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[P]
New Solar Battery Undergoes Testing

By spaceghoti in News
Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 03:10:35 PM EST
Tags: Hardware (all tags)
Hardware

Well, it's about time. The Green folks ought to get a kick out of this. While I've never been fanatically Green myself, I've been waiting for the day when we can give the oil and gas syndicates a kick in the pants.

ABCnews.com has posted this story about solar cells that promise to compete with fossil fuels.


To summarize, the news article discusses a breakthrough in solar cell technology in which a fuel cell "about the size of a Rubick's cube" is capable of collecting, storing and releasing solar energy over an extended period of time. Ten of these devices (initially priced at $200 for 200 watts) would be capable of handling the power needs of a house, size and complexity not specified. Presumably, one or two of these cells ought to suffice for the power needs of a one-bedroom apartment. And that's before they really get into refining the technology.

The technology is still in the testing stage. The article begins with this sentence: "Technicians have developed a solar powered flying wing that will be able to stay aloft for six months at a time." But for those people (the current US President-Elect among them) who decry the need and effectiveness for alternative fuel sources, this ought to be a warning of things to come: you can't stop progress, and you can't ignore the issue forever. I've been unhappy with rising gasoline (petrol, for the non-US readers) prices in the US, and I'm very aware that the region I live in hasn't been hit the worst. Today I filled up my tank for under $20, and that's the first time I've been able to do that in nearly a year.

The oil companies have been pointing to new regulations for processing as the culprit, but I don't buy it. Any hint of possible trouble or changes have resulted in fuel prices skyrocketing. The prices come down a little but never to the levels they were before the latest "panic" began, and there's little we can do to redress the problem. If we want to drive to work or wherever, we have no alternative fuels for our vehicles. Competing oil companies form an oligarchy: everyone raises their prices almost simultaneously, yet mysteriously duck charges of "price fixing." If we elect to use public transportation, the rising cost of fuel is reflected in our ticket prices. Honda has come out with a "hybrid" fuel car that uses gasoline to accelerate and switches to electrical power when cruising or idling, but the cost of these new vehicles (still largely untested in the market) is prohibitive.

Jimmy Carter called for alternative fuel sources back when he was the President of the United States, but he was ineffective at getting any serious federal backing for the project. The oligarchy referred to above have lobbied successfully for twenty years to block the widescale commercial introduction of alternative fuels to the market, while occasionally releasing small examples of alternative fuel products doomed to fail through inefficient technology.

Solar energy has long been looked to as the alternative fuel of choice. It's cheaper and safer than nuclear technology, while being cleaner and more abundant than any other source. The problem is that before now it hasn't been possible to store for very long. Rechargable batteries aren't capable of storing up sufficient solar energy to maintain constant, uninterrupted service when the sun isn't available. This new technology promises to change all that, and to bring the price of solar technology down into a range that can compete with fossil fuels. It isn't here yet, but it's coming. I can't wait.

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New Solar Battery Undergoes Testing | 51 comments (51 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Developing or using an alternative fuel source? (4.22 / 9) (#1)
by 11223 on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 02:04:00 PM EST

olar energy has long been looked to as the alternative fuel of choice. It's cheaper and safer than nuclear technology, while being cleaner and more abundant than any other source.

Last time I checked, solar power was a nuclear fuel source.

Anyway, while you can't stop the researchers from toying with the technologies that would change the world, you can stop them from being widely used. If an alternative fuel source adds 10% to the cost of a product but saves that amount of money in terms of environmental cleanup, then people still won't use it because they're only concerned about the 10% cost to them, not the equivalent savings elsewhere. That's why people may not choose these technologies, even if it would be the best thing since banning DDT for the environment.

--
The dead hand of Asimov's mass psychology wins every time.

another factor (5.00 / 3) (#14)
by SEAL on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 04:14:14 PM EST

There's something else you'll notice about this situation. From time to time, there is an article or press release about a research company who has created an environmentally good alternative to fossil fuels. Then, all of a sudden, you'll never hear from this company again.

Many times, these small labs / companies are being bought off by major players in the oil or auto industry. A few, like AFS, have survived, but have been locked out of the auto market by the big 3. AFS seems to have steered clear of buyout offers, but redirected their market to UPS supplies to avoid getting stomped in the auto industry. Their website seems to indicate that vehicles are still a long term interest for them, though.

The U.S. energy and auto industries have a LOT of money and it mostly revolves around fossil fuels. They will not readily give that up.

