Installing a solar roof on your home could one day be as simple as mixing your yard clippings into a stew of inexpensive chemicals and painting the resulting mixture right onto your rooftop. An MIT researcher has developed a method of manufacturing solar panels on the spot from agricultural waste, sidestepping the need for silicon and making ready-to-mix solar cheap and abundant virtually anywhere.
If you want to be a part of discovering the future of solar power, you can be. You don't need any special knowledge or equipment, just let Alán Aspuru-Guzik borrow your computer when you're not using it.
Plenty of us head into the woods to find inspiration. Aidan Dwyer, 13, went to the woods and had a eureka moment that could be a major breakthrough in solar panel design.
On a bleak winter hiking trip to the Catskill Mountains, the 7th-grader from New York noticed a pattern among tree branches, and determined (as naturalist Charles Bonnet did in 1754) that the pattern represented the Fibonacci sequence of numbers. Aidan wondered why, and figured it had something to do with photosynthesis.
On the ground, solar power has its limitations. Solar cells are not especially efficient. It rains. The sun disappears at night. A space-based solar panel can generate five times the energy of a similar panel on Earth by circumventing both weather and hours lost to darkness. A 2007 study by the National Space Society estimates that a half-mile-wide band of photovoltaics in geosynchronous orbit with Earth could generate the energy equivalent of all the oil remaining on the planet over the course of one year. Though costly, launching working solar satellites is possible today. It’s transmitting the captured energy to Earth that presents a challenge—one that scientists are just starting to work on.
One of the major barriers between solar energy and solar-derived electricity is solar cells themselves--commercial solar cells aren’t very efficient at converting sunlight to electricity, but they are the best thing we’ve got. Now, a team of University of Michigan researchers have potentially devised a better way to convert solar energy into electricity: get rid of the semiconductor-based solar cells altogether and tap into the magnetic effects of light.
Plants are extremely efficient converters of light into energy, more or less setting the bar for researchers creating photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity. As such, researchers are constantly trying to mimic the tricks that millions of years of evolution and development have taught to plant biology. Now, a team of MIT scientists believe they’ve done it, creating a synthetic, self-assembling chloroplast that can be broken down and reassembled repeatedly, restoring solar cells that are damaged by the sun.
By Suzanne LaBarre
Posted 08.31.2010 at 11:07 am 10 Comments
Solar panels are a common sight on rooftops but rare on vertical walls, which, being more or less parallel to the noonday sun, get less solar energy. Hoping to take advantage of this unused space, design start-up SMIT looked at how ivy plants nonetheless thrive on the sides of buildings. The company’s upcoming solar-energy system takes inspiration from the way a vine’s many leaves individually maximize their sun exposure.
Though the sun offers us a couple options for exploiting its energy -- light and heat -- we've always had to choose to use one at a time, because solar-energy technology hasn't been able to capture both typs of radiation simultaneously. Stanford researchers say that's about to change, however. Their new breakthrough could put solar power on par with oil, price-wise.
Using readily available materials, a team of engineers has come up with the first solar technology to combine photovoltaic and thermal electricity generation.
In recent years, the U.S. military has been making small strides toward a greener energy standard – the Navy wants to create a green strike group by 2012, while the Air Force has been testing biofuels in its aircraft. But for troops on the ground relying increasingly on electronic devices, solar is the way forward. With that in mind, DARPA has assembled an industry-academic team of photovoltaic leaders to create the next generation of battle-ready solar cells that achieve 20 percent conversion while standing up to harsh combat conditions.
A Switzerland-based chemist who invented solar cells that mimic photosynthesis is the winner of a million-dollar technology prize announced Wednesday.
Michael Gratzel invented low-cost solar cells that can be turned into electricity-generating windows, mobile solar panels and other devices. He won the $960,000 (€800,000) Millennium Technology Prize, awarded every other year by Finland's Technology Academy.
By Sarah Parsons
Posted 04.01.2010 at 1:10 pm 11 Comments
Solar power sounds great: electricity from sunshine, for free, no carbon footprint. But solar panels often come with hefty price tags or require complex installations. Now lighter materials are making them less expensive and more convenient, whether you carry them with you or snap them onto your roof.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.