Mind exploding: an all carbon solar cell

From Stanford University , the first carbon sequestration project that makes energy. I wonder, will Al Gore say the electricity produced by a carbon solar cell is “dirty energy”? Somewhere, off in the distance, I hear Joe Romm’s head exploding.

Stanford scientists build the first all-carbon solar cell

This shows the new all-carbon solar cell consists of a photoactive layer, which absorbs sunlight, sandwiched between two electrodes. Credit: Mark Shwartz / Stanford University

Stanford University scientists have built the first solar cell made entirely of carbon, a promising alternative to the expensive materials used in photovoltaic devices today.

The results are published in the Oct. 31 online edition of the journal ACS Nano.

“Carbon has the potential to deliver high performance at a low cost,” said study senior author Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a working solar cell that has all of the components made of carbon. This study builds on previous work done in our lab.”

Unlike rigid silicon solar panels that adorn many rooftops, Stanford’s thin film prototype is made of carbon materials that can be coated from solution. “Perhaps in the future we can look at alternative markets where flexible carbon solar cells are coated on the surface of buildings, on windows or on cars to generate electricity,” Bao said.

The coating technique also has the potential to reduce manufacturing costs, said Stanford graduate student Michael Vosgueritchian, co-lead author of the study with postdoctoral researcher Marc Ramuz.

“Processing silicon-based solar cells requires a lot of steps,” Vosgueritchian explained. “But our entire device can be built using simple coating methods that don’t require expensive tools and machines.”

Carbon nanomaterials

The Bao group’s experimental solar cell consists of a photoactive layer, which absorbs sunlight, sandwiched between two electrodes. In a typical thin film solar cell, the electrodes are made of conductive metals and indium tin oxide (ITO). “Materials like indium are scarce and becoming more expensive as the demand for solar cells, touchscreen panels and other electronic devices grows,” Bao said. “Carbon, on the other hand, is low cost and Earth-abundant.”

For the study, Bao and her colleagues replaced the silver and ITO used in conventional electrodes with graphene – sheets of carbon that are one atom thick –and single-walled carbon nanotubes that are 10,000 times narrower than a human hair. “Carbon nanotubes have extraordinary electrical conductivity and light-absorption properties,” Bao said.

For the active layer, the scientists used material made of carbon nanotubes and “buckyballs” – soccer ball-shaped carbon molecules just one nanometer in diameter. The research team recently filed a patent for the entire device.

“Every component in our solar cell, from top to bottom, is made of carbon materials,” Vosgueritchian said. “Other groups have reported making all-carbon solar cells, but they were referring to just the active layer in the middle, not the electrodes.”

One drawback of the all-carbon prototype is that it primarily absorbs near-infrared wavelengths of light, contributing to a laboratory efficiency of less than 1 percent – much lower than commercially available solar cells. “We clearly have a long way to go on efficiency,” Bao said. “But with better materials and better processing techniques, we expect that the efficiency will go up quite dramatically.”

Improving efficiency

The Stanford team is looking at a variety of ways to improve efficiency. “Roughness can short-circuit the device and make it hard to collect the current,” Bao said. “We have to figure out how to make each layer very smooth by stacking the nanomaterials really well.”

The researchers are also experimenting with carbon nanomaterials that can absorb more light in a broader range of wavelengths, including the visible spectrum.

“Materials made of carbon are very robust,” Bao said. “They remain stable in air temperatures of nearly 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit.”

The ability of carbon solar cells to out-perform conventional devices under extreme conditions could overcome the need for greater efficiency, according to Vosgueritchian. “We believe that all-carbon solar cells could be used in extreme environments, such as at high temperatures or at high physical stress,” he said. “But obviously we want the highest efficiency possible and are working on ways to improve our device.”

“Photovoltaics will definitely be a very important source of power that we will tap into in the future,” Bao said. “We have a lot of available sunlight. We’ve got to figure out some way to use this natural resource that is given to us.”

###

Other authors of the study are Peng Wei of Stanford and Chenggong Wang and Yongli Gao of the University of Rochester Department of Physics and Astronomy. The research was funded by the Global Climate and Energy Project at Stanford and the Air Force Office for Scientific Research.

This article was written by Mark Shwartz of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University.

Source: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/october/carbon-solar-cell-103112.html

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87 Responses to Mind exploding: an all carbon solar cell

  1. pat says:

    Imagine that. Made from the ashes of CAGW.

  2. Edohiguma says:

    Interesting piece of technology. However, the one problem for “green energy” won’t be solved with this. It can never be solved. Because, you see, when the sun doesn’t shine this new solar cell is a very efficient, amazing, high tech and very expensive… lawn ornament.

    And I’m convinced that any conventional power station vastly outperforms it.

  3. nvw says:

    Carbon solar cell – its called a log.

  4. If manufacturers promise to get their carbon from CO2 in the air instead of from coal in the ground, will this pass the green test?

  5. wikeroy says:

    “Perhaps in the future we can look at alternative markets where flexible carbon solar cells are coated on the surface of buildings, on windows or on cars to generate electricity,” Bao said.

    Not to mention roof-tiles….

  6. Bryan A says:

    Great, now that they have come up with a green use for it, the price of carbon will skyrocket

  7. Eyal Porat says:

    I have this nagging question:
    If solar panels become EXTREMELY efficient, wouldn’t it be very cold near them?
    won’t they trigger an Ice Age due to loss of heat in the atmosphere?

  8. John A says:

    This is very cool materials science. I fail to see how anyone to not see the benefits of this sort of technology if it can be made economically feasible. It’s not going to replace nuclear, coal or oil but it is going to allow off-grid technology, a boon to the third world.

  9. George Kominiak says:

    MMM, promising start! Let’s see how far they can run with it.

  10. Steve Taylor says:

    I use a lot of graphite in microfurnaces. I’m interested to know how their carbon is stable to 1200F when mine disappears at 800F, in air.