- SEAL

It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything.
[ Parent ]

Hidden costs (5.00 / 3) (#15)
by woofbot on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 04:15:12 PM EST

Paul Hawken has written a few books dealing with this problem. He argues that the biggest problem with the world's current treatment of the environment is that it largely ignores a lot of the hidden costs of their actions. It is his viewpoint that in order to improve resource usage, laws/policies need to be reworked to force companies to incorporate the hidden costs into their accounting. Eg, rather than paying a onetime disposal fee for toxic wastes, a company would have to pay an ongoing rental/maintenance fee for as long the waste remains at a sight.

[ Parent ]
Hidden costs (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by cpt kangarooski on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 10:09:02 PM EST

Well, as long as hidden costs are up, don't forget to study the cells too. As I understand it, current photovoltaic cells suffer from being woefully inefficent. So inefficient, in fact, that more energy is expended in their creation than they will ever convert to a useful form before wearing out. And the manufacturing process is pretty grotty too, with plenty of hazardous wastes.

While lots of people think that oil companies constantly try to kill off these sorts of things, my contacts with that industry indicate otherwise. (at least for some players) if they're smart, they think of themselves as being in the energy industry, and would jump at the chance to both better their reputations with greens and get into a new market. If it's viable, which is the big if. Hell, as I understand it they'd be perfectly happy for people to stop using gas as a fuel so that they can sell it for plastics and make more money (while still preserving recyclable plastics to sell them to you again! Especially once the oil runs out)

I just see a number of people I've know who identified themselves as green be just as shortsighted as toxic waste dumpers, when it served their ideology. Things certainly could be improved, but the solutions proposed by environmentalists are often as not romantic dreams as realistic plans. We need to be critical in our analyses and not be afraid to reject things on their merits, no matter who proposes them.

--
All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]
Minor quibble (3.50 / 4) (#16)
by StrontiumDog on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 04:16:40 PM EST

olar energy has long been looked to as the alternative fuel of choice. It's cheaper and safer than nuclear technology, while being cleaner and more abundant than any other source.

Last time I checked, solar power was a nuclear fuel source.

Yeah, but the man said nuclear technology, and while the sun is awesomely nucyular, it isn't technological.

Anyway, while you can't stop the researchers from toying with the technologies that would change the world, you can stop them from being widely used. If an alternative fuel source adds 10% to the cost of a product but saves that amount of money in terms of environmental cleanup, then people still won't use it because they're only concerned about the 10% cost to them, not the equivalent savings elsewhere. That's why people may not choose these technologies, even if it would be the best thing since banning DDT for the environment.

That's where the hard hand of government regulations step in. If the market won't regulate it, then selective product taxation will.

[ Parent ]

Looking at all the costs (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by dennis on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 11:20:16 AM EST

The book Hard Green by Peter Huber points out the solar is not necessarily all that green. It's great if you're putting it on existing rooftops, but if you're clearing a bunch of land to make way for solar panels, it's not so great. A key factor in a healthy environment is having lots of wilderness--since oil-burning plants take up a lot less room than the equivalent in solar panels, their net impact could actually be less.

[ Parent ]
Prices Elsewhere in the World (3.40 / 5) (#2)
by Morn on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 02:09:22 PM EST

Not that I want to start an argument, but the cheapest price you can get for petrol in the UK is 78 pence per litre (around $1.17 per litre, or 31 cents per US gallon, if my calculator is correct)

$200 for a 200 Watt PSU could really go down well here.

Doh! (3.50 / 4) (#3)
by Morn on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 02:12:54 PM EST

(around $1.17 per litre, or 31 cents per US gallon, if my calculator is correct)

Hmmm, my calculator may have been correct, but it looks like the brain operating it wasn't - that should be $4.43 per US gallon (I hope :-).

[ Parent ]

Fuel costs in Europe (4.75 / 4) (#6)
by YesNoCancel on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 02:29:18 PM EST

Yes, $4 per gallon seems to be the common price in most european countries (even up to $6 in special cases). However, 75% of that is taxes.

[ Parent ]
True (5.00 / 2) (#40)
by Joeri Sebrechts on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:56:11 AM EST

Yes, $4 per gallon seems to be the common price in most european countries (even up to $6 in special cases). However, 75% of that is taxes.

True, most of our petrol cost is taxes. But, personally, although I own and operate a car, I'm glad they charge so much taxes on fuel. That keeps the really _really_ unefficient cars like most of the SUV's, and monsters like the Jeep Grand Cherokee of our roads. If you give people enough reason to buy those huge and useless beasts, they will, just because they're huge and useless. The only way to keep people from buying them is to make them too expensive.

