Green Solar Panels And Other Colors

Researchers from AMOLF, the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) have developed a technology to create efficient bright green colored solar panels. Arrays of silicon nanoparticles integrated in the front module glass of a silicon heterojunction solar cell scatter a narrow band of the solar spectrum and create a green appearance for a wide range of angles. The remainder of the solar spectrum is efficiently coupled into the solar cell. The current generated by the solar panel is only  reduced by 10%. The realization of efficient colorful solar panels is an important step for the integration of solar panels into the built environment and landscape.
research has much focused on maximizing the electricity yield obtained from solar panels: nowadays, commercial panels have a maximum conversion efficiency from sunlight into electricity of around 22%. To reach such high efficiency, silicon solar cells have been equipped with a textured surface with an antireflection layer to absorb as much light as possible. This creates a dark blue or black appearance of the solar panels.

To create the colored solar panels the researchers have used the effect of Mie scattering, the resonant backscattering of light with a particular color by nanoparticles. They integrated dense arrays of silicon nanocylinders with a diameter of 100 nm in the top module cover slide of a high-efficiency silicon heterojunction solar cell. Due to the resonant nature of the light scattering effect, only the green part of the spectrum is reflected; the other colors are fully coupled into the solar cell. The current generated by the mini solar panel (0,7 x 0,7 cm2)  is only reduced by 10%. The solar panel appears green over a broad range of angles up to 75 degrees. The nanoparticles are fabricated using soft-imprint lithography, a technique that can readily be scaled up to large-area fabrication.
The light scattering effect due to Mie resonances is easily controllable: by changing the size of the nanoparticles the wavelength of the resonant light scattering can be tuned. Following this principle the researchers are now working to realize solar cells in other colors, and on a combination of different colors to create solar panels with a white appearance. For the large-scale application of solar panels, it is essential that their color can be tailored.

The new design was published online in the journal Applied Physics Letters.


New Solar System Produces 50 Percent More Energy

A concentrating photovoltaic system (CPV) with embedded microtracking can produce over 50 percent more energy per day than standard silicon solar cells in a head-to-head competition, according to a team of engineers who field tested a prototype unit over two sunny days last fall.

Solar cells used to be expensive, but now they’re getting really cheap,” said Chris Giebink, Charles K. Etner Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, Penn State. “As a result, the solar cell is no longer the dominant cost of the energy it produces. The majority of the cost increasingly lies in everything else — the inverter, installation labor, permitting fees, etc. — all the stuff we used to neglect.

This changing economic landscape has put a premium on high efficiency. In contrast to silicon solar panels, which currently dominate the market at 15 to 20 percent efficiency, concentrating photovoltaics focus sunlight onto smaller, but much more efficient solar cells like those used on satellites, to enable overall efficiencies of 35 to 40 percent. Current CPV systems are large — the size of billboards — and have to rotate to track the sun during the day. These systems work well in open fields with abundant space and lots of direct sun.

What we’re trying to do is create a high-efficiency CPV system in the form factor of a traditional silicon solar panel,” said Giebink.


SuperPowerful Tiny Device Converts Light Into Electricity

In today’s increasingly powerful electronics, tiny materials are a must as manufacturers seek to increase performance without adding bulk. Smaller also is better for optoelectronic devices — like camera sensors or solar cells —which collect light and convert it to electrical energy. Think, for example, about reducing the size and weight of a series of solar panels, producing a higher-quality photo in low lighting conditions, or even transmitting data more quickly.

However, two major challenges have stood in the way: First, shrinking the size of conventionally used “amorphousthin-film materials also reduces their quality. And second, when ultrathin materials become too thin, they are almost transparent — and actually lose some ability to gather or absorb light.

Now, in a nanoscale photodetector that combines both a unique fabrication method and light-trapping structures, a team of engineers from the University at Buffalo (UB) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) has overcome both of those obstacles. The researchers — electrical engineers Qiaoqiang Gan at UB, and Zhenqiang (Jack) Ma and Zongfu Yu at UW-Madison — described their device, a single-crystalline germanium nanomembrane photodetector on a nanocavity substrate, in the July 7, 2017, issue of the journal Science Advances.

This image shows the different layers of the nanoscale photodetector, including germanium (red) in between layers of gold or aluminum (yellow) and aluminum oxide (purple). The bottom layer is a silver substrate

We’ve created an exceptionally small and extraordinarily powerful device that converts light into energy,” says Gan, associate professor of electrical engineering in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and one of the paper’s lead authors. “The potential applications are exciting because it could be used to produce everything from more efficient solar panels to more powerful optical fibers.”

