reactors yet? Just like fusion, it is proving hard to build a LENR system that produces more energy than the energy required to begin the reaction. In this case, NASA says that the 5-30THz frequency required to oscillate the nickel lattice is hard to efficiently produce. As we’ve reported over the last couple of years, though, strong advances are being made in the generation and control of terahertz radiation. Other labs outside of NASA are working on cold fusion and LENR, too: “Several labs have blown up studying LENR and windows have melted,” says NASA scientist Dennis Bushnell, proving that “when the conditions are ‘right’ prodigious amounts of energy can be produced and released.”
If a 10-watt LED bulb replaced all the 60-watt incandescent bulbs in the U.S., it could save about $3.9 billion in the country’s annual electric bill.
Wow! These incredible stitched-together images are the closest view yet of energy surging from a black hole.
Since the 1950s, the US has had a perverse approach to energy. In effect we have maximized demand by building bigger, hungrier cars, homes, and lifestyles and minimized supply by limiting oil drilling, coal mining, and nuclear development. And how do we make up the difference? We buy oil from the people who hate us most.
But this is changing. We’ve long been acutely aware of the geopolitical ramifications of relying on Middle Eastern oil. And the threat of climate change—along with high fuel prices—has made us all realize the need for greater energy efficiency. Thankfully, technology is coming to the rescue. New methods of extracting gas and oil, combined with efficiency gains in nearly every industry, mean that we are now minimizing demand and maximizing supply. And that’s a good thing, right? Not so fast.
Flipping the supply-demand relationship is having some unexpected consequences. Chief among them is that, as fossil fuels become more abundant—and we consume less of them—the incentives to develop clean, renewable energy drop dramatically. As a result, we may no longer be looking at an age of increasing solar, wind, and nuclear power. Instead we are likely moving into a new hydrocarbon era. And that’s very bad news for climate change.
“500 trillion watts” to make 500 terawatts. Huh?
Posted 07.12.2012The Preamplifier of the Laser Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
In California, at the ultra-powerful fusion laboratory of the National Ignition Facility, 192 laser beams have fired simultaneously, blasting their target — a circle 2 millimeters in diameter — with 500 trillion watts. That’s 1,000 times more than the entire rest of the United States was using at the time. It is the highest-energy laser shot ever fired in real life, although some fictional lasers have exceeded the record.
The NIF’s ultimate goal is to induce nuclear fusion in a highly compressed pellet of hydrogen, which will be held at the target point of the laser beams. The fusion reaction will generate energy, so we’ll earn back our 500 terawatts with interest.
Actual Dr. Bruce Banner on Colbert Report talking about environmental protection and fracking.
Physics-defying LEDs light the way to a brighter cleantech future
A light-emitting diode (LED) developed at MIT operates at 230-percent efficiency. That’s not a typo. LEDs will provide 70 percent of the world’s general lighting by 2020. That’s not a typo, either. The cleantech revolution has barely begun.
What? 230 percent efficiency? How?
An impressive array.
“Les Mees” solar park in France spreads across 15 ha, joining several nearby plants for a total array producing around 100 MW (Photos by Boris Horvat/AFP/Getty Images) via beconinriot
By now you are probably well familiar with the concept of the urban heat island effect, even if you can’t quite pinpoint the physics at play when your sneaker sole melts a little on a hot black street in July. Asphalt is an awesome material for storing the sun’s heat. On a steamy summer day, the surface of a road may be as hot as 140 degrees Fahrenheit. And it’ll stay that miserable long after the sun sets, pushing up the temperature of whole neighborhoods covered in this blacktop.
A lot of work has gone into figuring out how to combat the effect. We could plant more tree cover. We couldpaint black surfaces white. We could construct… artificial glaciers. But this idea might top them all: Why don’t we use that heat instead of fighting it?
“The bottom line is that roads get hot in summertime, even springtime,” says Rajib Mallick, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. “They have a large surface area, which is collecting solar energy. Why not use that solar energy for something? It’s free energy, and if you use it, at the same time you can lower the temperature of the pavement.”
Mallick and other researchers have been developing a model that would harness the heat contained in asphalt and put it to productive uses. Asphalt, for instance, could heat water coursing through a series of pipes embedded in the road. And that process would both cool street surfaces and send their heat somewhere useful.
Very cool. Cheesy pun intended.
Could your shoes power your cellphone?
‘Reverse electrowetting’ could harvest enough energy from your walk to charge your phone or laptop.