Expensive fuel leads to less and more efficient cars. It's as simple as that.

[ Parent ]

Great Idea. (2.42 / 7) (#4)
by Captain_Tenille on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 02:21:46 PM EST

Of course, where I live, the lovely Pacific Northwest, a solar powered battery would be effective approx. 3 days a year. (A couple of years ago, we had 90 straight days of rain.) I can see this being practicle somewhere it doesn't rain much, but there are a lot of places that this wouldn't do so well. Britain, Washington, western Canada, places like that come to mind.

+1, Section anyway.
----
/* You are not expected to understand this. */

Man Vs. Nature: The Road to Victory!

it makes a difference (3.60 / 5) (#17)
by SEAL on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 04:18:36 PM EST

Consider that the Pacific Northwest produces a great deal of hydroelectric power. Not only that, but it is often seasonally exported. California is having a huge energy crisis right now due to lack of plants, the deregulation mess, and other states unable or unwilling to export power to them.

If California had a solar energy source, this would alleviate the power demand on other states. Washington, for example, would not need to export as much hydroelectric power. The reduced demand would eventually reduce prices in WA.

- SEAL

It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything.
[ Parent ]
It's a good idea (3.33 / 3) (#20)
by Captain_Tenille on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 04:25:44 PM EST

And the sun really does come out more than 3 days a year. :-)

I think it would be a wonderful thing to have, and I know it would help out WA tremendously in the long run, but it's been pretty rainy and icky lately. It was tongue-in-cheek. :-P
----
/* You are not expected to understand this. */

Man Vs. Nature: The Road to Victory!
[ Parent ]

Ultraviolet is what you really need... (4.60 / 5) (#25)
by chuckw on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 04:50:59 PM EST

Where did this myth come from that you cannot generate solar energy when it is cloudy??? Ultraviolet is the area of the spectrum that generates the majority of the energy on a solar cell. Believe it or not, clouds are nearly transparent to ultraviolet rays. Take your shirt off and lay outside all day on a cloudy day. You'll have a raging sunburn at the end of the day. Yes - you get *more* energy from direct sunlight, just like you'll burn faster in direct sunlight. However, you'll still get a decent amount of energy on a cloudy day.

[ Parent ]
for the curious (4.90 / 10) (#5)
by Arkady on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 02:29:00 PM EST

Since the ABC story is basically fluff, with no details and no links, I ran a google search on the one researcher they mentioned. Here are some links about the project:

Cheers,
-robin


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


The sad thing... (3.62 / 8) (#7)
by simmons75 on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 02:35:14 PM EST

My parents used to get a magazine called "The Mother Earth News" when I was a kid. They still have every issue they ever got. It's more of a fluff mag now, but back in the early 80's it was all about alternative fuel sources. Sadly, many of the methods discussed in there were almost practical, almost feasable, yet largely ignored in favor of more high-tech solutions with lower efficiency.

Okay, this is a bad example when it comes to efficiency, but what about methane plants? How many are there here in the U.S.? Apparently India runs quite a few (or did at one point.) It wouldn't do to try to run your old Cordoba on methane, but it'd heat your house without requiring huge modifications to your existing gas heating system.
poot!
So there.

Vapour? (4.90 / 11) (#8)
by unayok on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 02:54:29 PM EST

I don't buy this. (Unless the marketing drool that comes out in the article is badly mangling the meaning).

You only get about 1350-1400 W/m^2 of incident solar energy at the Earth's surface. Liberally assuming each face of the cube is 10x10 cm (this is a bit larger than what I see in the picture with the article), that means you only get 13.5-14W of solar energy to play with from a face. The fuel cell portion is basically just a replacement for a battery, you don't get any more power out of it than you put in. I don't see where the 200W of power per unit comes from.

Hmmm. The article goes on to mention that it's built 'like a cube'. Ok, so assume that you get the full energy input on the three faces facing the sun (nevermind that they'll all be angled differently and will actually receive less, this is an upper-limit exercise). That's still only 55W or so per cube.

That's if the cells are 100% efficient. Since the article is woefully limited on details of the system, I don't know how they accomplish the splitting of the water. For purposes of continuing this train of thought, I'm using numbers from photovoltaic technology. Keep in mind that even if this isn't the case, you still have the physical limits I mentioned above.

