New Breakthrough with Perovskite Solar Cells

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As you’re probably already aware, perovskite solar cells have the greatest potential of being the most prominent source of solar energy in the near future. They’re cheap to make and flexible enough to be applied to most any surface.

And now a team of researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia has made a breakthrough by creating the biggest perovskite solar cell so far, and setting a new efficiency record with it.

According to them, they have managed to achieve a 12.1 percent energy conversion efficiency rating for a 6.3 sq in (16 sq cm) perovskite solar cell. This cell is also about 10 times larger than any existing high-efficiency perovskite cell. The team also managed to achieve 18 percent efficiency for a 0.5 sq in (1.2 sq cm) single perovskite cell, as well as 11.5 percent for a 6.3 sq in (16 sq cm) four-cell perovskite mini-module. They are also confident that they can achieve a 24 percent efficiency within a year or so.

These cells get their name from the crystals they are made of, which are grown into a structure called perovskite. Due to their special characteristic, such as the smooth layers of perovskite with large crystal grain sizes, these cells can absorb more light than solar cells made of silicon. They are also much cheaper to produce.

Perovskite cells can also be created in different colors, or be transparent due to their chemical composition. This means that they can be used to cover virtually any surface, such as the sides or roofs of buildings, gadgets, cars and even windows.

One of the major downsides of perovskite solar cells is the fact that they are not very durable. However, the team believes that they can also improve their durability as they strive for even higher levels of efficiency.

Shopping Mall Going Solar

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The Stockland Wendouree Shopping Centre in Victoria, Australia is using solar-concentrating thermal technology as the sole source of power for their air-conditioning system. Given that a lot of the power consumed by shopping malls, and other such large commercial structures is down to heating and cooling, this is quite a beneficial and sustainable move, and one that more business owners should consider. After all, there is only so much that individuals can do when it comes to assuring a more sustainable future.

The system used by the mall is a prototype and was developed by the CSIRO. It is also partially funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) program, which was established in an effort to increase the supply and competitiveness of renewable energy in the country. The newly developed system is basically a “closed-loop” air-conditioner in the sense that it cools and heats the air inside the building without letting in any outside air. It also features two “desiccant” (drying) wheels that function as dehumidifiers and remove the excess moisture from the air. These wheels operate at different temperatures, with the high-temperature wheel using the harvested solar energy for regeneration, while the low temperature wheel does not require any external heat to operate.

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Trough collectors are used to capture solar heat of around 302 to 392° F (150 to 200° C), which is then stored in a 528 gallon (2,000-liter) thermal oil tank. Though a heat cascading design, this heat is then used to heat the air in the center in the winter, and also to power an indirect evaporative cooler to keep the interior cool in the summer. The system is also very compact, and the entire solar air-conditioning unit is about 40 percent smaller than a standard single-stage desiccant system.

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CSIRO will spend the next 12 months monitoring and assessing the prototype to see how well it functions in a commercial environment. They are, however, confident that such a system will prove successful in reducing the electric power requirements and costs related to supplying humidity in large commercial spaces. The entire system cost just under 1.3 million USD to create and install.

MIT Researchers Develop A More Efficient Battery

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The more widespread adoption of renewable sources of energy is at least in part hampered by our poor ability to store energy. But a team of MIT researchers has recently a made a breakthrough in developing a new battery system. This all-liquid battery system is more efficient at storing energy, and costs less to produce, than currently available solutions. The further development of this system and use could make solar and wind energy more attractive and therefore facilitate its wide scale adoption.

The batteries in this all-liquid system are composed of several layers of molten material, each of which has a different density. This enables the layers to separate naturally, similarly to the way oil and water do. Magnesium is used for one electrode, and antimony for another, while molten salt serves as the electrolyte. In order to operate, the entire system needs to be heated to 700° C (1292° F). However, the MIT researchers have discovered that substituting some of these materials, namely using one electrode made from lithium and another from a combination of lead and antimony, reduces the necessary operating temperature to 450-500° C (842-932° F).

The most surprising breakthrough was the discovery of the benefits that come from antimony and lead being mixed together to create the electrode. Contrary to their assumptions prior to conducting the experiment, the melting point of the combined materials lay in between that of the individual materials, while the hybrid metal retained the higher voltage of the antimony, meaning that there was no decline in voltage of the end product.

