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Power Science

Researchers Improve Solar Cell Performance 292

Vegematic writes "Researchers at MIT have improved solar collectors using dyes. They just increased their performance results by a factor of 4. These paint-on materials can increase the power obtained from existing solar cells by a factor of over 40 without needing to track the sun. 'By collecting light over their full surface and concentrating it at their edges, these devices reduce the required area of solar cells and consequently, the cost of solar power. Stacking multiple concentrators allows the optimization of solar cells at each wavelength, increasing the overall power output.' There is also a shorter FAQ available."
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Researchers Improve Solar Cell Performance

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  • by Atomm ( 945911 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @05:17PM (#24158267) Homepage
    You know, when they post another story about the incredible discoveries in solar power that seem to never actually make it to those of us who would be interested if it was cheaper and more efficient..... Show me a company that is already selling this stuff and then I'll be interested.
  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @05:19PM (#24158309)

    Then I'll be real interested.

  • by modmans2ndcoming ( 929661 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @05:37PM (#24158519)

    uhh... you just need to make their life time long enough to do that.

  • by Unending ( 1164935 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @05:41PM (#24158563)
    the truth is the energy crisis *is* solvable, but the bureaucracy responsible doesn't have any incentive to implement the solutions.
  • Re:Factor (Score:3, Insightful)

    by amorsen ( 7485 ) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Friday July 11, 2008 @05:52PM (#24158713)

    At present, all the solar generating plants in the world use mirrors to concentrate the sunlight on the solar cells, thereby greatly increasing performance.

    Only the ones in areas with few clouds. Of course those places are best for solar anyway, but for the rest there's this new technology.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2008 @05:54PM (#24158741)

    Um, if you were paying attention, there's another announcement from some company about their revolutionary increases in solar efficiency every couple of months. They're always 'hopeful' it will be in production 'in a few of years'. It never quite manages to materialize. That is what GP is bitching about (quite justifiably).

  • by edwebdev ( 1304531 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @05:54PM (#24158745)
    Go to science.com and read the actual research paper from the MIT team before blasting their work.
  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @05:58PM (#24158791)
    "seem to never actually make it to those of us who would be interested"

    You say that as though all of the previous breakthrough announcements have turned out to be dead ends or something. Turning basic research into a product takes years, if not decades, so it shouldn't be surprising that you're having to wait a little.
  • by JoeBuck ( 7947 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @06:06PM (#24158861) Homepage
    The method collects sunlight from a larger area and concentrates it on solar cells in a smaller area, meaning you can get more power with fewer solar cells. So the way to get "500% efficient" solar panels would be to extract, say, 20% of the sun's energy hitting an area, with only 4% of that area covered by actual solar cells, with concentrators to collect the sunlight from a larger area and directing it to the cells.
  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @06:06PM (#24158873)

    It is pretty likely there will be an inflection point. At the moment, my take is that the subsidized pay off period is still pushing 20 years, so solar is pretty much only any good if you are rich and don't like it when your power goes away, or if you want to live really far from the grid. When the unsubsidized payback hits 10 years, Joe-dumbass is going to be screwing up an installation on his garage, driving the payback time even lower.

    Up until the inflection point, nothing will seem to make a difference. Afterwords, it will be like "what took so long and where did all those things come from".

  • by anon37 ( 522694 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @06:09PM (#24158905)
    This won't work for the same reason that interior paint won't last on the outside of your house. Interior paints use organic dyes, just like this MIT concentrator. To the great frustration of the paint industry, organic dyes just do not last in sunlight: the molecules breakdown.

    Similar solar concentrator concepts have been looked for three decades (look up, for example, Prof. Reisfeld's work at Hebrew University) and have not yet made it out of the lab.
  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @06:18PM (#24159019)

    Where, and at what time of year? 50w/square meter (this is what you are quoting) is about 5% efficiency in a sunny spot during the summer, and something you could expect from current commercial cells.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2008 @06:32PM (#24159157)

    I read the following:

    They...hopeful...will be...years

  • by BoberFett ( 127537 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @06:52PM (#24159325)

    Government solutions give us things like minimum requirements of corn-based ethanol in your gasoline because: Nothing is quite as intelligent as using your food supply to haul Chinese made goods around the country.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2008 @08:28PM (#24160139)

    It also gave us nuclear power, satellites and the internet... but no one uses that shit.