AFAIK, the most efficient photovoltaic cells we have now aren't above 35% efficiency or so. This article points to 40%+ efficiency soonish (which is a huge improvement from only 5 years ago). So if these cells are 40% efficient, we get ~23W of constant power from one of these cubes (ignoring other niceties such as sunsets, seasonal changes in light levels and weather). A far cry from the 200W mentioned.

Of course, you can get the 200W promised out of the system, but only for a fractionof the time it take to 'charge' it up.

That being said, the storage idea is novel, and could make things much more attractive. I'd just like to see some believable (substantiated) numbers.



Sun Power Corp (5.00 / 7) (#10)
by bigbird on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 03:39:19 PM EST

I found the Sun Power Corp website at www.sunpowercorp.com. It loooks like they make high efficiency cells as well as solar concentrators. The expensive part of a solar cell is the silicon. So, they add a cheap plastic lens to concentrate sunlight from an area 200x the area of the collector.

While I agree with you on the surface area of a rubics cube, it becomes a lot more feasible if each of the cubes is collecting sunlight from a larger area using a 1.5m diameter lens (176 times the area of a 10x10cm collector). Thanks for doing the research and the math, BTW.

Of course, you get more inefficiency by converting 2 H2O-> 2 H2 + O2, storing (and releasing) the gas through compression or another method, and so on. Once upon a time I read about some research on storing H2 in carbon nanotubes, zeolites, metal oxide powders, and other solid forms. IIRC, it required some heating to get the H2 back out, so I imagine the energy loss may be similar to simple compression. There is a brief overview here.

bigbird

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Rom 1:16
[ Parent ]

Lens (3.25 / 4) (#22)
by unayok on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 04:27:59 PM EST

While I agree with you on the surface area of a rubics cube, it becomes a lot more feasible if each of the cubes is collecting sunlight from a larger area using a 1.5m diameter lens (176 times the area of a 10x10cm collector).

And there goes your small footprint. :)



[ Parent ]
Agreed (3.00 / 2) (#32)
by bigbird on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 09:14:52 PM EST

But it is only those who rely on marketing drool who would believe you could run a house on ten rubic-cube sized solar collectors. Luckily, I am not in the position of defending a small footprint :P

bigbird

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Rom 1:16
[ Parent ]

Silicon costs (3.25 / 4) (#26)
by MrSpey on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 05:06:21 PM EST

How exactly is the silicon the expensive part of the cell? You can get single crystal silicon for not very much, thanks to the semiconductor industry. If silicon is the reason they're so expensive, then I figure they'd be a lot cheaper.

Mr. Spey
Cover your butt. Bernard is watching.

[ Parent ]
Not very much? (4.00 / 2) (#31)
by bigbird on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 09:08:52 PM EST

You can get single crystal silicon for not very much, thanks to the semiconductor industry. If silicon is the reason they're so expensive, then I figure they'd be a lot cheaper.

That must explain why I pay so much for a new Athlon. Even a cheap CPU is what, $10 / cm^2 or so (at time of purchase, assuming a US$60 duron is 6cm^2). From the US DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory:

Single-crystal silicon has been the material of choice for high-performance, highly reliable solar cells since the successful deployment of silicon photovoltaic systems for space power. Most of the terrestrial photovoltaic power systems sold today are also crystalline silicon. The need to lower the cost of terrestrial photovoltaic power has focused research efforts on alternative materials as well as on less expensive means of producing solar-grade silicon.

Crystalline silicon is made by growing large cylindrical single crystals, called boules. The boules are sliced into thin wafers, from which photovoltaic devices are made. Slicing is an expensive and material-wasteful process. Several approaches have been investigated to minimize the cost of the original silicon material and to eliminate the slicing step.

Yet another technology awaiting further research and development to improve efficiency, and economies of scale to make it affordable. I hope solar becomes more viable soomer rather than later. And a plastic lens is still far cheaper to produce than properly doped and processed high purity silicon wafers. It's not like they solder two wires onto a silicon wafer here, there is a bit more to solar cell production than that.

bigbird

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Rom 1:16
[ Parent ]

number crunching (4.50 / 8) (#11)
by spaceghoti on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 03:39:58 PM EST

Marketing drool? I suppose I'll behave and not rise to the challenge on that one.

As for the numbers on this thing, I will freely admit that I'm not up on the technical aspects of the technology. I was lazy and didn't do the research that Arkady supplied, so I can't answer the calculations you've made. However, I believe you made some faulty assumptions based on the sketchy ("fluff," Arkady said and I sheepishly agree) details in the article.

