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Clearing up cloudy understanding on solar power plant output

March 19, 2014 8:15 am | by Stephanie Hobby, Sandia National Laboratories | News | Comments

Sandia National Laboratories engineers have been studying the most effective ways to use solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays—a clean, affordable and renewable way to keep the power on. Systems are relatively easy to install and have relatively small maintenance costs. They begin working immediately and can run unassisted for decades.

Innovative solar-powered toilet ready for India unveiling

March 14, 2014 11:54 am | News | Comments

A self-contained, waterless toilet, designed and built using a $777,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has the capability of heating human waste enough to sterilize the waste and create biochar, a highly porous charcoal. The toilet, fueled by the sun, is being developed to help some of the 2.5 billion people around the world lacking safe and sustainable sanitation, and will be unveiled in India this month.

NIST zero-energy house gives back to the grid

March 14, 2014 7:50 am | News | Comments

Over the first six months in their special, new, four-bedroom home in suburban Maryland, the Nisters, a prototypical family of four, earned about $40 by exporting 328 kW-h of electricity into the local grid, while meeting all of their varied energy needs. These virtual residents of the Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF) on the campus of NIST didn't have to skimp the creature comforts of 21st century living, either.

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Imec achieves record 8.4% efficiency in fullerene-free organic solar cells

March 11, 2014 9:50 am | News | Comments

Organic solar cells are a compelling thin-film photovoltaic technology in part because of their compatibility with flexible substrates and tunable absorption window. Belgium-based chipmaker imec has set a new conversion efficiency record of 8.4% for this type of cell by developing fullerene-free acceptor materials and a new multilayer semiconductor device structure.

Atomically thin solar cells

March 10, 2014 12:56 pm | News | Comments

Graphene is not the only ultrathin material that exhibits special electronic properties. Ultrathin layers made of tungsten and selenium have recently been created in Austria that show a high internal efficiency when used to gather sunlight. More than 95% of light passes straight through, but a tenth of what is stopped is converted to electricity.

New hybrid material promising for solar fuels

March 9, 2014 11:42 pm | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

A new study by Berkeley Lab researchers shows that nearly 90% of the electrons generated by a hybrid material designed to store solar energy in hydrogen are being stored in the target hydrogen molecules. Interfacing the semiconductor gallium phosphide with a cobaloxime catalyst provides an inexpensive photocathode for bionic leaves that produce energy-dense fuels from nothing more than sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.

Team discovers unexpected effect of heavy hydrogen in organic solar cells

March 6, 2014 10:55 am | by Morgan McCorkle, Oak Ridge National Laboratory | News | Comments

Photovoltaic spray paint could coat the windows and walls of the future if scientists are successful in developing low-cost, flexible solar cells based on organic polymers. Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently discovered an unanticipated factor in the performance of polymer-based solar devices that gives new insight on how these materials form and function.

Researchers identify key intermediate steps in artificial photosynthesis reaction

March 6, 2014 9:11 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Artificial photosynthesis, in which we emulate the process used by nature to capture energy from the sun and convert it into electrochemical energy, is expected to be a major asset in any sustainable energy portfolio for the future. Artificial photosynthesis offers the promise of producing liquid fuels that are renewable and can be used without exacerbating global climate change.

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Superabsorbing design may lower manufacturing cost of thin-film solar cells

February 26, 2014 7:42 am | by Matt Shipman, News Services, North Carolina State Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers from North Carolina State Univ. have developed a superabsorbing design that may significantly improve the light absorption efficiency of thin-film solar cells and drive down manufacturing costs. The superabsorbing design could decrease the thickness of the semiconductor materials used in thin-film solar cells by more than one order of magnitude without compromising the capability of solar light absorption.

Nanotechnology may be key to solar energy and energy storage

February 25, 2014 1:40 pm | News | Comments

A new study from the International Electrotechnical Commission and the Fraunhofer Institute in Europe has found that nanotechnology will bring significant benefits to the energy sector, especially to energy storage and solar energy. Improved materials efficiency and reduced manufacturing costs are just two of the real economic benefits that nanotechnology already brings these fields and that’s only the beginning.

New, inexpensive production materials boost promise of hydrogen fuel

February 24, 2014 8:36 am | by Chris Barncard, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Generating electricity is not the only way to turn sunlight into energy we can use on demand. The sun can also drive reactions to create chemical fuels, such as hydrogen, that can in turn power cars and trains. The trouble with solar fuel production is the cost of producing the sun-capturing semiconductors and the catalysts to generate fuel.

Sun powers complex cancer test for remote regions

February 21, 2014 8:19 am | by Blaine Friedlander, Cornell Univ. | News | Comments

From the sun, a solution: Cornell Univ. and Weill Cornell Medical College researchers have remodeled an energy-intensive medical test, designed to detect a deadly skin cancer related to HIV infections, to create a quick diagnostic assay perfect for remote regions of the world. By harnessing the sun’s power and employing a smartphone application, medical technicians may now handily administer reliable assays for Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Solar-induced hybrid fuel cell produces electricity directly from biomass

February 19, 2014 7:45 am | by John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Although low-temperature fuel cells powered by methanol or hydrogen have been well studied, existing low-temperature fuel cell technologies can’t directly use biomass as a fuel because of the lack of an effective catalyst system for polymeric materials. Now, researchers have developed a new type of low-temperature fuel cell that directly converts biomass to electricity with assistance from a catalyst activated by solar or thermal energy.