  11. This sounds great. It may even live up to the hype but that will only be know in time. And not a short time either. It completely baffles me (and I may be easily baffled), why people are so down on carbon since we ourselves are mostly made of it. Could it be they just don’t like themselves or is it they like themselves way to much and are misanthropic?

  12. MarkW says:

    “a boon to the third world.”

    So long as they only use the lights while the sun is shining.

  13. arthur4563 says:

    Basically talking building a better/cheaper solar cell. Until the power can be controlled, same
    old problem that prevents solar cells from being something anyone would want polluting the
    utility grid. In two words : junk power, worth very little.

  14. Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7 says:

    I heard carbon nanotubes run several million dollars a pound at present. That will be a bit of a roadblock to commercial-scale deployment.

  15. Gary Pearse says:

    Now this is a good idea. Nature has been using carbon as a solar energy converter since the beginning of life – next step is to build the whole apparatus with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen …. Satan’s rock indeed – coal would be the cheapest source of abundant C.

  16. Mike Smith says:

    Great. I expect Al Gore is already at work on his “clean carbon” prospectus.

  17. Gary Pearse says:

    Intended to add that C and Si are neighbors in the same group of the periodic table. Makes sense.

  18. KevinM says:

    “a laboratory efficiency of less than 1 percent ”

    Um OK.

  19. Scute says:

    Use it as the top coat for tarmac and then you’re talking. After all, tarmac is made predominantly from the same stuff. I’m being half facetious, given the baby steps described but, then again, in the long term I think it will happen one way or another.

  20. Max Hugoson says:

    Now, if we could only develope the ALL SILICON Human. (See that similarity in bonds, and the ability to homolog all C compounds with Si compounds of the same structure.)

    THEN, we’d be able to tolerate -150 F to 300F temperatures. The only problem is you’d need a plasma torche to cook your Si chicken (“Yum taste like transistors Mommy!”)

  21. Alan the Brit says:

    This must be the nicer kind of Carbon, not the deadly killer poison Carbon man pollutes the atmosphere with, by burning evil wicked diminishing/dwindling/empty/all used up fossil fuels that will absolutely defininitely be all gone by 2020, as forecast by those brilliant genius’s back in the 1970s, I remember the profound claims in the documentaries to this very day! I bet the Arabs are really running scared that their reserves are nearly all gone, the well pumps must be spluttering erratically by now with only 7 years to go! Good job they keep finding more reserves then, but I guess it won’t be Obama helping Brazil develop its massive reserves in the near future! Anyway, nice development boys & girls, keep up the good work :-)

  22. Doug Huffman says:

    The Solar Constant is still 1350 Watts per square meter above the atmosphere, equivalent to 6 – 4 kWh per square meter per 24 hours on the ground.

  23. Rob Potter says:

    “Alan Watt,
    I heard carbon nanotubes run several million dollars a pound at present.”

    Thanks Alan, I was going to ask if anyone knew how expensive these are. I remember when ‘bucky-balls’ were first found, they were a few ppm in middle of a lot of amorphous graphite and since then I haven’t heard much about making these compounds more efficiently.

  24. vukcevic says:

    On the matters solar, the SIDC’s October non-smoothed SSN is finishing at the low 50s (53) down from the September’s 61.5, and far down from the last November’s 96.7

    http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/SSN.htm

    Total polar magnetic field is about to reverse, so SC24 max is imminent.

  25. DirkH says:

    Eyal Porat says:
    October 31, 2012 at 10:18 am
    “I have this nagging question:
    If solar panels become EXTREMELY efficient, wouldn’t it be very cold near them?
    won’t they trigger an Ice Age due to loss of heat in the atmosphere?”

    Yes, it would get cold. They are endothermic like photosynthesizing plants. No, it wouldn’t trigger an ice age: When the electricity is consumed the heat is released.

    A fascinating idea is to use the carbon nanotubes to siphon off IR background radiation which surrounds us day and night with approx 150 W/m^2. On one hand, this would be an electricity supply available even at night, on the other hand, and more interestingly perhaps, it could possibly be used instead of an A/C.

  26. DirkH says:

    Doug Huffman says:
    October 31, 2012 at 11:07 am
    “The Solar Constant is still 1350 Watts per square meter above the atmosphere, equivalent to 6 – 4 kWh per square meter per 24 hours on the ground.”

    For PV, a more practical number is the total yearly insolation at the surface which varies with latitude and average cloud cover. For california, that’s equivalent to about 2000 to 2500 sun hours a year, with an effective 1,000 W / m^2 at surface during full insolation; for cloudy Germany, about 800 sun hours a year.

  27. pyeatte says:

    Most oil, gas and coal is stored solar energy as a result of photosynthesis, which produces plants.

  28. barryjo says:

    Is this just a new way to effect carbon sequestration?

  29. Kelvin Vaughan says:

    Can’t fool me! It’s a toothbrush!

  30. cba says:

    I wonder if the new carbon solar cell can produce more power than it took to make it.
    I also wonder if it can produce more energy by catching on fire than by generating electricity
    Finally, I wonder if it can produce more energy than will be required to compensate for the added heat absorbed by the Earth due to having lower albedo. One must remember that solar panels tend to have much lower albedo than land surfaces, especially like desert sand and dirt.

  31. Jeff Condon says:

    It’s not black.

    Hmm…

  32. commieBob says:

    Eyal Porat says:
    October 31, 2012 at 10:18 am

    I have this nagging question:
    If solar panels become EXTREMELY efficient, wouldn’t it be very cold near them?
    won’t they trigger an Ice Age due to loss of heat in the atmosphere?

