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Power Technology Science

Solar Power-Cell Breakthrough 361

Posted by Zonk
from the better-to-work-in-the-shade- dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Researchers from the Nanomaterials Research Centre at Massey University in New Zealand have developed synthetic dyes that can be used to generate electricity at one tenth of the cost of current silicon-based solar panels. These photosynthesis-like compounds work in low-light conditions and can be cheaply incorporated into window-panes and building materials, thereby turning them into generators of electricity."
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Solar Power-Cell Breakthrough

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  • by Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @03:34PM (#18626315)
    The power companies are gonna be pissed.
    • Re:Off. The. Grid. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by networkBoy (774728) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @03:36PM (#18626365) Homepage Journal
      No, what will really piss them off is everyone using the grid as a giant storage cell.
      -nB
      • Re:Off. The. Grid. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Romancer (19668) <romancer&deathsdoor,com> on Thursday April 05, 2007 @03:39PM (#18626445) Journal
        Hell yeah!

        Imagine the checks they will have to pay out now that people can set up their roof as a money farm for 1/10 the cost!

        That was the big problem with getting people to install solar. The initial cost was too much. We'll still have to pay for the breaker box upgrade so we can feed power back to the electric company, but at least it won't take 20 years to pay off the solar collectors now.
        • Imagine the checks they will have to pay out now that people can set up their roof as a money farm for 1/10 the cost!

          They'll be crying all the way to the bank. It will most likely get up like used books at a campus bookstore: buy at 25% list, sell at 75% list, bookstore pockets the difference.

          The utility companies would be making more profit than ever, and they wouldn't even have to bother building as many power plants or buying as much fuel.

          • by nasch (598556)
            For a while - perhaps even a long while. But if this really takes off, and all new construction uses this technology, and a lot of existing structures are retrofitted, the power companies are going to see their market shrink drastically. Who do they sell all this power to when half the buildings in their market are putting power back into the grid, and half of the rest are power neutral? Presumably they'll then push for legislation to prop up their obsolete business model.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Waffle Iron (339739)
              I'd wager that given the large up-front costs, it will be a long, long time before each household and business has enough on-site energy storage like flywheels or batteries to cover even short rainy spells. Until that time, the utilities will have plenty of opportunity to buy electricity low and sell it high.
              • Re:Off. The. Grid. (Score:4, Insightful)

                by nasch (598556) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @04:51PM (#18627673)

                Until that time, the utilities will have plenty of opportunity to buy electricity low and sell it high.
                Sure, but that isn't what they're doing now. Some of them will adapt, but I predict many if not most will fail to adapt from a we-make-all-the-power model to a mixed business of making a little power, and moving and storing power to supplement and fill in where their customers cannot make their own. Business that fail to adapt to a changing market generally either go bankrupt and reorganize, go out of business, or try to interfere with the new market conditions with new laws. I would guess we'll see some of all three.
            • Re:Off. The. Grid. (Score:4, Interesting)

              by zippthorne (748122) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @05:25PM (#18628047) Journal
              Then their future would be as power-broker. It still takes time and effort to maintain the grid, and a grid is still better than everyone having batteries, since you can use it to shunt power from where it's bright to where it's dark. Averaging over a whole continent would make solar power pretty reliable.
        • by FooAtWFU (699187)

          Imagine the checks they will have to pay out now that people can set up their roof as a money farm for 1/10 the cost!

          It'll be a bit of a hit, I'm sure, but I'm also sure they'll survive somehow. Imagine the savings they can make by not building another $X00,000,000 power plant and complying with all the environmental regulations and such. You're building the power plant for them! And then they can claim that they're producing more "green" energy, to boot, and perhaps sell it at a higher rate to interested

        • Re:Off. The. Grid. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @04:11PM (#18627061) Journal
          1/10 of the cost? Great. Less than 1/2 the efficiency? Uh-oh.

          In the long run, we're better off with the high-efficiency Si cells.

          Also, we don't have a good idea of the durability of these cells. I'm a bit concerned because of the organic nature; how stable are they? What kind of reduction in efficiency will we see over, say, 20 years?
          • Re:Off. The. Grid. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by AshtangiMan (684031) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @04:37PM (#18627467)
            I don't think you've thought it through . . . if you look at the cost vs. efficiency the paint still comes ahead, even with the efficiency hit. You just bump the area requirements by 2, so you only get a 1/5 cost advantage, so you pay 20% of the equivalent silicon system. Still pretty good. To be sure the efficiency of both is what will change, and as they do this calculation will need to be redone. If you start running into area restrictions (ie the roof area no longer provides enough power) then this might also tip the scales back to the silicon.