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Artificial leaf jumps developmental hurdle

February 18, 2014 11:00 am | News | Comments

In a recent early online edition of Nature Chemistry, Arizona State Univ. scientists, along with colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory, have reported advances toward perfecting a functional artificial leaf. Designing an artificial leaf that uses solar energy to convert water cheaply and efficiently into hydrogen and oxygen is one of the goals of BISfuel.

Huge U.S. thermal plant opens as industry grows

February 14, 2014 11:43 am | by Brian Skoloff and Michael R. Blood, Associated Press | News | Comments

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which sprawls across roughly 5 square miles of federal land near the California-Nevada border, formally opened on Feb. 13 after years of regulatory and legal tangles ranging from relocating protected tortoises to assessing the impact on Mojave milkweed and other plants. The plant, the world’s largest of its type, will test a balance between conservation and green energy growth.

Study: Renewable energy won’t fix Abu Dhabi’s consumption problem

February 13, 2014 1:15 pm | News | Comments

Abu Dhabi’s recent expensive renewable energy venture will neither allow the United Arab Emirates to forgo construction of conventional energy generation, nor will it provide more than a token reduction in carbon-emissions growth, according to a new paper from Rice Univ.’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Possible explanation for light-degradation silicon solar cells

February 13, 2014 10:19 am | by Ralf Butscher, Helmholtz Center | News | Comments

An undesired effect in thin film amorphous silicon solar cells has puzzled the scientific community for the last 40 years. This effect, known as light-induced degradation, is responsible for reducing solar cell efficiency over time. Researchers in Germany have recently demonstrated that tiny voids within the silicon network are partly responsible for 10 to 15% efficiency loss as soon as they are used.

NREL report finds similar value in two concentrating solar technologies

February 12, 2014 10:04 am | News | Comments

Parabolic troughs and dry-cooled towers deliver similar value for concentrating solar power (CSP) plants, despite different solar profiles, a new report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has found. The report found that the value of delivered energy of dry-cooled tower and parabolic trough CSP plants, integrated with thermal energy storage, are quite similar.

Researchers improve process for manufacturing efficient solar cells

February 6, 2014 9:04 am | by Bill Kisliuk, Univ. of California, Los Angeles | News | Comments

Working on the cutting edge of a newly emerging area of solar-cell research, Univ. of California, Los Angeles engineers have invented a new process for manufacturing highly efficient photovoltaic materials that shows promise for low-cost industrial production. The new process uses so-called perovskite materials, which in the past few years have significantly advanced scientists' efforts to create the next generation of solar cells.

Getting a charge from changes in humidity

January 27, 2014 11:15 am | News | Comments

A new type of electrical generator uses bacterial spores to harness the untapped power of evaporating water, according to research conducted at the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard Univ. Its developers foresee electrical generators driven by changes in humidity from sun-warmed ponds and harbors.

Solar cell technology captures high-energy photons more efficiently

January 24, 2014 8:38 am | News | Comments

Getting the blues is rarely a desirable experience—unless you’re a solar cell, that is. Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory and the Univ. of Texas at Austin have together developed a new, inexpensive material that has the potential to capture and convert solar energy—particularly from the bluer part of the spectrum—much more efficiently than ever before.

Maximizing solar cells

January 22, 2014 11:34 am | News | Comments

As part of his PhD, postdoctoral research fellow Dr. Daniel Tune in Australia has designed a computer modelling system that shows which combination of carbon nanotubes absorb the most sunlight, therefore providing the most energy. In 2011, researchers in the U.S. successfully fabricated a solar cell using carbon nanotubes, but there are more than 70 different types of carbon nanotube that could be used in such solar cells.

From a carpet of nanorods to a thin film solar cell absorber within seconds

January 22, 2014 11:14 am | News | Comments

Researchers in Ireland and Germany have discovered a novel solid state reaction which lets kesterite grains grow within a few seconds and at relatively low temperatures. The work points towards a new pathway for the fabrication of thin microcrystalline semiconductor films without the need of expensive vacuum technology.

Understanding perovskite-based solar cells

January 22, 2014 9:18 am | News | Comments

In only a few years, the efficiency of perovskite-based solar cells has increased from 3% to more than 16%. However, a detailed explanation of the mechanisms of operation within this photovoltaic system is still lacking. in recent work, scientists have now uncovered the mechanism by which these novel light-absorbing semiconductors transfer electrons along their surface.

How to tap the sun’s energy through heat as well as light

January 20, 2014 7:43 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

A new approach to harvesting solar energy, developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, could improve efficiency by using sunlight to heat a high-temperature material whose infrared radiation would then be collected by a conventional photovoltaic cell. This technique could also make it easier to store the energy for later use, the researchers say.

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