    All of the sun’s energy that hits the panels will be dissipated as heat somewhere, either at the panels, or in the external electric circuit. So, there will be no net cooling. Of course, if you had Maxwell’s Demon

  33. View from the Solent says:

    ““Processing silicon-based solar cells requires a lot of steps,” Vosgueritchian explained. “But our entire device can be built using simple coating methods that don’t require expensive tools and machines.””
    I guess they get the nanotubes and buckyballs from the local hardware store.

  34. DirkH says:

    Rob Potter says:
    October 31, 2012 at 11:07 am
    ““Alan Watt,
    I heard carbon nanotubes run several million dollars a pound at present.”

    Thanks Alan, I was going to ask if anyone knew how expensive these are. I remember when ‘bucky-balls’ were first found, they were a few ppm in middle of a lot of amorphous graphite and since then I haven’t heard much about making these compounds more efficiently.”

    They have found rather efficient ways of producing them by using an electric discharge with the right parameters. Looks like a kilogram costs you 500 bucks:

    http://www.arknano.com/arknano.asp?intId=10

  35. cdquarles says:

    Max Hugoson says:
    October 31, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Now, if we could only develope the ALL SILICON Human. (See that similarity in bonds, and the ability to homolog all C compounds with Si compounds of the same structure.)

    THEN, we’d be able to tolerate -150 F to 300F temperatures. The only problem is you’d need a plasma torche to cook your Si chicken (“Yum taste like transistors Mommy!”) Unless things have changed with respect to silicon chemistry I learned some 40 years ago is incorrect, you will not be able to do it. Si-Si chains max out at around 20 or so silicon atoms if you are talking about silanes. C-C chains have (had?) no known upper bound.

  36. DaveF says:

    View from the Solent 11:34am:
    I just googled ‘buckyballs’ and top of the list was – guess what – “Buckyballs at Amazon – Low Prices on Buckyballs”. So I guess that’s where they’re getting them. :-)

  37. It looks interesting. I like it.

    We’ve still got the issue that if someone develops something TOO neat, efficient, “too cheap to meter”, with their sights on mass-marketing, that that J P Morgans of this world withdraw their funding, and others do worse… take people out, buy up the patents, etc.

    My dream is that SO MANY alternative competitive ways of manufacturing energy are going to be found, that it’s going to be like the Internet and Open Source: the big energy companies will gradually, eventually, lose out competitively to ten million different Lilliputian energy ventures.

    Pay attention. Pay close attention to the sidelines, and stuff emerging from Russia. Because WUWT groupthink knocked out Rossi et al, does not mean that everything alternative is bunk. Many serious scientists are asking, what powers UFO’s? and we seem to be inching closer to understanding – inch by inch.

  38. Philip Peake says:

    My local hardware store doesn’t seem to have buckyballs and carbon nano-tubes, but producing those is a lot easier than growing and processing pure silicon crystals then carefully controlling the doping pocess to turn them into semi-conductors.

  39. NikFromNYC says:

    The “glass” must be diamond then.

  40. Rob Potter says:

    Thanks Dirk (October 31, 2012 at 11:42 am)

    So, not too expensive if you just want them in a bunch. I guess the trick is to get them lined up right to perform as a semi-conductor. At least there is progress.

  41. DirkH: “A fascinating idea is to use the carbon nanotubes to siphon off IR background radiation which surrounds us day and night with approx 150 W/m^2.”

    If you ever stood outside naked in the middle of winter (or just took your gloves off) you would know there is no such thing as 150W/m^2 surrounding us day and night.

    Thats just shared delusion the Moshers of the world have.

  42. Mark and two Cats says:

    If it did become a viable and established energy source, the greens would find some reason to oppose it.

  43. Eyal Porat says:
    October 31, 2012 at 10:18 am
    I have this nagging question:
    If solar panels become EXTREMELY efficient, wouldn’t it be very cold near them?

    At current efficiencies, the reverse is true. Solar panels have low albedo, and I bet this carbon based material has a very low albedo, close to zero. A low albedo means they absorb most of the sun’s energy and as a result its warmer near them.

    If you live in a hot climate, as I do, roof albedo plays an important role in keeping houses cool. Most houses around here have reflective metal roofs with albedos above .5. Put a solar panel with an albedo near zero on the roof, and with an efficiency around 10%, and your airconditioning requirement will go up substantially more than the electricity generated by the solar panel.

    Solar panels in a hot climate will increase demand for electricity.

  44. aaron says:

    link doesn’t go to the story

  45. Mike Jonas says:

    John A – What would really benefit the third world is some more coal-fired power stations. And if Barack Obama gets re-elected, US coal exports will likely increase further, making coal-fired power even more competitive for everyone else.

  46. Mark and two Cats says:

    Lucy Skywalker said:
    October 31, 2012 at 11:54 am
    Many serious scientists are asking, what powers UFO’s?
    ———————————-
    According to UFOpaedia:
    “The power source of UFOs is an anti-matter reactor which uses Elerium-115 (element 115) to generate powerful gravity waves as well as other forms of energy. The conversion of matter to energy produces an incredible amount of power (E=mc2); even the tiniest amounts of Elerium produce huge amounts of power. Power Sources can be manufactured easily using Alien Alloys.

    The UFO Power Source is one of the three UFO Components you must have on hand to manufacture a new ship. It is essentailly an engine, and uses Elerium-115 to propel a craft.

    A UFO Power Source requires 1400 man-hours to build, $130,000, and the materials Elerium-115 and Alien Alloys. You can obtain these materials from Alien Bases and UFOs. Power Sources can be sold for $250,000.”
    ———————————-
    All your Alien Base are belong to us!

  47. DirkH says:

    sunshinehours1 says:
    October 31, 2012 at 12:30 pm
    “If you ever stood outside naked in the middle of winter (or just took your gloves off) you would know there is no such thing as 150W/m^2 surrounding us day and night.

    Thats just shared delusion the Moshers of the world have.”