I don't know that the producers are claiming to get 200 volts from all six corners of the cube, only that they're discussing $200 for 200 volts. HOW they get this isn't discussed in the article. The company working on the cube is called Sun Power, but I'm afraid I can't find an easy listing for them. http://www.sunpower.com lists a site that specializes in alternative fuel technology, but I don't know if these are the guys we want. They don't seem to have a current news link that I recognize. Therefore it's difficult to get specs. If they released the salient details right now, they might have theft issues to deal with. I'm sure they'd like to reap the benefits of a patent on the technology. Enlightened self-interest is the game.

Also, I believe the point of this new technology is not so much that they increase the efficiency of the solar absorption (though I trust that's also a large part of the cell), but greater efficiency for the battery. The problem was always that batteries couldn't store the energy converted from solar power for a period of time that made it cost effective. Also, the technology as a whole is a lot more expensive than existing fossil fuel technology, in part because it's a much younger technology. So who knows if they've made a change in the curve?

The point is I'd like to see more interest and support for solar technology. Yes, I may drool over the thought, but I also drool at the thought of having a really fast car, a big house, a supercomputer with my own web/ftp/game server...I won't apologize for wanting better things in life, particularly if those better things mean a better way of life all around. The less squabbling over resources, the more we can focus our energies on new questions, problems and solutions. Pardon me for being idealistic, but I'd like to see practical steps toward ideal conditions. I believe this is such a step, if it works.



"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
more (4.33 / 3) (#18)
by unayok on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 04:19:16 PM EST

Don't get me wrong. I want to see stuff like this. I was posting the original comment and was going to vote this article up, but it went to the front page before I could. :)

The article was unclear; it seemed to imply the 200 watts came from the Rubik's cube unit. If the figures are simply a price point, that's more reasonable. At $200/200W for a constant flow, it'd be very reasonable. I wonder how they store the H2 and O2... That'll grow the footprint some as well, I would imagine.

I like the idea of using fuel cells as a storage mechanism. I just didn't think the numbers added up. I'm still not sure, as the article is moderately content-free.

Even if my assumptions are wrong, the article still brings forth visions of solar powering houses for a very small physical footprint. The numbers inject some reality into the dream.



[ Parent ]
Watts, not volts (4.00 / 2) (#35)
by bigbird on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 09:59:34 PM EST

I don't know that the producers are claiming to get 200 volts from all six corners of the cube, only that they're discussing $200 for 200 volts.

A volt is a measure of the EMF. A watt is a unit of power (1 watt = 1 volt * 1 amp). 1 watt is also equivalent to 1 joule/second, with a joule being the SI unit of energy. Watts are what was discussed in the article, and the real question would be: For how long? How many joules can they store in this thing, and how long can you run a fully charged unit at peak load?

The storage is cool. It is an adaptation of off-the-shelf technologies such as fuel cells and hydrogen storage, and I do not know how novel it is. I would hope that they cannot patent the overall scheme, but like most, I am somewhat cynical about the USPTO.

It looks like Athos' calculaitons are generous, if anything. The only assumption of his which you can question is that he assumed the cell to collect solar energy without the aid of lenses.

Go to sunpowercorp, which has a CEO named Dick Swanson, just like the company in the ABC article. You will see that they make solar cells which can handle concentrated sunlight - 200x incident light. The marketing drool appears to have neglected to mention that these units will likely require a 1.5-2m diameter lens to concentrate the sunlight on the $200 box featured in the article.

bigbird

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Rom 1:16
[ Parent ]

Hypothetically... (3.33 / 3) (#12)
by retinaburn on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 03:48:35 PM EST

If their cube had solar cells on the four walls and the bottom of the cube then you could capture more energy than would be normally caught by a single flat cell right ?

Sure you may loose a face or two because of shadows depending on the placement of the sun but that may help the numbers some what. If the top face was clear then couldnt you also harness some of the heat generated within the cube...moisture within would have to be low to stop condensation from forming and playing havoc with catching rays.

I have very very little knowledge about the working of solar cells...I assume there is no difference whether the sun light is diffused over a larger area right ?


I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho


[ Parent ]
cube (4.33 / 3) (#21)
by unayok on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 04:26:04 PM EST

If their cube had solar cells on the four walls...

I mention something like that in my original post, though I use three sides, not four. At most you'll get peak efficiency from one of the faces (when it's face on to the sun). The other faces receive far less sun per unit area of solar panel. At some point, you won't get any power from the secondary panels at all. A flat panel that follows the sun is the most effective for light-gathering (even though perhaps not the most practical). Assuming you don't use lenses or mirrors. And if you do... there goes your small footprint. :)

Adding the clear top and using the thermal energy is interesting, but adds a whole additional engineering problem as you're getting the energy from (essentially) a completely different source using a different method. For manufacturing efficiency, you'd probably not use this.



