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The Lead

Light-converting materials point to cheaper, more efficient solar power, LEDs

January 30, 2015 7:50 am | by Marit Mitchell, Senior Communications Office, Univ. of Toronto | News | Comments

Engineers are shining new light on an emerging family of solar-absorbing materials that could clear the way for cheaper and more efficient solar panels and LEDs. The materials, called perovskites, are particularly good at absorbing visible light, but had never been studied in their purest form: as perfect single crystals.

New technique for growing high-efficiency perovskite solar cells

January 29, 2015 3:31 pm | by Nancy Ambrosiano, Los Alamos National Laboratory | News | Comments

In Science, Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers reveal a new solution-based hot-...

New step towards future production of solar fuels

January 26, 2015 9:31 am | by Linda Koffmar, Uppsala Univ. | News | Comments

One way of storing solar energy is to transform the energy directly into a fuel. Researchers at...

Calculating the future of solar-fuel refineries

January 23, 2015 2:01 pm | by Scott Gordon, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

A team of Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison engineers has developed a new tool to help plot the future...

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Technique helps probe performance of organic solar cell materials

January 23, 2015 10:33 am | by Matt Shipman, News Services, North Carolina State Univ. | News | Comments

A research team has developed a new technique for determining the role that a material’s structure has on the efficiency of organic solar cells, which are candidates for low-cost, next-generation solar power. The researchers have used the technique to determine that materials with a highly organized structure at the nanoscale are not more efficient at creating free electrons than poorly organized structures.

New technique for producing cheaper solar energy

January 23, 2015 9:41 am | by Jo Bowler, Univ. of Exeter | News | Comments

A team of experts from the Univ. of Exeter has examined new techniques for generating photovoltaic (PV) energy more cost efficiently. The global PV market has experienced rapid growth in recent years due to renewable energy targets and carbon dioxide emission controls. However, current, widely used commercial methods employed to generate PV energy, such as using silicon or thin-film-based technologies, are still expensive.

Perovskites provide big boost in silicon solar cells

January 22, 2015 1:04 pm | by Mark Shwartz, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Stacking perovskites, a crystalline material, onto a conventional silicon solar cell dramatically improves the overall efficiency of the cell, according to a new study led by Stanford Univ. scientists. The researchers describe their novel perovskite-silicon solar cell in Energy & Environmental Science.

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Self-assembled nanotextures create antireflective surface on silicon solar cells

January 21, 2015 8:05 am | by Karen McNulty Walsh, Brookhaven National Laboratory | News | Comments

Reducing the amount of sunlight that bounces off the surface of solar cells helps maximize the conversion of the sun's rays to electricity, so manufacturers use coatings to cut down on reflections. Now scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory show that etching a nanoscale texture onto the silicon material itself creates an antireflective surface that works as well as state-of-the-art thin-film multilayer coatings.

Perovskites provide big boost to silicon solar cells

January 16, 2015 8:05 am | by Mark Shwartz, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Stacking perovskites onto a conventional silicon solar cell dramatically improves the overall efficiency of the cell, according to a new study led by Stanford Univ. scientists. The researchers describe their novel perovskite-silicon solar cell in Energy & Environmental Science.

Berkley Lab illuminates price premiums for U.S. solar home sales

January 14, 2015 8:14 am | by Allan Chen, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

A multi-institutional research team of scientists led by Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, in partnership with Sandia National Laboratories, universities and appraisers, found that home buyers consistently have been willing to pay more for homes with host-owned solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems—averaging about $4/W of PV installed—across various states, housing and PV markets and home types.

Solar cell polymers with multiplied electrical output

January 13, 2015 8:52 am | by Karen McNulty Walsh, Brookhaven National Laboratory | News | Comments

One challenge in improving the efficiency of solar cells is some of the absorbed light energy is lost as heat. So scientists have been looking to design materials that can convert more of that energy into useful electricity. Now a team from Brookhaven National Laboratory and Columbia Univ. has paired up polymers that recover some of that lost energy by producing two electrical charge carriers per unit of light instead of the usual one.

Researchers synthesize lead sulfide nanocrystals of uniform size

January 5, 2015 10:26 am | by Massachusetts Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Lead sulfide nanocrystals suitable for solar cells have a nearly one-to-one ratio of lead to sulfur atoms, but Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers discovered that to make uniformly sized quantum dots, a higher ratio of lead to sulfur precursors—24 to 1—is better.

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Researchers glimpse pathway of sunlight to electricity

December 19, 2014 8:02 am | News | Comments

Four pulses of laser light on nanoparticle photocells in a spectroscopy experiment has opened a window on how captured sunlight can be converted into electricity. The work, which potentially could inspire devices with improved efficiency in solar energy conversion, was performed on photocells that used lead-sulfide quantum dots as photoactive semiconductor material. 

Local market conditions, policies strongly influence solar PV pricing

December 15, 2014 2:03 pm | by Allan Chen, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Differences in local market conditions and policies, and other factors, particularly the size of the system, can lead to wide disparities in what consumers across the U.S. pay to install solar energy systems on their homes or small businesses, according to a recent study published by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. This translates into thousands of dollars difference in the price of comparable solar energy systems around the U.S.

Researchers set world record in solar energy efficiency

December 8, 2014 8:27 am | by Univ. of New South Wales | News | Comments

Univ. of New South Wales' solar researchers have converted over 40% of the sunlight hitting a solar system into electricity, the highest efficiency ever reported. The world-beating efficiency was achieved in outdoor tests in Sydney, before being independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory at their outdoor test facility in the U.S.