    Well allright, it varies with the temperature. And with the emissivity of your surroundings. But let’s assume it’s 150 W/m^2 where you stand at 20 deg C or 293 K. That would mean it’s still 113 W/m^2 at 0 deg C; and 83 W/m^2 at -20 deg C.

    Satisfied now?

  48. DirkH says:

    Lucy Skywalker says:
    October 31, 2012 at 11:54 am
    “We’ve still got the issue that if someone develops something TOO neat, efficient, “too cheap to meter”, with their sights on mass-marketing, that that J P Morgans of this world withdraw their funding, and others do worse… take people out, buy up the patents, etc. ”

    Well, the usual conspiracy assumption. Name a concrete example. The only one that is known is that JP Morgan withdrew Tesla’s funding when he found out that Tesla was researching wireless energy transmission.

    Now, we have wireless energy transmission. It’s just not that efficient. There’s of course the possibility that Tesla had such an advanced idea that we are still playing catch-up but I doubt it.

    Google PRIMOVE, a Bombardier project about inductive charging of vehicles.

    As for buying up patents: Patents expire.

  49. Eyal Porat says:

    Philip Bradley says:
    October 31, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    I live in a hot place, and I have to say that with the current efficiency of solar panels, the best usage of them is shading the house. This lowers the temperature of the house considerably.
    The total electricity of a large home panel (6X6 meters or even more) is enough only for an hour or two of air conditioning…
    BTW, the questions were sarcastic, but I figure I should have added the /Sarc tag.

  50. Steve Thatcher says:

    pyeatte says:
    October 31, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Most oil, gas and coal is stored solar energy as a result of photosynthesis, which produces plants.

    ***********************************************************************************************
    Still pushing the oil is dead plants meme. Abiotic oil, probably most of the gas also. See http://www.gasresources.net/

    SteveT

  51. Gunga Din says:

    Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7 says:
    October 31, 2012 at 10:43 am
    I heard carbon nanotubes run several million dollars a pound at present. That will be a bit of a roadblock to commercial-scale deployment.

    ==================================================================
    But haw much of that is the “carbon tax”? 8-)

  52. stephen richards says:

    1% efficiency, no sun at night, no efficient or effective storage medium. About 30 years before it is of even maginal use and it can never be used for base load without storage.

  53. Paul Westhaver says:

    nvw… said it first in the 3rd comment.

    Science is trying to copy a tree.

    Plant a billion trees, wait 100 years, Cut down a billion trees and plant a billion more trees. Burn the trees, while generating electricity. 100% carbon neutral (like I care) and completely renewable.

    Arrogant and fund scheming science are trying to copy a tree.

    The problem with generating energy during a summery day is that you also need chemical energy storage so that it can be used in winter nights. Producing carbon sun-electrity devices are good for space applications but down here on earth, we have day and nights, and seasons and weather.

    Trees do all of that so very well.

    Men… will they never learn? Look we made a poor copy of tree! That cost ya 10 billion dollars and a tree works better.

  54. more soylent green! says:

    milodonharlani says:
    October 31, 2012 at 10:13 am
    If manufacturers promise to get their carbon from CO2 in the air instead of from coal in the ground, will this pass the green test?

    Won’t this count as a carbon offset either way?

  55. Dan in California says:

    wikeroy says: October 31, 2012 at 10:13 am
    “Perhaps in the future we can look at alternative markets where flexible carbon solar cells are coated on the surface of buildings, on windows or on cars to generate electricity,” Bao said.
    Not to mention roof-tiles….
    ————————————————————
    Or, you could just go buy flexible solar panels or roof tiles now. One source is UniSolar, http://www.uni-solar.com/ but get them soon, because UniSolar is having hard financial times. It seems in the real world, sales depend on market demand and value of the product.

  56. Paul says:

    If I read this article right, they intend on using carbon nano tubes for the assembly. Based on the Toxicity studies I’ve seen nano tubes have been shown to be somewhere from toxic to highly toxic.
    Are we creating a new problem while solving what may not be a problem?

  57. Even with the many breakthroughs in carbon nano-structures–both producing and aligning–that are being made, this will require lots of work. However, the problem with storage of energy is not insurmountable since even an energy grid which uses all non renewables can benefit from storage technologies. There have been many recent projects working on developing or marketing industrial scale batteries and other energy storage systems. Yes, you do lose energy by converting it, storing it and converting it again but if you are producing it cheaply at one time of day and it can be sold at a much better price at peak hours it could be worth it. Likewise, if you could store it for a more lucrative time of year you could outweigh the loss due to storage. At least, there is yet to be proof that this can’t be done.

    The efficiency will need to come up (metamaterials maybe) but they don’t need to be silicon quality if they are dirt cheap.

  58. Steven Mosher says:

    sunshine hours is so funny.

    First he denied the existence of back radiation altogether.
    then when he was shown the system used to measure it, it switched to a new form of denial.

    In any case back radiation doesnt heat the planet. Its not how the green house effect works.

    If you want to know how the effect works.. ask anthony. he believes in it.
    Ask Christy, Ask Spenser, ask Monkton.

    Sunshine wont.

  59. aharris says:

    Ok, great, so if one of these smashes in your backyard it won’t poison you (aside from causing global warming of course *snicker*), but aside from the problem of solar power being incredibly inefficient, does anyone address how toxic the manufacturing process for all these space age carbon materials will be? I know that’s a big problem with our present solar panels. They’re toxic as all heck to manufacture. So, what about these?

  60. Eyal Porat says:
    October 31, 2012 at 12:58 pm
    Philip Bradley says:
    October 31, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    I live in a hot place, and I have to say that with the current efficiency of solar panels, the best usage of them is shading the house. This lowers the temperature of the house considerably.

    To the best of my knowledge no one has ever measured the net effect of roof top solar panels on the airconditioning requirements of a building. Surprising, given the ‘green’ energy industry claims of ‘saving energy’.

    My experience is that the area of the house directly below the solar panels is noticeably warmer/hotter on a sunny day. But my solar panels are attached directly to the roof. If you experience shading then there must be a gap between the panels and the roof.

    Solar panels will also provide a useful amount of roof insulation.

  61. sophocles says:

    Interesting piece of technology. For the moment, I assume the carbon
    is in the form of plastics of various kinds. I wonder what the lifetime of
    such modules would be once exposed to the sun (UVa and UVb).

    In New Zealand, we have some of the harshest sunlight in the world,
    it being clean and rich in UVa and UVb. (Closest approach of the planet
    to the sun is in early January, which is the height of our summer.)

    Plastics left out in the sun have a lifetime of 1.5 – 3 years, becoming
    highly embrittled over that time, and subject to breakage under even
    slight pressure. Testing in the Arizona desert is inadequate
    compared with testing in the Ruapehu desert (centre of the North Island).

    So material lifetime may have to be considered as well as increases in
    efficiency.

  62. phlogiston says:

    Eyal Porat says:
    October 31, 2012 at 10:18 am
    I have this nagging question:
    If solar panels become EXTREMELY efficient, wouldn’t it be very cold near them?
    won’t they trigger an Ice Age due to loss of heat in the atmosphere?

    Good point. Earth’s natural solar panels – leaves – do this already, and play an important role in cooling and regulating climate. Thus while CO2 per se will not warm the planet, loss of vegetation cover might.

  63. Bill Illis says:

    Photons versus electrons. That is the problem with solar power.

    Photons might never be an efficient source of producing electricity (othan the one source we know about …)

    Plants have a biological molecule called chlorophyll which turns photons into chemical potential energy which then powers the biological chemical reactions of vegetation.

    We are using the chemical potential energy left over from millions of years ago which never got fully converted back into biologic chemical reactions (fossil fuels) to make mechanical potential energy through burning which when used with a magnetic fields creates electricity or directly powers the mechanical energy of a motor.

    Do we see how solar energy needs to start using a different philiosophy here. Solar needs to be converted into chemical energy and/or mechanical energy rather than trying to (what might never work) convert it directly into elecricity/electron energy.

    ——–

    Black Carbon solar panels covering everything? I wonder what would happen to the Urban Heat Island in that case.

  64. Tsk Tsk says:

    Yippie, another crap-all efficiency flexible thin film solar cell. Let’s add it to the pile that has been growing for the last 30 years. And as for improving efficiency over time, well, I’ve heard that one before. Modern flexible cells are in the neighborhood of a few percent. I expect this one to do little better.

  65. DonS says:

    @ DirkH says:
    October 31, 2012 at 12:53 pm
    Conspiracies and UFOs proliferate when viewed from valleys of the northwestern mountains of the US. I oughta know, I live in a valley in Montana, just a nanosecond by UFO northeast of Lucy. Doubtless there are power sources yet undiscovered and mankind has had a collective sense of UFOs for oinks. But it’s not just about efficient means of producing endless power. It’s also about punishing those (the energy companies) who are the only reason we’re not all freezing to death in the dark. Anyhow, I can’t see Lilliputians building facilities large enough to matter.

  66. David L says:

    Paul Westhaver on October 31, 2012 at 2:00 pm
    nvw… said it first in the 3rd comment.

    Science is trying to copy a tree.”….

    Excellent point. Can someone say what’s the efficiency of a tree (or other plant) of converting photons into biomass?

  67. michael hart says:

    Interesting.
    I can’t access the full paper because it is pay-walled, but a ‘photo-voltaic’ device which operates in the Infra-Red might just be a thermoelectric device, which is not really a Solar Cell.

  68. Billy says:

    The real breakthrough would be a solar panel with dark-sucking technology to harvest the energy of the Dark Side for 24 hours per day.

  69. zootcadillac says:

    @Allan Watt. Carbon nanotubes are relatively inexpensive today. typical market price depending upon diameter is about $25-$25 per gram. At the top end of the price you will pay approximately $16k per pound. There are some more expensive types depending upon purity but those now have come down to around £200 per gram as opposed to the high of $700.
    The University of Malaysia have come up with a process that can turn out 1000 grams of nanotubes a day at a cost to market of between $15-$35 a gram.
    I believe your notion of ‘millions of dollars per pound’ is misinformed.

    This appears to be an excellent technology on the face of it. There is no harm in sourcing alternative energies to fossil fuels. There will come a point where it becomes necessary so no harm in working on that now if commercially viable methods can be found.

    CO2 might be a non-issue for human beings but particulate pollutants are an issue. No harm in reducing those where possible.

  70. zootcadillac says:

    @Philip Bradley. What are the air conditioning requirements of a house? The air conditioning requirements of my house are zero. It’s never so warm outside that opening a window won’t cope with and gas fired central-heating takes care of the rest. (53.4800° N)

    Roll on global warming I say ;)

  71. Resourceguy says:

    Since the DOE motto is not to pick winners, this by definition is worthy of several billion dollars in grants from the taxpayers. Oh and some very connected people involved in the company helps more than anything in this administration. wink wink

    Throw in the usual farce of being apple to paint buildings with solar panels and you can double or triple the numbers from the gullible and the guile.

  72. anticlimactic says:

    I often wonder what happened to the solar cell that was 100% efficient!

    It was a small article in New Scientist over 10 years ago – a guy was playing with a femtosecond laser and tried it on a silicon wafer – which went black. Investigating, he found it was black because all the light was being absorbed and converted to electricity with 100% efficiency. It would also work in reverse where electricity would be converted to light with 100% efficiency. Closer investigation of the silicon showed that as it melted the surface formed tiny mushroom shapes and the speculation was that if the light was not absorbed immediately it would bounce round internally until it was.