The idea, basically, is you want to use a very thin material to realize the same function of devices in which you need to use a very thick material,” says Ma, the Lynn H. Matthias Professor and Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison, also a lead author. Nanocavities are made up of an orderly series of tiny, interconnected molecules that essentially reflect, or circulate, light.

The new device is an advancement of Gan’s work developing nanocavities that increase the amount of light that thin semiconducting materials like germanium can absorb. It consists of nanocavities sandwiched between a top layer of ultrathin single-crystal germanium and a bottom, reflecting layer of silver.


Sion, The Solar-Powered Car

What has room for 6 passengers, an all-electric range of up to 155 miles (250 kilometers), and a body covered in solar panels that can add as many as 18 miles (30 kilometers) of driving a day from sunlight? That would be the Sono Motors Sion, an innovative solar-powered car from a team of German entrepreneurs that is scheduled to have its world debut on July 27 (2017).

The Sion project was able to move forward thanks to an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign last year that raised over a half million dollars. More than 1,000 people have participated so far.

The car will have two versions. The Urban comes with a 14.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack. It has a range of about 75 miles (121 kilometers) and will cost $13,200. The Extender version has a 30 kilowatt-hour battery and a range of 155 miles (250 kilometers). Its target price is $17,600. Neither price includes the battery. Like the Renault Zoe, customers will either buy the battery separately or lease it. The leasing option gives owners the flexibility to upgrade the battery later as improvements in battery technology become available.

The hood, roof, and rear hatch of the Sion are covered with monocrystalline silicon cells that are 21% efficient. On a sunny day, they can generate enough electricity to add 18 miles of range. The solar cells are 8 millimeters thick and embedded in a polycarbonate layer that is shatterproof, weather resistant, and light in weight. The Sion can also be 80% charged using an AC outlet in about 30 minutes, according to company claims. No DC charging option is available. The car also comes with an outlet that can power electronic devices.

Inside, all the seats of the 5 door hatchback fold flat, offering multiple configurations for carrying passengers and cargo. There is a 10 inch center display and smartphone connectivity via WiFi or Bluetooth. The ventilation system is called breSono and incorporates a dollop of moss, which is said to act as a natural filter when an electrical charge is applied.

The company will offer an online maintenance and repair system it calls reSono. It allows owners to order parts online and comes with a video that shows them how to install the parts when they arrive.  Or they can take the car and the parts to any local auto repair shop facility to get them installed.


Artificial Blowhole Generates Electricity From Ocean Waves

Renewable energy companies want to tap the potential of waves. It’s proved tough to commercialise. But Australian firm Wave Swell Energy thinks it’s turned the tide on wave energy. Its device harnesses wave power like an artificial blowhole.


The waves pass by and it causes the water level inside this artificial chamber, which is open underneath the water, to rise and fall and as it does so it compresses air, and then creates a partial vacuum as it’s falling and we use that motion to drive an air turbine,” says Tom Deniss, CEO of the company Wave Swell Energy.

The oscillating water column concept has been used before, but the Wave Swell model comes with a difference.  “We use uni-directional flow, in other hands, air-flow simply coming in one direction past the turbine, whereas all other attempts have used bidirectional flow. Independent tests found the model was at least twice as efficient as a conventional device. When fully constructed, the device will measure 20 metres by 20 metres, with the air turbine sitting above the water. It will operate off the coast of King Island – in Bass Strait – in May next year, adds Tom Deniss.  “The excellent wave climate there and the support of the local community meant that it was just an ideal location for us to use as a demonstration of the commercial viability of our technology.”
The company hopes to rival the cost of the cheapest global energy sources in five years….finally untapping the power of the ocean.


How To Recycle Carbon Dioxide

An international team of scientists led by Liang-shi Li at Indiana University (IU) has achieved a new milestone in the quest to recycle carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere into carbon-neutral fuels and others materials.


The chemists have engineered a molecule that uses light or electricity to convert the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide — a carbon-neutral fuel source — more efficiently than any other method of “carbon reduction.”

molecular leaf

If you can create an efficient enough molecule for this reaction, it will produce energy that is free and storable in the form of fuels,” said Li, associate professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences‘ Department of Chemistry. “This study is a major leap in that direction.”

Burning fuel — such as carbon monoxide — produces carbon dioxide and releases energy. Turning carbon dioxide back into fuel requires at least the same amount of energy. A major goal among scientists has been decreasing the excess energy needed.