Due to the lower operating temperature of the battery, it will have a longer life span and it will also be easier to design and manufacture, while costing less. According to the team’s findings, this battery should maintain around 85 percent of its initial efficiency even after 10 years of daily charging and discharging.

Going forward, the research team will continue to explore the effects of other metals on their new battery system with the hope of further reducing the operating temperature and cost, while improving performance.

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Rooftop Mounted Wind Turbines That Make Homes Self-Sufficient

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When it comes to renewable energy, wind turbines are certainly one of the greener and more sustainable options. Their biggest drawbacks is that they have to be large to produce enough energy, and that they make a lot of noise, which is why they haven’t yet been widely adopted by homeowners. However, The Archimedes, a Holland-based renewable energy start-up is currently working on a solution to this problem. They are designing a wind turbine small enough to be mounted on the roof of a typical home, but which is still highly efficient at converting wind to energy and does so nearly soundlessly.

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According to the company, this so-called Liam F1 turbine would be able to generate 1,500 kWh of energy per year at wind speeds of 5m/s, which is enough to satisfy about half of an average household’s energy use. If combined with a rooftop mounted solar PV array, the system would generate enough energy to take a home off-the-grid.

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The blades of the Liam F1 turbine are shaped like a Nautilus shell, which enables the turbine to be pointed into the wind and therefore capture the maximum amount of energy, yet remain silent. This type of turbine design was invented by Marinus Mieremet, who is certain that the power output of the Liam F1 turbine is 80 percent of the theoretical maximum energy that could be harnessed from the wind.

According to Mieremet, the design of the Liam F1 is such that it will start to spin even when the wind is blowing at an angle of 60 degrees into the rotor. The turbine also does not need expensive software to run since its conical shape allows it to automatically open itself into the optimal wind direction, much like a wind wane would. The silent operation is guaranteed since there is so little resistance encountered by the turbine.

Each Liam F1 wind turbine weighs 75 kg, and is made from fiberglass and RVS. The company is currently working on an even smaller wind turbine which could be used to power LED lampposts or on boats.

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Go Off-The-Grid With Windpax

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A wind turbine can be used to generate power even at night, which is the main advantage it has over solar panels. However, its size and complicated set up remains the biggest disadvantage. At least when it comes to camping trips, or other instances of needing renewable power on the go. Well, those troubles could be at an end by the use of Windpax. The latter is a portable wind turbine, which is fully collapsible and will not take a lot of space in your backpack. Its designers are currently using Kickstarter to fund its production.

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The Windpax is designed as a vertical turbine and works by “cupping” the air using three collapsible fins to spin the turbine and create power using an internal generator. Inside the turbine there is also an internal battery stick that has USB and Mini-USB hookups. The battery is removable and can be reattached easily by sliding it into the turbine shaft. In other words, gadgets and devices can easily be charged straight form the turbine, or from the battery. The Windpax turbines can be set up in less than 2 minutes and are capable of generating power from a breeze. As an added safety features, the fins used by the turbine are made of plastic to avoid accidental injury.

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Windpax makes two types of turbines, namely the hiking model called the Wisp and a more powerful model called the Breeze. The Wisp can fit easily into a backpack, since it is only 14 inches long and 3 inches wide when collapsed, and weighs less than 4 pounds. Once assembled it has a total height of 6 feet, and generates 25 Watts of electricity, which is enough to power 6 cell phones simultaneously at average wind speeds. The fully charged battery stick can charge 3 iPhones.

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The Breeze, on the other hand, is more powerful, and measures 22 inches in length when collapsed. Once assembled it has a total height of 10 feet. It weighs around 9 pounds and also comes with a 12V port as well as the USB connectors. This model generates 100 Watts, which is enough to charge a laptop and an iPhone at average wind speeds. A fully charged battery can power 3 iPads on a single charge.

The battery of the turbines also has an LED light integrated into it, which can become a flashlight when detached. The entire turbine can also act as a lamp while the battery stick is installed.

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The makers are looking to raise $50,000 to fund the production of these turbines. The Kickstarter campaign ends on June 17, 2014 and a $120 pledge is enough to secure a Wisp, while the Breeze model costs $245. If the funding goals are met, the Windpax turbines will be ready to ship in September 2014.

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