Solar Shades + Parking Lots = Clean Power & Cool Cars
9 Ways Nature Yields New Ideas for Energy and Efficiency.
Rippling With Energy
Photograph by Mauricio Handler, National Geographic
Long strands of bull kelp ripple beneath the surface of churning coastal waters, drawing fuel from the sun and, perhaps, pointing out a better way for humanity to capture and use energy.
Seaweed is just one of the innovations of nature from which engineers are drawing inspiration as they seek to design energy systems that are cleaner and more efficient. In plants—the engines of photosynthesis—and in creatures as small as insects and as large as whales, advocates of “biomimicry” are looking for systems that can help humanity better meet the challenge of fueling civilization sustainably.
Biomimicry simply means using designs inspired by nature to solve human problems. The idea is that over 3.8 billion years of evolution, nature itself has solved many of the problems that humanity finds itself grappling with today. Since energy is one of the greatest challenges facing the world, with much of the research aimed at designing systems that would work in greater harmony with the planet, it is not surprising that science would look to nature for answers.
(Related Pictures: “Immense, Elusive Energy in the Forces of Nature”)
Bull kelp, named for its bullwhip shape, is one of the strongest and most flexible seaweeds in the world and can grow up to 100 feet from its holdfast (similar to roots) on the sea floor to the tips of its leaves. The movement of the kelp’s leaves as they photosynthesize sunlight into energy inspired at least one Australian company, which is seeking to commercialize a system that generates energy from the gentle motion of floats bobbing up and down in the waves.
BioWAVE: Capturing Ocean Power
Illustration courtesy BioPower Systems
BioPower Systemsof Sydney, Australia, is working toward a $14 million pilot demonstration of its trademarked BioWAVE system off the coast of Port Fairy in the southeastern state of Victoria. Late last year, BioPower received a $5 million ($5.2 million U.S.) award from the Victoria government to help bring the project to fruition.
At 250 kilowatts, the planned pilot would have about a fifth of the capacity of a common commercial wind turbine. But it will be connected to the electric grid, and systems of this size in the past have been large enough to power neighborhoods or large institutional buildings, such as schools. It all depends on how much efficiency the system achieves. The company has spent five years performing multiple tests in tanks at increasing scale before ocean deployment.
BioWAVE’s floats are designed to pick up the energy from the ocean’s waves, while a flexible “stem” would allow the floats to pivot to catch the most energy. But the inspiration gained from seaweed must be tempered by practicality. Unlike kelp, BioWAVE is designed so its floats would flood with water during big storm surges. The floats would then sink to the seabed to await calmer seas. That’s important because ocean-wave devices do not work if the waves are too rough. The costs of the system are reduced because BioWAVE does not require an ironclad grip on the ocean floor.
A New Leaf In Energy Storage
Photograph courtesy Dominick Reuter, MIT
Plants are so fantastic at converting energy into a storable form (by photosynthesizing water with sunlight into sugars) that scientists are striving to figure out a way that humans can mimic this basic process.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Daniel Nocera’s artificial leaf device, seen above with some real leaves, is a step closer to making artificial photosynthesis possible.
Made of a silicon solar cell with catalytic materials bonded to each side, the cell, when placed in water, splits water into oxygen and hydrogen for later use in fuel cells. Unlike previous artificial leaves, Nocera’s works in ordinary water and requires no wires or equipment. It is lightweight and portable.
If researchers could develop a simple system to collect and store the gases, each of us could have “personal energy” at our fingertips: The hydrogen and oxygen can be fed into a fuel cell that combines them once again into water while delivering an electric current.
Whale Bumps for Power
Photograph by Jason Edwards, National Geographic
The bumps on a humpback whale’s flipper, seen here in a mating ritual, are on the “wrong” side. Physicists are familiar with bumps on the trailing edges of wings or fins, but here they are found on the leading edge.
That led Dr. Frank E. Fish, a biologist at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, to try to design a fan blade that moved air as efficiently as a whale’s flippers move the animal through water. The result wasWhalePower, a Toronto-based company that designs blades for fans, turbines, and more, inspired by a whale’s bumps.
On a whale, the bumps help it move effortlessly through the water at much steeper angles than it would otherwise. A Harvard study found that the angle of attack (the angle between the flipper and the direction of water flow) of a humpback whale flipper can be up to 40 percent steeper than a smooth flipper, giving the whale more control.
WhalePower: Seeking More Efficient Blades
Photograph courtesy Joe Subirana, WhalePower
WhalePower’s product is “the first time, other than in whales and some fossilized fish, that this has been done,” said WhalePower’s director of research and development, Stephen Dewar. “Everyone knew” that a blade’s leading edge should be smooth to facilitate air flow, but the humpback whale proved everyone wrong.