[ Parent ]
No. (3.66 / 3) (#23)
by weirdling on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 04:36:44 PM EST

The maximum energy any solar system can capture is the solar energy incident to its collector panels, period. Making several layers or a box or whatever are ways to improve the efficiency, not to increase the energy incident. The poster's point is that there simply isn't enough energy incident to make up for their claim, no matter what you do...
I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
[ Parent ]
Soo.... (3.33 / 3) (#24)
by retinaburn on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 04:45:02 PM EST

All or most of the energy striking the solar cell is not captured, by putting layers in you are able to increase the total amount captured is a given segment (ignoring depth). If you used lenses to diffuse the light across a larger area (ie a cube), and thus allowing less light to be loss on a given segment (cell I guess) you can also increase efficency without layering....makes sense to me now.

Maybe the revolutionary part of the design is the storage/release mechanism (fuel cell??) itself and not the solar cell.


I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho


[ Parent ]
Close, but you are confusing me (4.00 / 2) (#34)
by bigbird on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 09:37:03 PM EST

By layering, I believe wierdling was referring to multiple layers of silicon wafer / other solar cell material.

Sun
|||||||||| Sunlight
________________________
Layer 1 of Cell - assume 20% converted to energy, 30% ends up as heat
________________________
Assume 50% of incident light passess through first cell
|||||
________________________
Layer 2 of Cell - assume 20% converted to energy (of the 50% which passed through the first cell, so in reality 10% of the incident light)
________________________

Terrible artwork, but our total (assumed) for two layers is 30% conversion efficiency. More layers could add more efficiency, ignoring that solar cells may be transparent to limited wavelengths, and also ignoring that cells may only absorb a limited range of electromagnetic frequencies with any great efficiency, of which the first layer may take the lions share.

Layering is a game of dimishing returns - the cost for the second layer is almost as much as the first, but it might only produce 1/2 as much energy. A third layer would be produce even less energy compared to the first. Until we can do layering cheaply, this will be restricted to applications where space / land area (footprint, I guess) is more important than money.

If you used lenses to diffuse the light across a larger area (ie a cube), and thus allowing less light to be loss on a given segment (cell I guess) you can also increase efficency without layering....makes sense to me now.

I think you are wrong here. You would also have an appreciable loss of energy by running your incident light through a lens. And all you would be doing is spreading out the light which arrives, rather than converting more of it to electricity.

bigbird

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Rom 1:16
[ Parent ]

Re: Vapour? (4.66 / 3) (#30)
by mcelrath on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 08:07:06 PM EST

Your analysis of the energy absorbed by a solar cell is correct. The company seems to specialize in "concentrator solar cells". These are simply solar cells that can handle incident light 100x-300x the intensity of sunlight. The cost of the lens to concentrate it, or array of mirrors is no doubt not included in the $200/200W price.

--Bob
1^2=1; (-1)^2=1; 1^2=(-1)^2; 1=-1; 2=0; 1=0.
[ Parent ]

Did Some Research... (4.00 / 2) (#38)
by Pablonius on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 03:07:25 AM EST

As was mentioned elsewhere the related site was www.sunpowercorp.com. And they are big into creation of concentrator cells.

Now for the math... Assuming a concentrating fresnel at 80% efficency (pulling that number out of my arse, don't know the real efficiency of plastic fresnels) and your lower bound of 1350 W/square meter or 13.5 W/square decimeter.

Sun Power's units we're about 20-25% efficient. So we're at 2.7W/square decimeter of power generated unconcentrated.

Sun Power was throwing around 100 suns quite a lot on their site quite a lot, so I'll assume (yeah, I know about assumptions, but let's give them the benifit of the doubt) current plastic fresnel lenses are capable of 100x magnification.

So slap your hypothetical 100x 1 square decimeter Fresnel lens in front of your 20% effiecent PV and you've got 270 W/square decimeter (or 2700 W/square meter if you matrix a 100 of these pups together) and assuming that 70 of the 270 W is used for tracking (sounds fair to me) and voila! 200 W for a 10cm x 10cm Fresnel based concentrator PV system.

Now I don't know of a fuel cell which is 100% efficient or a system which separates hydrogen from water at 100% efficiency, but starting at 2.7KW per square meter allows for some interesting lossage in the energy storage side.