            But, I've been hearing about doped polymer based PV cells for a while (along with this 1/10th the cost and 1/2 the efficiency) and they are still not something that I've seen actually working, not to mention actually deployable for a residential application. Interesting idea, hopefully becomes something.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Red Flayer (890720)

              You just bump the area requirements by 2
              But that's the killer. If you're looking at residential use, doubling the area requirement puts this as a supplemental, not primary, energy source. Sure, it's good for that, but if we really want distributed generation to answer our home energy problems, we need density.
          • photobleaching (Score:5, Insightful)

            by bodrell (665409) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @06:32PM (#18628849) Journal
            Also, we don't have a good idea of the durability of these cells. I'm a bit concerned because of the organic nature; how stable are they? What kind of reduction in efficiency will we see over, say, 20 years?

            Very good question. These are not just dyes--they're fluorescent dyes. They absorb a photon in a certain energy range, which puts and electron in an excited state. After a certain amount of time in that excited state (i.e., the "fluorescence lifetime") the electron drops back down to the ground state and emits a photon of lower energy (the difference in energy between absorbed and emitted photons is called the Stokes shift). Every time an electron jumps to that excited state, it can potentially react with an oxidant and destroy the fluorescence (this is known as "photobleaching." If you mix antioxidants with the dye solution you can decrease the rate of photobleaching--such an antioxidant solution is called an "antifade." There are other ways to reduce photobleaching, such as sticking certain chemical moieties onto the dye.

            In short, the stability of the dye system really depends on the dye structure and the presence (or absence) of oxidizing molecules. There are plenty of fluorescent dyes used in lasers, but I don't know how long they last before bleaching. If the dye is in the right solvent (such as DMSO, perhaps) it might take a damn long time to bleach. But the point is that dye is cheap compared to refined silicon, and replacing bleached dye might be as simple as flushing out the old stuff and pouring in a new solution.

            In my opinion there are only two reasonable long-term solutions to solar energy production: 1) Imitate photosynthesis using fluorescent dyes. 2) Let the plants do all the hard work of turning photons + water + carbon dioxide into sugar, then figure out how to imitate cellular respiration and turn sugar into energy (specifically, a separation of charge).

            This site [invitrogen.com] has tons of information about various fluorescent dyes, though it's geared towards use in molecular biology, not photovoltaics (unless you count the voltage-sensing dyes).

        • by Colin Smith (2679)

          Imagine the checks they will have to pay out now that people can set up their roof as a money farm for 1/10 the cost!
          If the supply of electricity increases, the price will drop and the amount they have to pay out will drop. We may find some of the more expensive to run power stations being mothballed.

           
        • Re:Off. The. Grid. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Almost-Retired (637760) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @07:45PM (#18629571)
          That was the big problem with getting people to install solar. The initial cost was too much. We'll still have to pay for the breaker box upgrade so we can feed power back to the electric company, but at least it won't take 20 years to pay off the solar collectors now.

          I know a wee bit about dyes, probably just enough to be dangerous, and one thing these people are apparently forgetting, is that so far, no one has invented an organic based dye that doesn't fade, so in this case, what will be the annual recoating costs in order to maintain the efficiency at an acceptable level?

          Sorry to rain on all the parade plans, but I suspect the short lifetime might be a put off.

          --
          Cheers, Gene
          "There are four boxes to be used in defense of liberty:
            soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Please use in that order."
          -Ed Howdershelt (Author)
          Zoe: "Sir, I think you have a problem with your brain being missing."
                                                                          --Episode #2, "The Train Job"
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by BobPaul (710574) *
        Power grids do not work that way!
        Goodnight!
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by gorgonite (79857)
        This is common practice in germany. The grid operators even have to pay more for power they are fed than for power they feed to their customers. No grid operator has gone bankrupt because of this so far. The reason, obviously, is that the electricity customers have to pay the bill.

        On the other hand, this system has made the renewable energy a huge success in germany, For example, wind energy, which is subidized through the same system, has produced in January approximately 7000GWh of energy.

        Photovoltaics is
    • Re:Off. The. Grid. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BobPaul (710574) * on Thursday April 05, 2007 @03:38PM (#18626407) Journal
      They have the 10 years this will take to come to market to adapt. Remember, this is just an announcement that a university has done research, not that anyone even intends ends to develop it.
    • by quixote9 (999874)
      They'll be REALLY pissed when the meter runs backward, while we're still on the grid, and THET have to pay US. I can't wait.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Dunbal (464142)
        They'll be REALLY pissed when the meter runs backward, while we're still on the grid, and THET have to pay US. I can't wait.

              Not at all. If this stuff actually works, who do you think will end up owning it and selling it to you (for a small monthly fee)? The energy companies certainly have the cash to buy this stuff, lock it up, and send us to patent hell for even thinking about cutting them out of the deal.
        • by Jaysyn (203771)
          The power co-op where I live will most certainly cut you a check if you are feeding power back onto the grid.
      • by NerveGas (168686)
        No, they'll be perfectly happy. Every kilowatt-hour of energy that you pump back in is one that they're charging someone else for receiving... and only paying you a very small portion of what they charged them. If I recall, if they sell it to someone else for 10 cents, you'll get 1 or 2 cents.

    • by NerveGas (168686)
      Or, they could deem night-time hours as "peak hours", and charge you more for electricity then instead of during the day. :-)

      steve
    • by soft_guy (534437)
      A lot of utilities are publicly owned, not for profit. Maybe this will help convince people that they need to revert to that model.
  • ARGH! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday April 05, 2007 @03:39PM (#18626433) Homepage Journal

    FTFA: "Within two to three years we will have developed a prototype for real applications. "The technology could be sold off already, but it would be a shame to get rid of it now." God DAMN it. I want a product now.

    Whinging aside, I found this interesting: "They are also more environmentally friendly because they are made from titanium dioxide - an abundant and non-toxic, white mineral available from New Zealand's black sand." Very funny sentence. But anyway, titanium is one of the most common metallic elements on Earth. The problems with it are that most of it is oxidized, and until recently there has not been a worthwhile electrolytic process for its refinement (I don't know if this is catching on or not.)

    I still think it's just stupid not to work on a first-generation product now, and at the same time, work on making the stuff more efficient. We need this tech and we need it TODAY.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by FooAtWFU (699187)

      We need this tech and we need it TODAY.

      Where I'm sitting, "TODAY" ends in under 8 hours. Assuming you're pointing to the environmentalism angle, I guess the world is doomed?

      On a less snarky note, it's advances like these which give credibility to the philosophy of gradualism in embracing environmentally-friendly technologies. Yes, Al Gore, there is a Global Warming, but it's not going to kill us today, and it's not going to kill us tomorrow, and it may start to make things uncomfortable in the coming dec

      • Re:ARGH! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday April 05, 2007 @04:06PM (#18627001) Homepage Journal

        Assuming you're pointing to the environmentalism angle, I guess the world is doomed?

        Not the world, just day-to-day life as we know it.

        On a less snarky note, it's advances like these which give credibility to the philosophy of gradualism in embracing environmentally-friendly technologies. Yes, Al Gore, there is a Global Warming, but it's not going to kill us today, and it's not going to kill us tomorrow, and it may start to make things uncomfortable in the coming decades but we're going to be a lot better equipped to deal with it then.

        Here's the problem with that: even if we started cutting back our CO2 output (disregarding all of the other pollution we put out that's causing us problems now) by 1% cumulative per year it would still be a long time before we stopped putting out more CO2 than the system can ordinarily handle. But the system is already overstressed, and as you point out the total amount of CO2 will dissipate only slowly. Even if we stopped emitting CO2 today, aside from that which is absolutely necessary, there would still be too much CO2 for quite some time to come.

        Besides global warming, there are other excellent reasons to reduce CO2 output (and that of other undesirable emissions.) Probably the most serious issue at the moment is the acidification of the oceans. We've already been killing off oceanic algae with pollution, like oil spills. Now we're not only threatening algae, which definitely prefers a certain Ph range, but coral reefs have been hurting badly and the acidification of the ocean due to CO2 gas exchange is implicated. Oceanic algae produces the vast majority of the oxygen that we need to survive. CO2 is also toxic and even small increments in the percentage of the atmosphere it makes up causes health problems including dizziness, nausea, and general malaise. Although we can survive exposure to environments which are over the usual amount, it's not good for us - or probably any other mammal.

        The point is that we really needed this technology decades ago, and we're already late on getting started using it. Putting sequestered CO2 into the atmosphere is simply a Bad Idea(tm). Anything we can do to reduce that NOW means that we're going to be in less trouble later. Since we can't immediately stop all CO2 use and we can't go back in time, the problem will get worse before it gets better.

        A slow-and-steady approach to making the world more environmentally friendly will combat climate change a lot better than the radical agenda you will so often find advocated.

        I cannot disagree strongly enough. If we could actually follow the so-called radical agenda, which I like to call the rational agenda since we all live in the atmosphere and we will all suffer if it becomes less hospitable to human life, then it would be a positive thing. We are quite simply living beyond the means of the Earth to sustain us. The only truth in your statement comes from the fact that the "radical" environmentalists can only push the obstinate defilers of the planet so quickly. But without them asking for a certain level of change, we would be unlikely to have even the positive change we are currently implementing.

        • by RingDev (879105)
          "CO2 is also toxic and even small increments in the percentage of the atmosphere it makes up causes health problems including dizziness, nausea, and general malaise."

          So does Dihydrogren monoxide, but you don't see the world panicing over it do you?