“I did nature documentaries at one point in my career,” Dewar added. “And I asked, ‘What are the bumps on humpback whales for?’ [The response was] ‘Oh, they’re just barnacles.’ They weren’t.”
Currently, the technology is appearing in industrial fans for warehouses, where WhalePower fans move 25 percent more air than conventional fans while using 20 percent less energy, but WhalePower hopes to retrofit wind turbines with these bumps to increase energy output by 20 percent and reduce the noise associated with large turbines.
Termite Temperature Control
Photograph by Monica Rua, Alamy
A termite mound is like a miniature city, housing as many as a few hundred thousand termites in its above- and below-ground tunnels. And the insects manage to keep their home at a relatively stable temperature. Why not learn from the insects to keep human buildings just as comfy?
Eastgate: Energy Efficient, But Greater Savings Possible
Photograph by Ken Wilson-Max, Alamy
The Eastgate complex in Harare, Zimbabwe, which opened in 1996, drew inspiration for its construction from the termite mounds that litter the African nation’s rural countryside.
The first building to use passive cooling so fully, the Eastgate building’s cooling system cost a tenth of conventional systems and uses 35 percent less energy than similar buildings in Harare. It works by absorbing heat into the walls of the building during the day, then using fans to pump the heat into the interior of the building at night.
But in the 20 years since the Eastgate building was designed, biologists have learned more about how a termite mound works, said biology professor Scott Turner, at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York.
“The Eastgate center was built upon a model of termite mound function that’s been the standard model for about 50 years, and that model is almost entirely incorrect,” Turner said. While he concedes that the building is “very effective,” studying how termites actually move air around (which is more like the inhale-exhale cycle of a lung than a one-way wind tunnel) could “open up a whole new set of interesting ways of capturing wind to control climate.” Concrete walls built with small pores could capture gentle breezes and funnel their energy into buildings’ existing ventilation systems, he said.
Snappers Schooled in Efficient Flow
Photograph by William R. Curtsinger, National Geographic
A school of snappers arranges itself to reduce drag and increase efficiency, much as a flock of geese flies in a “V”.
“There’s a lot of information in the literature as to what the optimal fish school should look like,” said CalTech bioengineering professor John Dabiri. So in order to design a better arrangement of wind turbines, his team looked to fish.
- CalTech: Mimicking Nature, Minimizing Turbulence
Photograph courtesy John O. Dabiri, Caltech
Arranging vertical turbines in a school-of-fish pattern allows them to be placed closer together without the turbines’ wakes interfering. “We wanted to achieve something similar [to fish schools], where instead of minimizing energy consumed we wanted to maximize energy generated,” said Dabiri, of California Institute of Technology’s Center for Bioinspired Engineering. The goal, he said, is to increase the amount of wind energy that can be generated in the same amount of space, and so far, the experiments have produced a stunning ten-fold gain in efficiency.
Because the turbines are vertical and shorter than typical propeller-style turbines, they’re also quieter and safer for migratory birds than the typical turbines, Dabiri said.
But as seen in the energy applications of bull kelp and termite mounds, nature doesn’t necessarily hold all the answers. A lively debate on the limits of biomimicry was touched off when 13-year-old Aidan Dwyer last year won a Young Naturalist Award from New York’s American Museum of Natural History for a bio-inspired array of solar panels: instead of arranging them in rows, he built a “solar tree,” with panels arranged like leaves on branches.
Bloggers and scientists took Dwyer to task because, when he measured the effectiveness of the panels, he measured voltage instead of power (a combination of voltage and current). In fact, arranging panels to mimic a tree isn’t the most efficient layout, because trees aren’t the most efficient collectors of sunlight, said Jan Kleissl, an environmental engineer at University of California, San Diego, in an email. “Trees have to combat weight and wind loading. If trees used a steady, continuous surface that was always oriented perfectly towards the sun, the force of strong winds would topple the tree … Evolution has to make great trade-offs in supporting life.”
The fact that nature can’t always serve as a cheat sheet for humans is the “unpopular yet true story,” Kleissl added. “Human ‘evolution’ left natural evolution in the dust during industrialization.
Still, biomimicry advocates believe that nature offers enough lessons about storing and using energy that civilization needs to try to apply these ideas that have evolved over eons, combining them with the human ingenuity of today.”
Thanks to Nick’s dad for Stumbling Upon this one!
Air filtering fake trees with solar panels… why didn’t I think of that one?
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