This is exactly what Li’s molecule achieves: requiring the least amount of energy reported thus far to drive the formation of carbon monoxide. The molecule — a nanographene-rhenium complex connected via an organic compound known as bipyridine — triggers a highly efficient reaction that converts carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide. The ability to efficiently and exclusively create carbon monoxide is significant due to the molecule’s versatility.

Carbon monoxide is an important raw material in a lot of industrial processes,” Li said. “It’s also a way to store energy as a carbon-neutral fuel since you’re not putting any more carbon back into the atmosphere than you already removed. You’re simply re-releasing the solar power you used to make it.

The secret to the molecule’s efficiency is nanographene — a nanometer-scale piece of graphite, a common form of carbon (i.e. the black “lead” in pencils) — because the material’s dark color absorbs a large amount of sunlight.

Li said that bipyridine-metal complexes have long been studied to reduce carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide with sunlight. But these molecules can use only a tiny sliver of the light in sunlight, primarily in the ultraviolet range, which is invisible to the naked eye. In contrast, the molecule developed at IU takes advantage of the light-absorbing power of nanographene to create a reaction that uses sunlight in the wavelength up to 600 nanometers — a large portion of the visible light spectrum.

Essentially, Li said, the molecule acts as a two-part system: a nanographeneenergy collector” that absorbs energy from sunlight and an atomic rheniumengine” that produces carbon monoxide. The energy collector drives a flow of electrons to the rhenium atom, which repeatedly binds and converts the normally stable carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide.

The idea to link nanographene to the metal arose from Li’s earlier efforts to create a more efficient solar cell with the carbon-based material. “We asked ourselves: Could we cut out the middle man — solar cells — and use the light-absorbing quality of nanographene alone to drive the reaction?” he said.

Next, Li plans to make the molecule more powerful, including making it last longer and survive in a non-liquid form, since solid catalysts are easier to use in the real world.

The process is reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.


The Rise Of The Hydrogen Electric Car

Right now, if you want an alternative-fuel vehicle, you have to pick from offerings that either require gasoline or an electrical outlet. The gas-electric hybrid and the battery-powered car — your Toyota Priuses, Chevy Volts, and Teslas — are staples in this space. There are drawbacks for drivers of both types. You still have to buy gas for your hybrid and you have to plug in your Tesla — sometimes under less than favorable conditions — lest you be stranded someplace far away from a suitable plug. Beyond that, automakers have been out to find the next viable energy source. Plug-in vehicles are more or less proven to be the answer, but Toyota and a handful of other carmakers are investigating hydrogen.


That’s where the Toyota Mirai comes in. The Mirai‘s interior center stack has all the technology you would expect from a car that retails for $57,500, including navigation, Bluetooth, and USB connectivity. It’s all accessible by touch screens and robust digital displays.
A fill-up on hydrogen costs just about as much as regular gasoline in San Francisco. The Mirai gets an estimated 67 MPGe (67 Miles per gallon gasoline equivalent = 28,5 kilometers per liter)), according to Toyota.
It’s an ambitious project for Toyota because the fueling infrastructure for this car is minimal. There are only 33 public hydrogen-filling stations in the US, according to the US Department of Energy. Twenty-six of those stations are in California, and there’s one each in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina.

If you include public and private hydrogen stations, then the total climbs to 58 — nationwide. Compare that to the more than 15,100 public electric-charging stations and the 168,000 retail gas stations in the US, and you can see the obvious drawback of hydrogen-powered cars. Despite this, the Mirai is an interesting project, and you must keep in mind that Japan at the Government level seems to bet on a massively hydrogen powered economy in the near future (fuel, heating, replacement of nuclear energy, trains, electric vehicles, etc…).


Solar Powered House: Tiles Instead Of Panels

Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk wasn’t kidding when he said that the new Tesla solar roof product was better looking than an ordinary roof: the roofing replacement with solar energy gathering powers does indeed look great. It’s a far cry from the obvious and somewhat weird aftermarket panels you see applied to roofs after the fact today.


The solar roofing comes in four distinct styles that Tesla presented at the event, including “Textured Glass Tile,” “Slate Glass Tile,” “Tuscan Glass Tile, and “Smooth Glass Tile.” Each of these achieves a different aesthetic look, but all resembled fairly closely a current roofing material style. Each is also transparent to solar, but appears opaque when viewed from an angle.

The current versions of the tiles actually have a two percent loss on efficiency, so 98 percent of what you’d normally get from a traditional solar panel, according to Elon Musk. But the company is working with 3M on improved coatings that have the potential to possibly go above normal efficiency, since it could trap the light within, leading to it bouncing around and resulting in less energy loss overall before it’s fully diffused.