          The problem with the 'radical' approach is that there are unintended consequences. Quite a bit of which is the result of 'progress for progress sake'. The social-economic effects of fighting global climate change in a radical manner could very well be worse than t
        • Moderating my parent comment Overrated before it has even been up-moderated is an abuse of the moderation system. It is abundantly clear that the moderation was used in this case because someone did not agree with me, and knew that any other negative moderation would be denied in metamoderation.

          The individual who did this is an enemy of slashdot, and is actively working to make the system not work - not that it needs much help, since the issues with the "Funny" and "Overrated" modes are a design problem.

          T

        • overstressed (Score:4, Insightful)

          by epine (68316) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @08:31PM (#18629921)

          But the system is already overstressed ...

          No one has ever demonstrated the global environment is "overstressed". We've predicted changes that might make a life a little less comfortable for one of the few species that remains entirely comfortable. But mother nature never put "comfort" on the menu in the first place. Every motile organism that ever lived began life by swimming away from its excrement, until levels of the excrement changed the local environment and then the organism begins to adapt to the nature consequence of its own success. Humans have followed the same game plan up until now that every other species has followed.

          Did the cyanobacteria producing oxygen in the Siderian age give a damn about their toxic waste stream? And let's be clear here: oxygen is far more toxic to the environment that carbon-dioxide. The difference, like a bad marriage you can't function without, is that we're plenty acclimated by now to oxygen's toxic effects, except for that little detail that cancer hasn't been beaten (not yet, anyway).

          The world's genetic bank proliferates designs during periods of relative stability, then prunes the non-performing accounts during periods of more rapid change. This can be defined as "overstressed", if you wish, by the same logic that every minor downturn in the national economy results in public wailing and gnashing; but equally well, could simply be viewed as the natural order of things. For every GM that puts 30,000 employees on the used car lot, a Google springs up to replace it.

          I believe that mother nature is very far from having exhausted her last trick. The downside is that some of those tricks might come at humanity's expense, so we project our own stress about our own comfort onto the planet to make ourselves feel better. While we might seriously compromise our standard of living by destroying organisms that contribute to our quality of life, the planet itself would be quite comfortable spending a hundred million years or two mending its fences, following a well established three-billion-year tradition.
      • by rbanffy (584143)

        Yes, Al Gore, there is a Global Warming, but it's not going to kill us today, and it's not going to kill us tomorrow, and it may start to make things uncomfortable in the coming decades but we're going to be a lot better equipped to deal with it then. A slow-and-steady approach to making the world more environmentally friendly will combat climate change a lot better than the radical agenda you will so often find advocated.

        Do you really think he reads Slashdot?!

      • by whistlingtony (691548) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @06:45PM (#18628983)
        It's a funny thing, people everywhere always have the idea that technology will come along and save us. Some future tech will make it all better....

        Bah Humbug. We have everything we need right now.

        solar power can be put on new homes. It just isn't.
        small and quiet wind generators exist. They could be put in everyones back yard. They just aren't.
        We have efficient vehicles. They're just not popular.
        Most people live within 10 miles of their work. They could bike. They just don't.
        We've had the tech to clean water using plants for 40 years. It's just not used.
        We have the tech to build efficient homes. Instead we slap up quick and crappy ones. .....
        Etc.

        We have the tech. Tech is not the problem. The only thing holding us back now is the culture and will to do what we can already do.

        Don't go looking for a miracle solution. They exist, lazy people just don't use them.

        -T

        P.S. I hate you all.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by DrSkwid (118965)
        Where I live it's *always* today.

    • I still think it's just stupid not to work on a first-generation product now, and at the same time, work on making the stuff more efficient. We need this tech and we need it TODAY.

      Personally, I'm a fan of direct matter-to-energy conversion. That would solve all our energy problems, once and for all. We need that tech and we need it TODAY! Why does someone give me a first-generation product now?

      It must be a conspiracy by Evil Big Oil(tm).

    • The problems with it are that most of it is oxidized, and until recently there has not been a worthwhile electrolytic process for its refinement (I don't know if this is catching on or not.)
      The porphyrin dye solar cell uses the oxidized titanium -- no need for electrolysis.

      I still think it's just stupid not to work on a first-generation product now
      Well, that's what they are looking for funding for, prototyping a product.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Well, that's what they are looking for funding for, prototyping a product.

        one of the articles, I forget which of the two, specifically quotes the new project manager as saying that they will be doing further research into improving efficiency before they attempt to create a product.

    • A little about TiO2 (Score:4, Informative)

      by Ogemaniac (841129) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @04:06PM (#18626995)
      First, Ti in any form is not particulary common, and good ores with an economically valuable Ti percentage are hard to come by (though NZ and AU are were most of it is found). Our current known reserves of good Ti ore are projected to run out by mid-century, but I always buy these projections with a bit of skepticism.