    I never heard anything about it again. I suppose that it is probable that the power needed to create it far outweighed what the cell could produce in its lifetime, or the military took it over.

    Even so, I would have thought that etching silicon wafers could produce a similar surface. Again, it may not be cost effective – not that it is usually a consideration with ‘renewables’!

    At the time I really thought it would change the world.

  73. Brian H says:

    If solar panels were free they would still only have local uses. Collecting diffuse power and routing it to where it is needed is more trouble and cost than it’s worth.

  74. Ric Werme says:

    Max Hugoson says:
    October 31, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Now, if we could only develope the ALL SILICON Human. (See that similarity in bonds, and the ability to homolog all C compounds with Si compounds of the same structure.)

    THEN, we’d be able to tolerate -150 F to 300F temperatures. The only problem is you’d need a plasma torche to cook your Si chicken (“Yum taste like transistors Mommy!”)

    Evolution would have to come up with some tricks to deal with breathing. O2 in, SiO2 out. I.e. quartz.

  75. Eyal Porat says:

    Philip Bradley says:
    October 31, 2012 at 3:34 pm
    The panels are a few centimeters above the roof tiles (which are made of clay here). Any shade on a roof will do the trick.
    BTW, in hot areas the locals tend to build flat roofs. This has a few advantages: they shade the roof with vegetation (vines etc.) and thus have more room, cool place to stay on hot nights and a cooled house.
    Here (in Israel) we adopted in many places the stupid habit of building slanted tiled roofs. But with sense kicking in you can see more and more flat roofed houses.

  76. Galane says:

    An IR photovoltaic cell capable of withstanding high temperatures would be ideal as a waste heat to energy converter. Wrap them around all the bits of power plants and HVAC systems that generate or lose heat. Fit them all over the exhaust systems of vehicles.

    Get the IR efficiency high enough and eliminate the alternator.

    As for companies buying patents to “kill” inventions. Patents expire… and people forget. Lots of good technology has been buried via that process. A bigger company doesn’t want to be challenged by a better version from a smaller company so they try one or more tactics to squash the competition.

    1. Buy the patent or production rights then do absolutely nothing with it. By the time the expiration date comes along, few people remember it existed. Even if the contract forces the purchaser to actually produce what was bought, make it in limited numbers and “forget” to publish/advertise it’s being made. Eventually the lawyers will come up with a loophole due to “lack of sales” to stop production.

    2. Buy the competitor out completely then do absolutely nothing with everything just bought.

    3. If 1 and 2 fail, sue them for some sort of infringement, copyright, trademark, patent, whatever. Throw everything against the wall and go with what sticks.

    Number 3 has been used many many times. Until Philo Farnsworth refused to back down on television, RCA routinely did all three methods to obtain the inventions they wanted and squash the ones they didn’t want as competition. The patent for all electronic television was the first one RCA had ever had to *license* and pay royalties on instead of somehow obtaining outright ownership.

    More recently there was a small company that invented a device that could cure cancers of bone marrow like leukemia. It worked by filtering a sample of the sick person’s bone marrow so that only healthy cells were left, then cultured the healthy cells until there were enough to do an allograft type “transplant”. The patient then underwent the same procedure as during a regular marrow transplant. Kill all their marrow then inject the healthy cells which colonize the bones. The system worked very well.

    A large medical company didn’t like that one bit so they knocked together a similar but inferior system, filed a patent on it then claimed the small company “stole” their technology. The big guys threw enough lawyers and money into it and they won, getting the court to award all the technology and assets of the small company to the big company. The small company put together and shipped out as many of the kits as they could before the deadline to help as many people as they could, including the inventor of the system – he had developed leukemia.

    After all was done, the big company squashed the little guys and AFAIK that marrow purification and culturing system has stayed deeply buried. There’s far more money in *treatment* and *management* of chronic diseases instead of actually curing them, which makes them no longer chronic.

    In the 1940’s and 1950’s there was a battery technology that you likely haven’t heard of. Wet Cell Nickle Cadmium. One major use of them was in military aircraft. Their stainless steel cases were very tough and the construction of the batteries proved very rugged. They could be left discharged for a long time then charged up and would perform with no loss of capacity as happens to a discharged lead-acid battery. The US military left huge numbers of those batteries in Europe after WW2. Farmers used them on their trucks and tractors because they’d last for years. I’ve seen reports of bad vehicle crashes where the only salvageable part was one of those war surplus aircraft batteries.

    Union Carbide had American manufacturing and sales rights on the technology but made only token efforts at manufacturing and sales. Why make nearly indestructible wet cell NiCd batteries when inferior lead-acid batteries would last only 2 or 3 years, assuring frequent replacement? Other American battery companies announced back then that they were going to produce those batteries, but nothing came of it.

    No “conspiracy theory” need apply. When it cones down to the money, it’s often not in a companies best financial interest to produce the absolute best product possible.

    Case in point, plastic chicken boards. Commercial production buildings for chickens used to use galvanized steel panels on the floors called chicken boards (probably named after the wood boards originally used). Chicken poo is very corrosive and the steel panels would rust. Some guy got the bright idea to make chicken boards out of PVC, sized and shaped to be a direct replacement for the metal ones. Sales went extremely well for several years then dropped to almost nothing. After checking their records the company found they had sold their indestructible product to every chicken and egg producer in the USA whose buildings used that design of chicken boards. They done sold themselves out of business! Being smart fellows they quickly shifted to designing and producing many other plastic products.

    Had they been of the same sort as companies that deliberately design products that *could* last for decades or centuries to fail in mere years, they could have stayed in business forever with the chicken boards by designing them to last only 25~50% longer than the galvanized steel versions.

  77. kwik says:

    zootcadillac says:
    October 31, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    “There is no harm in sourcing alternative energies to fossil fuels.”

    There is harm in it if you use tax-payers money. Because then a commitee of morons will decide which projects are to get money. And the goal of the project will be how to get money from the government, not how to earn money on the product.