[ Parent ]
Fresnel Lenses (4.00 / 2) (#41)
by pete stevens on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 07:11:49 AM EST

In order ot use a Fresnel Lense to concentrate the power source you need an incident area for sunlight > amplification factor.

To obtain your 100x magnification you require an incident area of 1m^2. These lenses will not be cheap.

As for your comment about getting 2.7KW/m^2, it's pure fantasy, there is 1.4kW/m^2 of source power. You would require a sunlight -> electricity conversion device with effciency of about 200% and that is not going to happen without a lot of physicists being very very upset about energy non-conservation.

.... the Flat Earth Society announced in 1995 that their membership was global
[ Parent ]
More Carter era stuff (3.57 / 7) (#9)
by fossilcode on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 03:16:02 PM EST

Seems all the "alternative" ideas are finding favor in the media again now that power rates are so high. Check out this story which aired this morning on KPLU radio.
--
"...half the world blows and half the world sucks." Uh, which half were you again?
conspiracy theory (3.00 / 1) (#48)
by M|U on Wed Jan 10, 2001 at 11:46:45 PM EST

The current oil price 'crisis' has been induced in order to fascilitate the transition to new energy sources...

Well, you never know.

:)
____ Just another victim of the ambient morality.
[ Parent ]
hybid vehicles (4.10 / 10) (#13)
by Harlequin on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 04:13:58 PM EST

That hybrid car idea is interesting.
Getting cars away from their victorian combustion engines is the big goal. As someone used to dealing with micro-power, it just utterly blows my mind how incredibly inefficient motorcars are.
For example, the crude engines are a one-way system (you put energy in and get motion out). This means that if it takes 1 unit of energy to get from A to B, you will have to buy almost 10 petrol/gas units of energy to do it if you have 10 traffic light stops on the way, because with such a crude motor, every time you stop, you have to dump your enormous amounts of kinetic energy, then burn more fuel to get it back again when the light turns green. Most modern technologies are two way - energy to motion and vice versa, so to stop for a red light, you just turn your kinetic energy back into whatever fuel the motor runs on, and it takes a fraction of the energy to get from A to B, because you're not dumping 90% of your energy along the way.

Now, that's one example of how idiotic combustion engines are (they're only viable because fossil fuels have such a high energy density/price combination when you ignore environmental consequences, which we mostly do), yet the hybrid idea could potentially take advantage of that - use gas to accelerate, electrics to run, and electrics to stop. Around the city, the amount of energy you throw away (start, stop, start, stop, ad infinitum) is far more than the amount of energy you actually use usefully, so the electrics would never need any fuel - it's run off all that abundant wastage from the combustion engine. Suddenly, you get 5 times more mileage out of the same amount of gas WITH NO OTHER FUEL NEEDED.

Ok ok, two problems: Setting the car up for both efficient and effective electric braking when it's still primarily a combustion engine is easier said than done (and you'd want some traditional brakes for safety anyway), so we wouldn't be looking at anything close to 100% energy recoup. Secondly, your electric power storage would have to be something that can accept the enormous amounts of power that would be generated by braking a moving vehicle. Some cheap trickle-charge battery ain't gonna cut it :-)
But still - it's a way to greatly increase your efficiency and mileage for a once-off setup cost.

Those combustion contraptions... <shudder> ugh...


read my other post (4.50 / 2) (#28)
by SEAL on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 07:25:32 PM EST

Here.

I wish I had spotted your post the first time around. AFS-Trinity is working on exactly what you are talking about. They manufacture flywheel "batteries" which rotate up around 50,000 rpm == a lot of kinetic energy storage.

They are useful for exactly what you are talking about. They can handle very quick charge and drain cycles and don't lose efficiency like many chemical batteries. Since their motion is rotational to begin with, they lend themselves to vehicles (no pistons is a good thing). Braking energy, which traditional vehicles dissipate as heat, can be absorbed by the flywheel instead.

The main reasons they don't have a hybrid vehicle on the market yet are pressure from the mainstream auto industry, and safety. Their website says they've been working with Test Devices, Inc., which should help deal with safety concerns.

- SEAL

It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything.
[ Parent ]

rotating flywheels good for SUV (3.50 / 2) (#43)
by speek on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 09:41:13 AM EST

Heh, you'd get a much more stable vehicle in the sense that it would be harder to flip!