      That being said, the amount of Ti used in such a panel is trivial, because the layer's thicknesses are measured in nanometers and microns. Your golf clubs have as much Ti as a football field of such panels. Refining of TiO2 to Ti metal is expensive and energy intensive, and I presume it is necessary in order to make these panels, even though the panels actually use TiO2. The process is probably Ti02 ore -> Ti -> TiCl4 -> TiO2 nanostructures. This is because the TiO2 in the panels needs to be extremely pure, and TiCl4, being a gas, can be distilled. It is then mixed with water under controlled conditions to release HCl and produce the nano-particles/structures necessary for the panels.

      This article seems mostly hype to me. TiO2 nanostructures along with various dies are heavily researched around the world, with thousands of published articles. Since the article has no data, I presume all that happened was that these guys beat the previous efficiency record by a whee bit. The problem with these types of cells is that the efficiency still sucks...around 5% vs 20% for a standard silicon-based cell, and 40% for top of the line multi-junction cells (which are enormously expensive and are currently used for things like satellites or the Mars rovers). In a typical silicon cell, the silicon is about half the cost of the final package (not including the inverters, installation and all that jazz, however). Therefore, even if these TiO2 and dies cost ten times less, that won't even reduce the cost by 50%...and then you need several times the acreage to collect the energy you need.

      For now, and for at least another decade in the future, silicon is king. Unfortunately, it is very expensive and there is a serious demand crunch right now, driving prices even higher (though many silicon manufacturers are heavily ramping production to solve this).
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        First, Ti in any form is not particulary common, and good ores with an economically valuable Ti percentage are hard to come by (though NZ and AU are were most of it is found). Our current known reserves of good Ti ore are projected to run out by mid-century, but I always buy these projections with a bit of skepticism.

        I read up and I was mistaken - it's the fourth most common metal on Earth and makes up 0.63% of the mass of the Earth (according to wikipedia.) That's still quite a bit of the stuff.

        Ti is sti

        • by Ogemaniac (841129)
          Silicon, oxygen, and iron are common. Everything else is rare, though some things tend to accumulate and thereby make it realitively easy to extract them. Unfortunately, Ti is not one of them.

          Did you know that a typical drop of sea water has 50,000,000,000 gold atoms? Good luck finding them.

          In any case, Ti ore supply is not critical to this application - efficiency is.
    • Last I heard, dye based TiO2 cells were on the order of about 5% efficient. Still, at 1/10th the price it's still cheap.
       
  • Cutting To The Chase (Score:5, Informative)

    by w33t (978574) * on Thursday April 05, 2007 @03:39PM (#18626441) Homepage
    This is a very interesting collision of physical and organic chemistry. Discoveries like this are why I (and I'm sure many others) find myself (themselves) becoming a() bigger and bigger advocate(s) of solar power every day. There is so much power streaming out of the sun. really, every single power source on the planet (save perhaps nuclear) derives from a solar process. Our beloved/lamented fossil fuels wouldn't exist without the creatures that created those fossils -- creatures who ate plants, ate something that ate plants or were actually plants themselves: plants use the sun.

    Even hydroelectric power owes its existence to the sun. Perhaps in very ancient times evaporation didn't require a star close by due to the young, heated surface of the planet. But today's surface temperatures just won't cut it without our friendly star.

    Wind power...well, I'm not really saying anything new here. Everyone feel free to cringe at the thought of the inefficiency of grain ethanol!

    Basically, if you are an advocate of nuclear power as clean power, well then you should probably turn your fandom towards the biggest nuclear power plant in the solar system...of course, I've personally got no problem with some breeder and a couple dozen pebble-bed reactors - just saying ;)

    So what if we are just consuming its leftovers, with a giant picnic like that we ants can be assured of a bountiful feast of crumbs :)

    Which brings me to my point which I had forgotten.

    These researchers have taken a hint from nature's own, good-old photosynthesis. So to me, it seems as though we have cut the hydrocarbon out of the solar-food-chain. Rather than waiting a couple million years for plants to convert sunlight into food for themselves and other creatures, die off and then turn into black, sweet, sweet crude; we simply cut out the middle-men/middle-dinosaurs and make direct use of the sun's bounty.

    Solar-power is the most elegant power source yet discovered. Now to harness it cleanly.
    • by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @03:55PM (#18626795) Journal
      The mistakes that we have made WRT to energy is that we went to just several forms of energy. We have oil for transportation and coal for electricity (save a few countries, the majority is coal). Other than France, NO country is truly dependent on Nukes (America is 2'nd largest user at only 19%). In addition, NONE are dependent on alternative (though Greenland is heading towards geo-thermal in a big way).

      So, now, you suggest that we should move PURELY to 1 form of energy? Hopefully, we will learn our lessons and just say No Thanx. I want to see alternative such as solar brought in in a BIG way, but it make good sense to continue using nukes. In addition, we should continue trying to obtain a fusion power. Somewhere down the road, either fission or fusion could be used for transportation to the planets or better other stars.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by greenbird (859670)

        (though Greenland is heading towards geo-thermal in a big way)

        Yeah, but the entire energy requirements of Greenland could probably be handled by half a dozen Honda generators.