Of course, there’s the matter of price: Tesla’s roof cost less than the full cost of a roof and electricity will be competitive or better than the cost of a traditional roof combined with the cost of electricity from the grid, Musk said. Tesla declined to provide specific pricing at the moment, since it will depend on a number of factor including installation specifics on a per home basis.

Standard roofing materials do not provide fiscal benefit back to the homeowner post-installation, besides improving the cost of the home. Tesla’s product does that, by generating enough energy to fully power a household, with the power designed to be stored in the new Powerwall 2.0 battery units so that homeowners can keep a reserve in case of excess need.

The solar roof product should start to see installations by summer next year, and Tesla plans to start with one or two of its four tile options, then gradually expand the options over time. As they’re made from quartz glass, they should last way longer than an asphalt tile — at least two or three times the longevity, though Musk later said “they should last longer than the house”.


The Rise Of The Electric Trucks

Nikola Motor, a company based in Salt Lake City, has announced that its  advanced R&D team has achieved 100% zero emissions on the Nikola One commercial class 8 truck. Working electric truck prototype will be unveiled on December 2 in Salt Lake City.


While other companies have recently announced battery-powered semi-trucks, those trucks are restricted to a range of only a couple hundred miles and four to eight hours of charging between stops,” said Founder and CEO Trevor Milton. “Nikola has engineered the holy grail of the trucking industry. We are not aware of any zero emission truck in the world that can haul 80,000 pounds more than 1,000 miles and do it without stopping. The Nikola One requires only 15 minutes of downtime before heading out for the next 1,000 miles.” “Imagine what this could do for the air in every city in America. We knew our emissions would be low, but to have the ability to achieve true zero emissions is revolutionary for the worldwide trucking industry,” Milton added.

When asked why no one had accomplished this before, Milton said, “It requires a specific zero emission refinement process of fuel and gutsy engineering and product execution. A traditional manufacturer would have to partner with an oil company, environmental group, electric vehicle engineering firm, a broad spectrum of suppliers and a world-class consulting firm to have figured it out. At Nikola, all of our development and talent is under one roof”.

In addition to the zero emission semi-truck, Nikola has initiated the first steps to manufacture emission-free power plants that range from 50 kilowatts to 50 megawatts, cutting power generation costs in half. Nikola believes this technology not only has the ability to transform America’s roadways, but how the world will migrate towards zero-emission energy going forward.

Two months ago, Nikola announced more than $2.3 billion in reservations, totaling more than 7,000 truck reservations with deposits. The Nikola One truck leasing program costs $4000 to $5000 per month, depending on which truck configuration and options the customer chooses. The first million miles of fuel under the lease is included with each truck sale, potentially offsetting 100% of the monthly cost. An average diesel burns approximately $400,000 in fuel and can rack up over $100,000 in maintenance costs over 1,000,000 miles. These costs are eliminated with the Nikola One lease. Now companies can have a zero emission truck with a return on their investment in the first month.



Nanotechnology To Save Polluted Lakes

Peruvian scientist Marino Morikawa, known for his work revitalizing polluted wetlands in the North of Lima using nanotechnology, now plans to try to clean up Lake Titicaca and the Huacachina lagoon, an oasis south of Lima. El Cascajo, an ecosystem of 123 acres in Chancay district, located north of Lima, began its recovery process in 2010 with two inventions that Morikawa came up with using his own resources and money..The project started after he got a call from Morikawa’s father, who informed him that El Cascajo, where he had gone fishing in so many occasion as a child, was “in very bad shape,” Morikawa explains.

The scientist set out to find a way to decontaminate the wetlands without using chemicals. His first invention was a micro nanobubbling system, consisting of bubbles10,000 times smaller than those in soda – which help trap and paralyze viruses and bacteria, causing them to evaporate. He also designed biological filters to retain inorganic pollutants, such as heavy metals and minerals that adhere to surfaces and are decomposed by bacteriaIn just 15 days, the effort led to a revival of the wetlands, a process that in the laboratory had taken six months.


Nature does its job. All I do is give it a boost to speed up the process,” Morikawa adds.

By 2013, about 60 percent of the wetlands was repopulated by migratory birds, that use El Cascajo as a layover on their route from Canada to Patagonia. Now, Morikawa has helped recover 30 habitats around the world, but has his sights on two ecosystems that are emblematic in Peru.

The first, scheduled for 2018, is the recovery of Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, located 4,000 meters (13,115 feet) above sea level between Peru and Bolivia. The second project aims to restore the Huacachina lagoon near the southern city of Ica, where water stopped seeping in naturally in the 1980s.


