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The Lead

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...

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...

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...

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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.

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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.                          

Combining “Tinkertoy” materials with solar cells for increased photovoltaic efficiency

November 5, 2014 8:42 am | by Mike Janes, Sandia National Laboratories | News | Comments

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have received a $1.2 million award from the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s SunShot Initiative to develop a technique that they believe will significantly improve the efficiencies of photovoltaic materials and help make solar electricity cost-competitive with other sources of energy.

Microgrid could standardize small, self-sustaining electric grids

November 4, 2014 2:56 pm | by Katie Elyce Jones, Oak Ridge National Laboratory | News | Comments

When Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher Yan Xu talks about “islanding,” or isolating, from the grid, she’s discussing a fundamental benefit of microgrids—small systems powered by renewables and energy storage devices. The benefit is that microgrids can disconnect from larger utility grids and continue to provide power locally.

Electric-car drivers trading gas for solar power

October 28, 2014 5:33 pm | by Dee-Ann Durbin, AP Auto Writer | News | Comments

Owners of electric vehicles have already gone gas-free. Now, a growing number are powering their cars with sunlight. Solar panels installed on the roof of a home or garage can easily generate enough electricity to power an electric or plug-in gas-electric hybrid vehicle. The approach is not cheap, but advocates say the investment pays off over time and is worth it for the thrill of fossil fuel-free driving.

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Researchers use real-world data to model the effect of more solar on the grid

October 13, 2014 8:41 am | by Louise Lerner, Argonne National Laboratory | News | Comments

American electrical utilities do a pretty fantastic job of getting us electricity when we need it. In 2006, the power was out on average for just 0.03% of the year in the U.S. But right now, this system depends on getting most of its power from coal, nuclear and gas plants: big, dependable power plants that can be turned on and off when needed.

Hybrid materials could smash the solar efficiency ceiling

October 9, 2014 8:57 am | News | Comments

Researchers have developed a new method for harvesting the energy carried by particles known as “dark” spin-triplet excitons with close to 100% efficiency, clearing the way for hybrid solar cells which could far surpass current efficiency limits. To date, this type of energy transfer had only been shown for “bright” spin-singlet excitons.

Charge transport jamming in solar cells

October 7, 2014 2:08 pm | News | Comments

Conventional silicon solar cells could have an inexpensive competitor in the near future. Researchers in Europe have examined the working principle of a cell where an organic-inorganic perovskite compound acts as a light absorber. The scientists observed that charge carriers accumulate in a layer in these photovoltaic elements. If this jam can be dissolved, the already considerable efficiency of these solar cells could be further improved.

Research shows how giant clams harness the sun

October 3, 2014 9:39 am | News | Comments

Beneath the waves, many creatures sport iridescent structures that rival what scientists can make in the laboratory. A research team has now shown how giant clams use these structures to thrive, operating as exceedingly efficient, living greenhouses that grow symbiotic algae as a source of food. This understanding could have implications for alternative energy research, paving the way for new solar panels or improved ways to grow biofuel.

Batteries included: A solar cell that stores its own power

October 3, 2014 9:07 am | by Pam Frost Gorder, Ohio State Univ. | News | Comments

The world’s first “solar battery”, invented by researchers at Ohio State Univ., is a battery and a solar cell combined into one hybrid device. Key to the innovation is a mesh solar panel, which allows air to enter the battery, and a special process for transferring electrons between the solar panel and the battery electrode. Inside the device, light and oxygen enable different parts of the chemical reactions that charge the battery.

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How to make a “perfect” solar absorber

September 29, 2014 8:08 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The key to creating a material that would be ideal for converting solar energy to heat is tuning the material’s spectrum of absorption just right: It should absorb virtually all wavelengths of light that reach Earth’s surface from the sun—but not much of the rest of the spectrum, since that would increase the energy that is reradiated by the material, and thus lost to the conversion process.

Report quantifies financial impacts of customer-sited photovoltaics on electric utilities

September 25, 2014 8:39 am | by Allan Chen, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

A new report prepared by analysts from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory examines the potential impacts of customer-sited solar photovoltaics on electric utility profitability and rates. The report shows that these impacts can vary greatly depending upon the specific circumstances of the utility and may be reduced through a variety of regulatory and ratemaking measures.