    • by AJWM (19027)
      every single power source on the planet (save perhaps nuclear) derives from a solar process.

      Not to take away from your main point, which I endorse, but tidal power is also (mostly) non-solar, tides being derived mostly from interaction with Lunar gravity (and a little from the Sun's). Actually I guess the actual energy source is the angular momentum of the proto solar system; by tapping tidal energy we slow down the Earth-Moon system just a little bit.

      But yes, cheap direct solar-electric is much to be desi
      • by Surt (22457)
        And importantly: by using tidal power, we help prolong the coming of the disastrous day when the moon escapes earth's orbit.
        • I thought the moon is ours forever, until the sun goes crazy. According to this [space.com] at that point the moon and earth will be locked facing each other. The moon will be much further away from the earth, and earth's day will be 47 current days long.

          Was there some development I missed? I tried goobling for it.
    • by Jherico (39763)

      There is so much power streaming out of the sun. really, every single power source on the planet (save perhaps nuclear) derives from a solar process.

      Not quite. There are basically 3 power sources available on earth. There is solar energy, nuclear energy and geothermal energy. Nuclear energy is really just another form of solar energy from other suns since the radioactive elements are created in supernovas. Geothermal energy taps heat generated from both nuclear decay within the earth (back to nuclear e

    • by dvice_null (981029) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @05:43PM (#18628295)
      > Discoveries like this are why I find myself becoming a bigger and bigger advocate of solar power every day.
      > There is so much power streaming out of the sun.

      Nah, solar power is not a good solution in a long run. Sun lasts, what? 5 000 000 000 years? We need to find a power source that doesn't run out of fuel.
  • To be precise... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Photosynthesis isn't a compound; it's a process.
  • Good idea but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zappepcs (820751) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @03:41PM (#18626501) Journal
    the article was a bit 'light' on the details. It would be more enlightening if they had revealed even a ray of technical information. One tenth of the cost? For equal power output?
    • Whaddaya mean? Newspapers are required by law to print no useful information at all in a scientific/technology article. They get bonuses for printing wrong information.
      • by Tumbleweed (3706) *
        That makes for a very efficient symbiosis with the typical Slashdot reader who doesn't RTFA.
    • Yeah, it is frankly ridiculous to say something like you will produce power at one tenth the cost of conventional solar regarding a product that has not even been produced at the pilot scale. Of course, looking a wee bit more closely reveals that this figure comes from a press release by reps of the university, who are, the first article reveals, actively engaged in seeking funding for the next phase. So basically that number could be described as an optimistic projection by biased analysts. If one were
      • But until a commercial product is being produced and some sensible grasp of the scale economies involved can be determined, any cost projections are pie in the sky.

        Also: You need to know how long the technology's panels will last.

        At the current interest rates it does you no good to pay only a tenth the cost if it stops working in a thirtieth of the time. Not to mention that having to replace your shingles and siding every couple years because it quit generating adds still more costs - not all of them dire
  • Numbers please. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ryan C. (159039) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @03:43PM (#18626529)
    Gratzel Cells have been around for quite some time. The trick is to get any kind of efficiency out of them. Wake me when I can buy one, I'm getting sick of seeing solar cell venture capitalist hype every two weeks.
  • Okay, I RTFAs, but they're both a little light (sorry!) on detail. What's the efficiency? Are the test cells some kind of thin capsule holding a solution of this stuff or are the dye molecules embedded in something solid? They talk about "1/10 cost of silicon cells" -- is that per generated watt or per unit area or what? (Hopefull the former).

    • An earlier poster made an passing reference to Gratzel cells [wikipedia.org]. From the Wikipedia article this does indeed appear to be what TFAs are talking about: dye-sensitized solar cells. The Ti is not part of the porphyrin dye, but is actually as the oxide, TiO2. A photon stimulates an electron to transfer from the dye molecule to the conduction band of the TiO2. (Iodine is also involved as part of the cycle, at least as described above.)

      The wiki mentions a Swiss 7% efficient experimental cell (using some exotic
  • Coral (Score:3, Informative)

    by normuser (1079315) * <normuser@whyisthishere.com> on Thursday April 05, 2007 @03:45PM (#18626585) Homepage Journal
    here are the coral links. site is slashdotted right now so I dont know when it'l get cached.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz.nyud.net:8080/4017784a13.ht ml [nyud.net]
    http://masseynews.massey.ac.nz.nyud.net:8080/2007/ Press_Releases/04-04-07.html [nyud.net]
  • Not again (Score:5, Funny)

    by slickwillie (34689) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @03:48PM (#18626627)
    Is this the official annual "Solar Power Breakthrough" that is never heard from again?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by crymeph0 (682581)
      No, it's the official hexannual "Solar Power Breakthrough" that is never heard from again.
  • And just how many articles have there been about new, improved, better than ever before, solar cells? I lose track.
    • by cyfer2000 (548592)
      Far less than new, improved, better than ever before CPUs.
    • by belg4mit (152620)
      And what, exactly, would you expect as progress marches on?

      This just in! Researchers develop solar cell that's exactly like
      what was available before they started with no improvements
      whatsoever!

      OR

      Scientists at Lucent have created solar cells so spectactularly
      crappy that their existence has begun to degrade the performance
      of existing installations.
  • Can anyone can comment on the likelihood of us ever having this. At some point, with a technology like this, doesn't it seem that we could build energy self-sufficient buildings at very minimal additional cost, and wouldn't the coal and other industries that make a pretty penny off electricity generation for the consumer be very opposed to this?

    What's a good analog for this, historically?

    Given all the recent developments, it seems like within 10 years we're done with that whole bigass powerplant thing.

  • There was an article on some PV cell or other at 1/100 the cost. It was supposed to be cheap enough you could cover building walls with it. What ever happened to that one? Searching for a couple year old post with common keywords is pretty futile.
  • Efficiency? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @03:52PM (#18626745) Journal
    FTA:

    "This is a proof-of-concept cell," said researcher Wayne Campbell, pointing to a desktop demonstration model.
    "Within two to three years we will have developed a prototype for real applications.
    ...

    Now the team is seeking extra funding to go commercial.

    Ahh.. I see.

    I thought that currently porphyrin dye cells had an efficiency of under 6.5%... commercial silicon cells are 14-16%, while multi-junction research lab cells are getting over 40%... (but use some rare/expensive compounds).

    What I like is the ability to generate electricity in less-than-ideal light conditions, but the efficiency is a concern.
    • by NerveGas (168686)
      In one of the articles, they claim to have the most efficient porphyrin dye in the world. If that's true, even with just 6.5% - or maybe they're a little above that - most people still have plenty of square footage on their roofs, it's just the cost-per-watt that matters. Well, maybe cost-per-kilowatt-hour, because longevity should be factored in.
      • I most certainly do not have the square footage available on my roof. I would imagine that most people do not either. I helped install solar panels in third world tropical countries. We used cells with an efficiency of 10% or so, covering a flat cement roof that was 200 X 50 feet generated an average of 8 kilowatt hours. It is enough for lights, and a computer or two, but not enough for the typical western lifestyle ( refrigerator, air conditioning, water heater, Tv).

        We need to start look at how we are
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by AJWM (19027)
      I thought that currently porphyrin dye cells had an efficiency of under 6.5%... commercial silicon cells are 14-16%,

      If porphyrin-based cells can be produced (at that efficiency) for less than 1/3 the cost of silicon cells, then they're ahead of the game on cost/watt. Absolute efficiency only matters where you're area-limited. Most houses use less energy than even 6% of the sunlight that falls on their roofs (except perhaps at extreme latitudes).
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LunaticTippy (872397)
      I don't see how efficiency matters. If we could make asphalt that was 0.01% efficient converting solar energy to electricity and cost the same as regular asphalt our energy crisis would be solved.

      If you have a cheap enough cell it is pretty easy to find somewhere to put it.
  • Longevity? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Radon360 (951529) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @03:55PM (#18626801)

    (Yeah, it's been mentioned already. The article is light on details.)

    What's the longevity of this stuff? Does it fade? What other degradation issues does it face? Silicon-based cells also DO degrage over time,too...at least their output diminishes somewhat. Is the rejuvenation process as easy as slopping on a new coat of paint?

    Cool stuff, just curious as to what are the caveats when comparing implementation costs to traditional solar photovoltaics.

  • There's a great typo in the article: "Dr Campbell said that unlike silicone-based solar cells, the dye- based cells are still able to operate in low-light conditions, making them ideal for cloudy climates."
    For some reason, the summary didn't contain the typo. I'm disappointed.
  • Hmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cedric Tsui (890887) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @04:11PM (#18627065)
    Another poster claims a maximum efficiency of 6.5%.

    What would be cool is if the waste energy wasn't in heat but just in unabsorbed wavelengths. Then we could cheaply make windows which would be a bit tinted (which we like anyways) and then daisy chain them to produce electricity. Say, in sky scrapers where it's all glass anyways.

    It would be very neat if they were cheap enough that it wouldn't really matter where you put it for it to pay for itself.
    • by belg4mit (152620)
      "It would be very neat if they were cheap enough that it wouldn't really matter where you put it for it to pay for itself."
      One-size-fits-all thinking is a major contributor to the general crappiness of the status quo.
  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @04:19PM (#18627205) Journal
    Weird article. Lessee.
    >Dr Campbell said that unlike silicone-based solar cells, the dye- based cells are still able to operate in low-light conditions

    I'm unfamiliar with these silicone-based solar cells: are those the ones you tape on Pam Anderson's breasts?