Could Nanotechnology End Hunger?

Each year, farmers around the globe apply more than 100 million tons of fertilizer to crops, along with more than 800,000 tons of glyphosate, the most commonly used agricultural chemical and the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. It’s a quick-and-dirty approach: Plants take up less than half the phosphorus in fertilizer, leaving the rest to flow into waterways, seeding algae blooms that can release toxins and suffocate fish. An estimated 90 percent of the pesticides used on crops dissipates into the air or leaches into groundwater.

child starving

With the global population on pace to swell to more than nine billion by 2050 amid the disruptions of climate change, scientists are racing to boost food production while minimizing collateral damage to the environment. To tackle this huge problem, they’re thinking small — very small, as in nanoparticles a fraction of the diameter of a human hair. Three of the most promising developments deploy nanoparticles that boost the ability of plants to absorb nutrients in the soil, nanocapsules that release a steady supply of pesticides and nanosensors that measure and adjust moisture levels in the soil via automated irrigation systems.

It’s all part of a rise in precision agriculture, which seeks a targeted approach to the use of fertilizer, water and other resources. Recognizing the potential impact of nanotechnology, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) beefed up funding between 2011 and 2015, from $10 million to $13.5 million. India, China and Brazil are also joining the latest green revolution. Scientists led by Pratim Biswas and Ramesh Raliya at Washington University in St. Louis have harnessed fungi to synthesize nanofertilizer. When sprayed on mung bean leaves, the zinc oxide nanoparticles increase the activity of three enzymes in the plant that convert phosphorus into a more readily absorbable form. Compared to untreated plants, nanofertilized mung beans absorbed nearly 11 percent more phosphorus and showed 27 percent more growth with a 6 percent increase in yield.

Raliya and his colleagues are also developing nanoparticles that enhance plants’ absorption of sunlight and investigating how nanofertilizers fortify crops with nutrients. In a study earlier this year, they found that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles increased levels of the antioxidant lycopene in tomatoes by up to 113 percent. Next, they want to design nanoparticles that enhance the protein content in peanuts. Along with mung beans, peanuts are a major source of protein in many developing countries.

Others are exploring nanoparticles that protect plants against insects, fungi and weeds. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and other institutions recently began field trials that use several types of metal oxide nanoparticles on tomato, eggplant, corn, squash and sorghum plants in areas infected with fungi known to threaten crops. Researchers led by Leonardo Fernandes Fraceto, of the Institute of Science and Technology, São Paulo State University, Campus Sorocaba, are designing slow-release nanocapsules that contain two types of fungicides or herbicides to reduce the likelihood of targeted fungi and weeds developing resistance. Scientists at the University of Tehran are conducting similar research. Still others are working on nanocapsules that release plant growth hormones. Existing technology could increase average yields up to threefold in many parts of Africa.

Cost-effective Hydrogen Production From Water

Groundbreaking research at Griffith University (Australia) is leading the way in clean energy, with the use of carbon as a way to deliver energy using hydrogen. Professor Xiangdong Yao and his team from Griffith’s Queensland Micro- and Nanotechnology Centre have successfully managed to use the element to produce hydrogen from water as a replacement for the much more costly platinum.

Tucson fuel cellTucson fom Hyundai: A Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car

Hydrogen production through an electrochemical process is at the heart of key renewable energy technologies including water splitting and hydrogen fuel cells,” says Professor Yao. “Despite tremendous efforts, exploring cheap, efficient and durable electrocatalysts for hydrogen evolution still remains a great challenge. “Platinum is the most active and stable electrocatalyst for this purpose, however its low abundance and consequent high cost severely limits its large-scale commercial applications. “We have now developed this carbon-based catalyst, which only contains a very small amount of nickel and can completely replace the platinum for efficient and cost-effective hydrogen production from water.

In our research, we synthesize a nickel–carbon-based catalyst, from carbonization of metal-organic frameworks, to replace currently best-known platinum-based materials for electrocatalytic hydrogen evolution“, he adds. “This nickel-carbon-based catalyst can be activated to obtain isolated nickel atoms on the graphitic carbon support when applying electrochemical potential, exhibiting highly efficient hydrogen evolution performance and impressive durability.”

Proponents of a hydrogen economy advocate hydrogen as a potential fuel for motive power including cars and boats and on-board auxiliary power, stationary power generation (e.g., for the energy needs of buildings), and as an energy storage medium (e.g., for interconversion from excess electric power generated off-peak).