  78. wikeroy says:

    Dan in California says:
    October 31, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    “Or, you could just go buy flexible solar panels or roof tiles now. One source is UniSolar, http://www.uni-solar.com/ but get them soon, because UniSolar is having hard financial times. It seems in the real world, sales depend on market demand and value of the product.”

    That is so true. And that is the explanation on why the greenies are always fascists at heart. They cannot support democracy and capitalism. Because capitalism has an automatic feedback loop on finding the most efficient power source.

  79. E.M.Smith says:

    So at about 1% they are at the low end of photosynthesis, but don’t have the built in fuel production / energy storage…

    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/458172/photosynthesis/60563/Energy-efficiency-of-photosynthesis

    The actual percentage of solar energy stored by plants is much less than the maximum energy efficiency of photosynthesis. An agricultural crop in which the biomass (total dry weight) stores as much as 1 percent of total solar energy received on an annual areawide basis is exceptional, although a few cases of higher yields (perhaps as much as 3.5 percent in sugarcane) have been reported.

    So with about an order of magnitude improvement in efficiency and a dramatic reduction in costs, they might be competitive with sugar cane… (the bagasse is burned to provide electrical power and heat to sugar refining…)

    @Lucy Skywalker:

    One professor Hegelstein at M.I.T. claims to have LENR working and a lab demo. Teaches a class on it IIRC. Not a lot available from “academic” sources, but a YouTube video and some lectures by him exists.

    http://coldfusionnow.org/massachusetts-state-sen-bruce-tarr-visits-still-operating-jet-energy-nanor-demo/

    The IAP Cold Fusion 101 Short Course conducted earlier in the year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT featured a live demonstration of an operating cold fusion cell called the NANOR courtesy of JET Energy, Inc. Dr. Mitchell Swartz of JET Energy, the inventor of the cell, and Dr. Peter Hagelstein of MIT collaborated on the course designed for students but attended by other interested individuals with prior permission.

    The NANOR cell continued to operate after the course was finished in the end of January. Today we learn that the cell is still operating as of two days ago when a Massachusetts State Senator visited the MIT campus to see the demonstration.

    M.I.T. is not normally associated with things that do not exist…

    In related news, a kit is available for school projects and some High School kids got it to go. (The “Anthor” IIRC – open source project too). Not enough excess heat to be more than a lab curiosity, but it is very curious… The days of non-reproduction of LENR heat appear to be over.

    No idea about Rossi (if he does have something, I’d wager it was entirely by accident in the process of trying to make an investment scheme… but even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut…)

    Personally, I’d bet on fracking, horizontal drilling, and oil shales. The USA is on track to reach our highest bbl/year ever thanks to those technologies. So much for “Peak Oil” in North America… Even WITH both E and W coasts locked out, the gulf pulled for federal permits, Alaska being put off limits, and any of the Gulf of Mexico near Florida closed….

    So the little carbon toy is a really neat technology… but don’t see it as anything other than a toy and a professor looking for a hand out to keep playing with it.

    OTOH, if they can make an IR “solar cell”, that does have a lot of possibilities for niche uses.

  80. Alan the Brit says:

    Mark and two Cats says:
    October 31, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    I think you made a spelling mistake, I think you meant Delerium-115! Anyhow a guy down the pub told me that if I take a space ship to Alpha-Centauri/45-XRT-3A, next door to the Delusional Star System, make a sharp left then right, there’s a small rock with loads of Dylithium crystals there for the taking! Well, at least that’s what he said ;-)

  81. DirkH says:

    Galane says:
    October 31, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    “After all was done, the big company squashed the little guys and AFAIK that marrow purification and culturing system has stayed deeply buried. There’s far more money in *treatment* and *management* of chronic diseases instead of actually curing them, which makes them no longer chronic.”

    There have never been chronic Leukemia sufferers. If you want to tell this kind of story, maybe you should invent it around Diabetes. (Yes, I think it’s an invention; until I hear the names of the large and the small company involved. It’s a little hard to google for unnamed entities.)

  82. Give up already. Solar cells are a bright shiny object used by environuts to distract the rubes from the misery their plans will inflict on the average person.

    Solar electricity will never be economical, even if the cells are free and operate at maximum quantum efficiency.

    First free cells wouldn’t be free. It would still cost thousands of dollars to put them up on a roof. We put a new asphalt shingle roof on our house (a nice suburban house not Algore mansion sized) a few years ago. It cost about $15,000. I can’t conceive of a generating material that would be as cheap as asphalt roofing, which is about as generic and low tech as it gets. Furthermore the roofing business labor pool is also generic and low tech. Getting licensed electricians involved will only drive up labor costs. I have not even noodled the price of wiring and the electronics needed to make the low voltage DC output of the cells usable. Frames and land would be large costs for non-roof systems. Paving material? Around here roads are repaved every few years — more cost.

    Second, solar systems do not operate at night and their output can drop between 50 and 75% on a cloudy day. Every day has a night, and a majority of days around my location are cloudy. There are no economically viable systems for storing large quantities of electricity, therefor every watt of solar you are relying on must be backed up by a watt of something else. These days that is usually natural gas generation. This doubles the capital cost of solar systems.

    Third, north of the tropics there is an annual variation in the amount of available solar energy. In my location at 40 north, the ratio between available solar energy in June and the amount in December is about 2.67 to 1. The amount of electricity used does not vary nearly that much. Electricity used for air conditioning in the summer is used for lighting, heating, and cooking in December. We often hear brownout alerts on the coldest days of the winter.

    The implication of this is that two thirds of a solar electricity system big enough to supply us in December would sit idle in June, producing no revenue but still carrying a capital cost.

    The punch line is that solar electricity is and will remain unaffordable no matter what the solar cell technology is.