  • Re:Factor (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AmericanInKiev ( 453362 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:21PM (#24160971) Homepage

    There is a glut of new and exciting ways to bounce light. We have lenses and fresnel mirrors in conical or linear; funnel mirrors, holograms, diffraction grates, and concentric funnel mirrors. (I am the very picture of a modern...)

    I think we've safely reached the point where novel can no longer be consider a useful parameter.

    What is the cost - and what is the efficiency? longevity etc ...

    At some level, we find ourselves on a Titanic, and in need of a solution to a problem with significant time and resource constraints.

    I submit that this proposal, like so many in the same camp, does more to run out the clock, than it does to advance the ball.

    EPRI has reported that Heliostats with salt storage and steam power is the least expensive means to a post-oil world. Unless this technology can demonstrate some advantage relative to the gold standard; I think its noise.

    To your point, there is no real market for neighborhood solar; and there is no social benefit for wasting tax dollars on roof-toys - or anything other than the best-of-breed solutions.


  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:14PM (#24161359) Journal
    Two simple ways to judge TFA (that I haven't read)...

    1. A breakthrough for who/what?

    2. 4x improvement over what/when?

    I'm 50yo and from my own experience the world has definitely changed, IMHO mainly in a good way. Breakthroughs do occur, and when you take science/technology as a whole they have occured at an astonishing rate over the last half century. However even with a science degree and a lifetime of practice reading these things, unless you know something about the subject it can be difficult to tell if a press release is a breakthrough, an advert, or a plea for funding.

    "Whatever it is, they should quit it so I can buy a decent solar panel!"

    As you suggest, sometimes the technology works well but is not taken up because vested interests have had years to rig the game. For example German roofs are now pumping ~1Gw back on to the grid using the excess generated by private solar panels. Germany is not known for it's sunshine any yet many other countries with much more space and sunshine (eg: here in Australia) won't even look at 'net metering' legislation. Of course it's just a coincidence that coal is a huge export earner for Australia and generates over 90% of it's electricity needs.

    The system has always supported the status-quo so if/when you do buy a decent solar panel you may find it an expensive red tape exercise to install it. Ironically, if you go right back to when domestic electricity supply was the breakthrough, you will find the architect of that breakthrough (Edison) had enormous legal and public relations problems with the entrenched gaslight industry who were hell bent on stopping his electric light company.

    Disclaimer: I'm not saying solar is THE answer, just that due to it's decentralization effects on an existing industry solar has more working against it than mere clouds.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12, 2008 @03:20AM (#24162471)

    How do you think the United States built its wonderful continent-spanning railroads in the late 1800s? It shipped in Chinese laborers to work for a few pennies per day. Taking advantage of cheap Chinese is a proud American tradition.

  • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @10:10AM (#24172189) Journal

    Farmers don't "stop growing food for humans", farmers always grow crops for profit. It isn't really about the purpose of the crop, it is about the use of the product. Corn is human consumable when harvested, regardless of whether it is put to that purpose after processing or not.

    Ethanol is made from dent corn. While technically true that dent corn won't kill someone if they eat it, it isn't something that you would want to eat. The starches and other properties not desirable for human consumption have been encourages and enhanced over the years for a variety of reasons including use as agricultural foods or industrial processes. Sometimes, the corn isn't completely digestible in humans which makes it about as nutrient as eating sawdust.

    Why it was put in is very important because it dictates what it's intended use would be. This is highly contrasting to your claims on it. Dent corn is generally one edible in a very short period of time (around 2 weeks late July in my area) before it get too starchy or undesirable. So if you insist on claiming it is food, it would be more appropriate to claim it is food gone bad and being used to other purposes. Either way, claiming the corn used for ethanol isn't human food is accurate.

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI