Solar energy will very likely be the main source of power as the world continues to strive toward greater sustainability. But it won’t be just the large panels that get the job done. In fact, I’m willing to bet that ultra thin and flexible solar cells that can be attached to virtually any surface will be the future. Which is why breakthroughs in this area are so important. And now a team of South Korea scientists has successfully created a super thin solar cell, which is so flexible it can be wrapped around a pencil without causing damage or too much strain to it.
The solar PV cell that they created is one micrometer thick (which is even thinner than a human hair) and it is this thinness that gives it the extreme flexibility it boasts of. It is made from a semiconductor gallium arsenide, which is stamped onto a flexible metal substrate. No adhesive is used in this process, instead it is fused with the electrode on the substrate with a cold welding process that involves applying pressure at 170 degrees Celsius. And the metal layer also acts as a reflector that directs light back onto the cell.
Testing the limits of the cell’s flexibility they found that it can be bent around an object with a radius of 1.4 millimeters. Despite their thinness, the solar cells have an energy conversion efficiency comparable to thicker ones. They also exhibited only one quarter of the strain from the bending compared to a 3.5 micrometers thick cell.
The real-world application of this type of cell would be far-ranging. It could be used on smartphones, fabric, and smart glasses, while it could also easily be integrated into self-powered devices, such as, for example, environmental sensors located in hard to reach places.
There is no definitive word yet on when and if they plan to bring this cell to market.
Poor insulation is one of the main problems when renovating old homes into modern residences. It results in excessive heat gain during the summer, and heat loss in the winter. Architect Drtan Lm from Malaysia recently completed a renovation of a home where they took an interesting approach to combating heat gain. The house they worked on was quite dilapidated, but it did contain a lot of intact terracotta tiles, which they decided to recycle into a sunshade for the home.
The home got its name from this too and is called Clay Roof House. It is located in Petaling Jaya, Selango, Malaysia, and faces west, meaning that lots of sunlight enters it both in the mornings and afternoons. Since the terracotta tiles found in the home were of a very high-quality, the architects used them to create a terracotta brise soleil, as well as a second brick lattice brise soleil, which work to minimize the home’s solar heat gain, as well as reduce much of the glare.
They also made the terracotta tile shading mechanism fully operable, so it can be opened and closed in order to let it air and lights. The added bonus is that the tiles create a beautiful lighting effect inside the home. The terracotta also glows a warm orange in the sun.
They also left exposed brick, concrete and wood in the interior of the home, which blends perfectly with the lovely terracotta brise soleil. The interior of the home features a large living area, several bedrooms, as well as a piano room, study, two kitchens, and a maid’s quarters. For a home this size, preventing heat gain was of the utmost importance, especially given Malaysia’s climate, and the architects did a great job of offsetting some of the cooling costs with this clay tile shading system.
The Detroit-based non-profit Cass Community Social Services (CCSS) recently unveiled the first six tiny homes already completed as part of their affordable housing solution in the area. The development is located between the Lodge and Woodrow Wilson Street, and will consist of 25 tiny homes once completed. This is a rent-to-own tiny house project with the final aim of making home ownership accessible to low-income individuals.
The homes will measure from 250 to 400 square feet, and will each have its own foundation. They will be built by local professional tradespeople and volunteers. Rental prices are set at $1 per square foot, so that a 300-square-foot house would cost $300 a month to rent. The homes will come fully furnished, and will have all the necessary appliances, though there will be no bedroom, meaning that they are not ideally suited for families. This tiny house development is located near the CCSS main campus, so that residents will have easy access to the social, educational, recreational and health services that the agency offers.
The tenants who apply to live in one of these houses will have to meet low-income eligibility requirements, as well as be interviewed and go through a selection process. The housing is intended for low-income seniors, students, and even homeless people. The rent they will pay will be a maximum of one third of their monthly wage, and after a maximum of seven years of paying rent they will become the owners of the house. The estimated utilities costs in this house are only $35 per month. The tenants will also have to attend financial coaching and home maintenance classes once a month.
This tiny house project is funded by private donations as well as by several foundations, namely the Ford Motor Fund, the RNR Foundation, and the McGregor Fund. Providing affordable housing is just one of CCSS’ long-term goals for the area. There are more than 300 vacant lots within a one-mile radius of this development, which they also plan to develop.
Overall, this is a very forward-thinking project, which has many benefits both for low-income individuals, as well as for the neighborhood as a whole. It’s also nice to see tiny homes gaining traction in mainstream housing planning.
Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has a so-called X division, which works on highly experimental projects. But a lot of these projects could prove very beneficial in solving some of the world’s biggest problems. This division created Google’s self-driving car, as well as Project Loon, which involves high altitude balloons carrying Wi-Fi. And now it is looking for more efficient and effective ways of high-density energy storage.
This project is called Malta and the energy storage solution they came up with features molten salt storage, which X has paired with cold storage using antifreeze. Molten salt energy storage has been looked at before as a viable solution for energy storage, and paired with antifreeze, it can store energy for days, possibly weeks. As such, it would be perfect for storing renewable energy, which is simply getting discarded in lots of places at the moment.
Reports show that China discards 17 percent of energy produced by wind per year, while Germany tosses away 4 percent. And this year alone, California has had to discard 300,000 megawatt hours of excess electricity from the grid, all of which came from renewable sources. If there was a way to store that energy, it would be enough to power thousands of homes.
The dual thermal energy storage tech that X has come up with can be used to store high densities of energy, while it will also be a lot less expensive than existing solutions. It is also very scalable, since all it would take to expand it would be adding more salt and cold liquid tanks to the system. Also, the salt used can be charged and re-charged several times over its lifespan.
They’ve already built a small prototype of this energy storage system in Silicon Valley. They’re now looking for partners, such as Siemens and GE, to develop a commercial prototype, which can be tested on the grid.
The Ljubljana, Slovenia-based OFIS Architects recently completed a unique cabin, which could serve as a tiny dwelling, a vacation home, housing for researchers, or even a shelter. It’s located near Ljubljana Castle, which is on a hill overlooking the city. It is the result of a joint effort between the companies Permiz, C+C, C28 and AKT Living Unit.
The project is aptly named Living Unit on Ljubljana Castle and features a flexible wooden shell that makes it easy to install it on nearly any kind of terrain. It’s also easy to transport pretty much anywhere. The basic version of the cabin is made up of three wooden volumes, which are designed to be stacked on top of each other. The cabin measures 14.7 by 8.2 by 8.8 ft (4.5 by 2.5 by 2.7 m), but since it is modular it can be expanded in size both vertically and horizontally. No foundation is required, but it does need to be anchored into place.
The volumes seem to be quite tiny, and the home features a kitchen and dining area on the ground floor, a sleeping area on the first floor and a lounge on the top floor, which is accessible by a ladder. The kitchen features a sink and stove, and a storage unit, which can also be used as a ladder leads up to the next floor. The bathroom is next to the sleeping area, though it is not pictured here.
The volumes are quite tiny, but they are very functional, and solar panels, a composting toilet and a water filtration system would all be easily installed, then this cabin would be completely independent of the grid.
The Living Unit on Ljubljana Castle is currently a temporary library, and is open to the public from 5.30-9.30 PM every day through August 14. There is no word yet on pricing, though this will likely be released soon.