  83. george e smith says:

    Excuse me sir; but isn’t the idea of a solar cell to absorb the solar radiant energy; most of which is in the visible spectral range.

    Wouldn’t that make it hard to drive your car, with carbon solar cels painted on the windows.

    If this is a science paper, rather than a chamber of commerce propaganda release, why didn’t you tell us what the absorption spectrum is and what is the air mass 1 or 1.5 solar conversion efficiency.

    We know that diamond has a wide bandgap, basically too wide to be an efficient solar absorber, so just what is the band gap of this form of carbon.

    Come on now; give us some scientific facts; not projections of how you are going to take over the world with soot.

  84. george e smith says:

    “””””……Walter Sobchak says:

    November 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Give up already. Solar cells are a bright shiny object used by environuts to distract the rubes from the misery their plans will inflict on the average person.

    Solar electricity will never be economical, even if the cells are free and operate at maximum quantum efficiency. ……””””””

    Solar energy is free; but collecting it is not free, in fact it is very expensive. Like Will Rogers said; “Buy land, they aren’t making any more of it.”

    Who imagines that they will be allowed to put up large and valuable solar panel structures all over unimproved lands, and not have the property tax collector slap them with a property tax on the land “improvements.”Put up a building, and they will; and they will on solar arrays yoo.

    You can’t even cover land with Saran Wrap or Aluminium foil cheaply enough to make it economical, so doing it with functional solar panels, will be more expensive.

    Oh ! and covering the ground with Saran wrap will not survive the frequent “100 year” storms, that happen every few years.

    The currently surviving solar PV companies in the USA, only survive by capitalizing their very inefficient and unsaleable solar panels, and then writing the cost off on their taxes; stiffing the other tax payers with the tab. Then they want to take over YOUR valuable solar energy space, without paying YOU any rent, and then they will sell you a minute fraction of YOUR solar energy, for less than the utility company. Why don’t they rent the solar energy space, at a rental based on the total incident solar energy; and sell THEIR electricity to the power company. That way, if they are efficient, they will get filthy rich, and you can make a nice pension from renting YOUR solar energy space.
    Of course companies with higher efficiency systems, will be willing to pay a higher rent to get your space, because they can make more money, than their competitors, and you don’t have to care what their efficiency is.

    You are on the right wavelength Walter.

  85. george e smith says:

    “””””……omegaman66 says:

    November 1, 2012 at 4:10 am

    Solar panels only work when the sun shines but heck if I could spend a minimal amount of money and power my home when the sunshines I don’t see a down side. Hoping they can get the efficiency up to at least 5X and an produce the panels for 1/5 the cost of todays panels……””””””

    Get real omegaman66. Current and still expensive real silicon solar panels achieve better than 20% solar conversion efficiency. And five times that is 100% already. And the known theoretical maximum conversion efficiency, for an impossibly expensive and as yet never demonstrated multijunction multibangap cell is around 72%. Knowledgeable workers in the field believe they can raise the present record efficiency from around 43% to about 60%. They are likely to do that; and not too far down the road.

    Still doesn’t beat the maximum 1 kW per squ metre (100 Watts per square foot) solar insolation rate.

  86. george e smith says:

    “””””…..Galane says:

    October 31, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    An IR photovoltaic cell capable of withstanding high temperatures would be ideal as a waste heat to energy converter. Wrap them around all the bits of power plants and HVAC systems that generate or lose heat. Fit them all over the exhaust systems of vehicles.

    Get the IR efficiency high enough and eliminate the alternator. “””””

    Need to learn some thermodynamics. They don’t call it WASTE HEAT for nothing. “Heat” energy is not convertible into work beyond the limits of the Carnot efficiency. There aren’t any IR radiation sensitive PV materials that can efficiently convert the Black Body thermal radiation photons of even the hottest engine materials into electricity. and none of the materials that do form pn junctions with low bandgaps (Germanium as an example) simply don’t tolerate high Temperatures. Yes their are Peltier junction s that can convert Temperature differences into electricity, at pp efficiencies. Mostly based on Bismuth and similar materials. Bismuth is about as poor an excuse for an element, as there is in the entire periodic table.

  87. george e smith says:

    “”””””…..Philip Bradley says:

    October 31, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Eyal Porat says:
    October 31, 2012 at 10:18 am
    I have this nagging question:
    If solar panels become EXTREMELY efficient, wouldn’t it be very cold near them?

    At current efficiencies, the reverse is true. Solar panels have low albedo, and I bet this carbon based material has a very low albedo, close to zero. A low albedo means they absorb most of the sun’s energy and as a result its warmer near them…..”””””

    More mythology; don’t any of you people ever pick up any elementary Physics book, and actually learn something beyond dubdubdub.google.com.

    EXTREMELY Efficient solar panels would convert MOST of the solar energy to ELECTRICITY, so the amount of HEAT generated would be minimal (until you use the electricity somewhere else).

    So efficient solar panels would cool your house by preventing the incident solar radiant energy from being converted to waste heat right on your roof. So in cold times and climates, you would have to put in extra home heating to make up for the lost solar energy. Well unless you use all of that electricity inside your home. So you need to take your house OFF the grid, if you want to go solar efficiently. Then you don’t need to use AC inverters at 80% efficiency, and if you convert your lighting to 12 or 24 Volt DC, then you also don’t need AC-DC converters to run your lighting, so you need a half dozen car batteries to store the solar electricity, and run your LED lighting from them.

    If I turn on every single LED light in my house (Only lighting I have), the total is 200 Watts. I never do that so the actual useage is never over 100 Watts, when we are even using lights.

    And since some LED lights are pushing over 50% external quantum efficiency, that 100 Watts of peak electric use, only generates about 50 Watts of waste heat, so I don’t need to run air conditioning in the summer. In fact the AC system, has never ever been turned on (in Silicon valley) even to find out if it works or not.

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