Super-Thin Solar Cell

thincell

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.

Super-Thin Solar Cell

thincell

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.

Google Making Breakthroughs in Finding Better Energy Storage Solutions

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.

Solar Powered Theatre in France is a Real Feat in Engineering

The Japanese architect Shigeru Ban recently completed a very interesting and innovative theater building in Paris, France. Shigeru Ban is well known for pushing the envelope when it comes to architectural design, as well as for his humanitarian design work, and this theatre is no exception. It features a wall of solar panels, which is movable so that it can follow the sun all day.

Ban created the Seine Musicale theatre building in collaboration with French architect Jean de Gastines. It is located in the western suburbs of Paris, on the Île Seguin. The round building can seat 5,500 and contains two separate main halls, five recording studios, several practice rooms, as well as a huge rooftop garden that is planted with more than a dozen different tree species.

However, the really impressive part of the building is the 200-ton and 147-foot (45-meter) movable “sail” covered in solar panels. It is a heliotropic surface, which is capable of automatically tracking the path of the sun at a rate of 16 feet (5 meters) per minute. In this way the solar power generation of the array is maximized, while the “sail” also provides shading for the interior. It is definitely a feat in sustainable design, and Ban hopes in time the building will become one of the world famous symbols of Paris, alongside the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre pyramid.

The theater has a timber structure, which is robust enough to support its glass skin. The ceiling of the 1,150-seat classical music auditorium is made out of hexagonal elements that satisfy the acoustic demands of building such a structure. It is covered with an array of tubes that are made from wood, cardboard and paper, while weaved wooden slats cover the walls.

This project took four years to complete, and it is a great example of how cutting edge technology can be used to make our buildings more sustainable. Hopefully more future projects will incorporate such innovative solutions.

Sprawling Shipping Container Home Built in California

Some years ago the London-based architect James Whitaker designed an interesting shipping container office, which was unfortunately never built.  But earlier this year, a film producer from LA came across the plans and commissioned Whitaker to build him a home in the same style on his 90-acre (36-hectare) plot in Joshua Tree, California.

The Joshua Tree Residence, as the home is named, will measure a luxurious  2,152 sq ft (200 sq m) once complete. Though very realistic, the pictures are mere renders as construction has not yet begun.  Judging from the renders, the residence will be made out of 10-12 shipping containers, which will be left in pretty much the original state. To create the spacious interior layout, the containers will jut out at different angles and inclines. This will also ensure privacy and maximize the view of the surrounding desert.

The center of the home, where the shipping containers come together, will be taken up by a spacious living room, which will offer amazing views, while its large windows will let in plenty of natural light.  Elsewhere, the home will also feature three bedrooms, each with its own ensuite bathroom, a kitchen, and a dining room. There will also be a covered area for parking, which will be topped by a solar power array that will provide all the necessary power for the home.

While there will likely be no shortage of sunlight to harvest for electricity, living inside metal boxes in the desert might prove uncomfortably hot. Minimizing the heat gain will be achieved by painting the exterior in a light to reflect the heat, and installing high-performing insulation. The windows at the top of the house will also let out the hot air naturally, while there will also be air-conditioning units strategically placed throughout the home to cool it.

Construction is due to begin in 2018.