    Titanium/titanium dioxide? All the dyes they talk about are organic: porphyrins are heterocyclic aromatics [wikipedia.org] that complex a metal ion in their centers. Not titanium dioxide, the compound: a metallic ion all by itself. Probably iron or magnesium. Ditto hemoglobin.

    With those complaints aside, one of the neat things about using naturally produced chromophores is that, well, they're naturally produced, so we could get them in enormous quantities. Similarly, they can be tuned, so you could have ones that absorb different wavelengths of light, with high efficiency, stacked, to extract more energy out of the sunlight than a single-bandgap cell like most photovoltaics.

    But essentially they're trying to replicate the behavior of plants, and rather than messing about with dyes in solution, it seems way more productive (although, clearly, harder) to try and get plant cells to do this for us: harness the ion gradients in their chloroplasts, parasitize their electric potential. Most of the machinery is already there. We just need to get the voltage potential outside the cell.
  • Energy Budget (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @05:04PM (#18627829) Homepage Journal
    What is the actual %efficiency of these dyes, or a curve (especially in their claimed low light operation)? And how much energy is consumed manufacturing them (and their carrier infrastructure), other than "less than silicon"?

    Photosynthesis is maximum 12% efficient - putting the current max ~25% of silicon in perspective. But silicon panels, though relatively expensive (in $ and energy) to manufacture, last so long at full efficiency that there's little energy required to maintain them, for decades, until they're expensive again in recycling/disposal. If these dyes are less stable in punishing sunlight (up to 1KW:m^2), and need costly maintenance, at lower efficiency, silicon might still be the lowest cost solution.
  • by Old Wolf (56093) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @05:50PM (#18628385)
    People have objected to electric cars in the past because the fossil fuels used to generate the electricity to charge them cancels out any supposed benefits. But if the car can get all of its power from the sun -- and recharge when it is parked -- then they suddenly *are* cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Indeed. It would be awesome if the paint on the car held the solar generating dyes under a clearcoat, so it was continuously generating electricity. Location tracking and purpose designed street lights might even enable pay-per-mile night time driving.
  • by mike1948337 (1084759) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @05:55PM (#18628453)
    These guys already have that technology and are about to start production. http://www.nanosolar.com/ [nanosolar.com]
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @07:41PM (#18629539) Homepage

    This article is yet another "we have a new chemistry and it's gonna be really cheap real soon now" article. Here's the real deal in solar power.

    Yesterday, Mark Pinto from Applied Materials gave a talk in EE380 at Stanford [stanford.edu] on where they're going. Applied Materials is the biggest maker of semiconductor fab equipment, and they've branched out into making fab equipment for display panels and then solar cells.

    To get costs down for big flat panel displays is a manufacturing technology problem. Applied Materials went at it in typical semiconductor-fab fashion - scaling up the fab size. They're now making panels of about 5 square meters in area. These are then cut up into 50-inch TV sets.

    Once they got that working, they adapted the huge machinery involved to making solar panels. This turned out to work quite well. Since they're adapting a process that produces higher-quality product than a solar cell, they don't have significant quality problems. The solar-cell only makers tend to have spotty quality; he pointed out that with some solar panels, not all the cells are exactly the same color, which indicates trouble in the coating process.

    With size and quality working, the next step is volume. They're about to build the first "40 megawatt fab" [businesswire.com], one that produces in a year enough solar panels to generate 40 megawatts. These are big panels, 2.2m x 2.6m. The price of the electricity produced should be just about even with peak-hour energy costs in Spain, where this is going. Energy payback (when you get more energy out than was required to make the panel) is about two years. That plant comes on line in 2008.

    The next step is the "gigawatt fab", a scale-up of that plant. This is part of Applied Materials' "Solar Strategy" [businesswire.com]. Their position is that the technology is here; it's just necessary to get it into volume production, real volume production. Which is what Applied Materials is good at.

    Now we're talking about serious production volume. Three or four such plants could build enough solar cells to cover Southern California's air conditioning energy load in five years.

    Meanwhile, they have investments in some other technologies, including a "roll to roll" flexible solar cell technology, and some exotic ideas like tinted glass windows that also generate power. But they don't need a breakthrough. The current technology is good enough to be profitable, so they can start making product and shipping it in volume, while research proceeds on lowering the cost further. Pinto pointed out that about half the cost of solar power is now installation, and that needs to move beyond "a guy with a pickup truck".

    So that's what's really happening. Big machines in big factories built by big companies cranking out big solar panels in big volume. Which is how you solve big problems.

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. -- Lazarus Long, "Time Enough for Love"

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