Technique offers spray-on solar power

December 8, 2014 8:18 am | by Marit Mitchell, Senior Communications Office, Univ. of Toronto | Videos | Comments

Pretty soon, powering your tablet could be as simple as wrapping it in cling wrap. A Univ. of Toronto team has invented a new way to spray solar cells onto flexible surfaces using miniscule light-sensitive materials known as colloidal quantum dots (CQDs)—a major step toward making spray-on solar cells easy and cheap to manufacture.

Detecting defects in solar cells

December 2, 2014 11:06 am | by National Physical Laboratory | News | Comments

Scientists at the National Physical Laboratory have developed a new method for detecting defects in solar cells using a technique called compressed sensing. Solar panels are being rapidly deployed across the world as costs fall and the need for sustainable, low-carbon energy grows. Being able to effectively characterize solar cells is a key factor in quality control during manufacturing and understanding their long-term behavior.

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High-tech mirror to beam heat away from buildings into space

December 1, 2014 10:24 am | by Chris Cesare, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Stanford Univ. engineers have invented a revolutionary coating material that can help cool buildings, even on sunny days, by radiating heat away from the buildings and sending it directly into space. The heart of the invention is an ultra-thin, multi-layered material that deals with light, both invisible and visible, in a new way.

New technique could harvest more of the sun’s energy

December 1, 2014 8:32 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

As solar panels become less expensive and capable of generating more power, solar energy is becoming a more commercially viable alternative source of electricity. However, the photovoltaic cells now used to turn sunlight into electricity can only absorb and use a small fraction of that light, and that means a significant amount of solar energy goes untapped. A new technology epresents a first step toward harnessing that lost energy.

Blu-ray disc can be used to improve solar cell performance

November 25, 2014 8:23 pm | by Northwestern Univ. | News | Comments

Who knew Blu-ray discs were so useful? Already one of the best ways to store high-definition movies and television shows because of their high-density data storage, Blu-ray discs also improve the performance of solar cells, according to new research from Northwestern Univ.

Fool’s gold as a solar material?

November 19, 2014 7:47 am | by David Tennebaum, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

As the installation of photovoltaic solar cells continues to accelerate, scientists are looking for inexpensive materials beyond the traditional silicon that can efficiently convert sunlight into electricity. Theoretically, iron pyrite could do the job, but when it works at all, the conversion efficiency remains frustratingly low. Now, a Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison research team explains why that is.

Graphene/nanotube hybrid benefits flexible solar cells

November 17, 2014 3:37 pm | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Rice Univ. scientists have invented a novel cathode that may make cheap, flexible dye-sensitized solar cells practical. The Rice laboratory of materials scientist Jun Lou created the new cathode, one of the two electrodes in batteries, from nanotubes that are seamlessly bonded to graphene and replaces the expensive and brittle platinum-based materials often used in earlier versions.

Huge solar plant lags in early production

November 17, 2014 3:01 pm | by Michael R. Blood - Associated Press - Associated Press | News | Comments

The largest solar power plant of its type in the world isn't producing as much energy as planned. One of the reasons is as basic as it gets: The sun isn't shining as much as expected. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System opened in February, with operators saying it would produce enough electricity to power a city of 140,000 people.

Solar-friendly form of silicon shines

November 17, 2014 11:16 am | by Carnegie Institute | News | Comments

Silicon is the second-most-abundant element in the Earth's crust. When purified, it takes on a diamond structure, which is essential to modern electronic devices—carbon is to biology as silicon is to technology. A team of Carnegie scientists has synthesized an entirely new form of silicon, one that promises even greater future applications.

2015 R&D 100 Awards entries now open

November 13, 2014 11:27 am | by Lindsay Hock, Managing Editor | News | Comments

The editors of R&D Magazine have announced the opening of the 2015 R&D 100 Awards entry process. The R&D 100 Awards have a 50 plus year history of awarding the 100 most technologically significant products of the year. Past winners have included sophisticated testing equipment, innovative new materials, chemistry breakthroughs, biomedical products, consumer items, high-energy physics and more.

Biochemistry detective work: Algae at night

November 10, 2014 11:05 am | by Carnegie Institute | News | Comments

Photosynthesis is probably the most well-known aspect of plant biochemistry. It enables plants, algae and select bacteria to transform the energy from sunlight during the daytime into chemical energy in the form of sugars and starches (as well as oils and proteins), and it involves taking in carbon dioxide from the air and releasing oxygen derived from water molecules.

New materials yield record efficiency polymer solar cells

November 10, 2014 10:20 am | by Tracey Peake, North Carolina State Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers from North Carolina State Univ. and Hong Kong Univ. of Science and Technology have found that temperature-controlled aggregation in a family of new semiconducting polymers is the key to creating highly efficient organic solar cells that can be mass produced more cheaply. Their findings also open the door to experimentation with different chemical mixtures that comprise the active layers of the cells.

Petrochemical industry technique helps store solar energy

November 6, 2014 2:46 pm | by Dan Stober, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Chemical engineers have designed a catalyst that could help produce vast quantities of pure hydrogen through electrolysis – the process of passing electricity through water to break hydrogen loose from oxygen in H2O.         

Leading the charge for a panel-powered car

November 6, 2014 10:08 am | by Queensland Univ. of Technology | News | Comments

A car powered by its own body panels could soon be driving on our roads after a breakthrough in nanotechnology research by a Queensland Univ. of Technology team.                          

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