Team improves solar cell efficiency with new polymer

September 19, 2014 4:49 pm | by Emily Conover, Univ. of Chicago | News | Comments

A collaboration between scientists in the Univ. of Chicago’s chemistry department, the Institute for Molecular Engineering and Argonne National Laboratory has produced the highest-ever recorded efficiency for solar cells made of two types of polymers and fulllerene. Researchers identified a new polymer that improved the efficiency of solar cells and also determined the method by which the polymer improved the cells’ efficiency.

Breaking “electrode barrier” creates a better low-cost organic solar cell

September 19, 2014 9:02 am | News | Comments

For decades, the power conversion efficiency of organic solar cells was hampered by the drawbacks of commonly used metal electrodes, including their instability and susceptibility to oxidation. Now for the first time, researchers at the Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a more efficient, easily processable and lightweight solar cell that can use virtually any metal for the electrode, effectively breaking the “electrode barrier.”

Engineer to build “hot” solar cells

September 19, 2014 8:12 am | by Rase McCry, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Yale Univ. associate professor of electrical engineering Minjoo Larry Lee has been awarded $2,540,000 to develop dual-junction solar cells that can operate efficiently at extreme temperatures above 750 F. In addition to converting a portion of the sunlight directly into electricity, the solar cells will use the remainder of the light to heat high-temperature fluids that can drive a steam turbine or be stored for later use.

Studies find declines in price of rooftop and utility-scale solar

September 18, 2014 7:51 am | by Allen Chen, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

The price of solar energy in the U.S. continues to fall substantially, according to the latest editions of two annual reports produced by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). A third Berkeley Lab report, written in collaboration with researchers at Yale Univ., the Univ. of Texas at Austin and the DOE, shows that local permitting and other regulatory procedures can significantly impact residential photovoltaic prices.

Scientists shed light on organic photovoltaic characteristics

September 3, 2014 4:05 pm | News | Comments

The most familiar photovoltaic (PV) designs use rigid layers of silicon crystal, but recently inexpensive organic semiconductor materials have also been used successfully. At this time, organic PV devices are hindered by low efficiency, in part because quantifying their electrical properties is a challenge. Researchers have now developed a method that allows the prediction of the current density-voltage curve of a photovoltaic device.

Breakthrough for carbon nanotube solar cells

September 3, 2014 11:47 am | by Amanda Morris, Northwestern Univ. | News | Comments

Lighter, more flexible and cheaper than conventional solar-cell materials, carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have long shown promise for photovoltaics. But research stalled when CNTs proved to be inefficient, converting far less sunlight into power than other methods. Now a research team has created a new type of CNT solar cell that is twice as efficient as its predecessors.  

Solar fuels as generated by nature

August 25, 2014 7:39 am | News | Comments

A research team investigating an important cofactor in photosynthesis, a manganese-calcium complex which uses solar energy to split water into molecular oxygen, have determined the exact structure of this complex at a crucial stage in the chemical reaction. The new insights into how molecular oxygen is formed at this metal complex may provide a blueprint for synthetic systems that could store sunlight energy in chemical energy carriers.

Solar energy that doesn’t block the view

August 20, 2014 8:05 am | by Tom Oswald, Media Communications, Michigan State Univ. | News | Comments

A team of researchers at Michigan State Univ. has developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through the window. It is called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator and can be used on buildings, cell phones and any other device that has a clear surface.

Recycling old batteries into solar cells

August 18, 2014 7:38 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

This could be a classic win-win solution: A system proposed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology recycles materials from discarded car batteries—a potential source of lead pollution—into new, long-lasting solar panels that provide emissions-free power. The system is based on a recent development in solar cells that makes use of a compound called perovskite.

Study shows how to power California with wind, water and sun

July 25, 2014 6:49 am | by Rob Jordan, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

New Stanford Univ. research outlines the path to a possible future for California in which renewable energy creates a healthier environment, generates jobs and stabilizes energy prices. Among other metrics, the plan calculates the number of new devices and jobs created, land and ocean areas required, and policies needed for infrastructure changes.

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