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

What about hydraulic braking? (4.50 / 2) (#29)
by johnzo on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 07:31:29 PM EST

I recall reading about a hydraulic braking system that promised huge gains in fuel efficiency. When the brake was activated, the pump compressed hydraulic fluid into a chamber, and when acceleration was desired, the system would use the energy in the pressurized fluid to accelerate the car.

Was this ever commercially deployed, in industrial vehicles or otherwise? I did a five-minute search with Google, but didn't find anything that resembled what I remembered, so I thought I'd ask here.

I imagine the system would be enormously costly, given the extra equipment you'd have to install on the car and the extra programming you'd have to do on car's software, to ensure the hydraulic system worked in sync with the car's engine and conventional brakes.

zo.

[ Parent ]

This exists (5.00 / 1) (#45)
by cameldrv on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 03:00:28 PM EST

Sort of. On some city busses there is a pneumatic cylinder which is compressed when braking, and released as power to the wheels when starting up again. This reduces the giant cloud of soot which comes out of a bus when it starts from a stop.

[ Parent ]
It's already out there (4.50 / 2) (#39)
by Joeri Sebrechts on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 04:39:23 AM EST

I believe the Toyota Prius does what you want cars to do, and it's reasonably affordable.
http://prius.toyota.com


[ Parent ]
Why do we need power plants? (4.00 / 6) (#19)
by SbooX on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 04:19:17 PM EST

If one of these cells can power a one bedroom apartment, what use would we have for power plants? Anyone could put a few of these on their roof for a few hundred dollars and never have to pay an electric bill again. The obvious reason is to ensure the survival of the corporate power companies. If this technology is allowed only into the hands of the power industry, we may have helped to save the environment, but we would still be at the mercy of the power companies. This would seem to be undesirable, would it not?

---

god is silly. MGL 272:36

commercial applications (5.00 / 4) (#27)
by spaceghoti on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 05:21:05 PM EST

Very obviously (and well said above), the power companies are not going to want to give up their lucrative stranglehold on the public. Bearing in mind that government-run power facilities aren't going to care; if they can not have to deal with the issue, they'll gladly cede control to tiny little boxes. But just as the oil conglomerates are not going to want to give up their market hold on vehicle power, private power companies won't want to give up their market hold on your power needs for appliances like your refrigerator or the computer you're sitting at right now.

This seems to be a recurring theme in commercial markets. The record industry doesn't want cheap, efficient and shareable data storage for music because they'll lose their dominance. The power industry won't want cheap, efficient and self-sustaining power sources for homes and businesses because they'll lose their dominance. But if the product is viable and can withstand the assault from firmly entrenched business interests, they'll lose it anyway. Even if the product isn't viable but governments begin to tax the old regime out of existence, penalizing consumers for not using the new power source, the power companies lose again. I see this boiling down to two basic choices: gamble on their market control, or step in to take control of the new market.

If the product is viable and the existing power companies take control of it, you can guarantee a system of planned obsolence or degrading parts requiring constant maintenance and replacement schedule. The automobile industry already does this: there are still Model T cars on the road (though few and far between) after almost a hundred years, but fifty years from now I guarantee you won't see a single Pinto or even a 2000 Grand Cherokee or Geo Storm. Cars are literally designed to break down, forcing you to buy replacement parts or new vehicles after you've given up on the old vehicle. I can see the same thing happening with cheap, efficient solar cells: the product may operate exactly as promised in the beginning, but eventually you'll find that the cell wears out and gives up, requiring you re-invest in replacements over time.

Whether or not it happens that way depends on how successful Sun Power is at developing/selling their product, and whether or not existing companies decide to take over and modify the product for their own benefit.



"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
Just to put the conspiracy theories in perspective (3.50 / 2) (#33)
by sigwinch on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 09:29:48 PM EST

If the product is viable and the existing power companies take control of it, you can guarantee a system of planned obsolence or degrading parts requiring constant maintenance and replacement schedule. The automobile industry already does this: there are still Model T cars on the road (though few and far between) after almost a hundred years, but fifty years from now I guarantee you won't see a single Pinto or even a 2000 Grand Cherokee or Geo Storm.

The Model T is on the road because of heroic amounts of maintenance. The design is high-wear and low-performance. Modern vehicles require less maintenance, are cheaper to operate, and much more reliable. When not driven stop-and-go style, a good modern car can easily last 200,000 miles with no major surgery on the powertrain, and 500,000 miles is possible with care and a few breakdowns.

Cars are literally designed to break down, forcing you to buy replacement parts or new vehicles after you've given up on the old vehicle.

Last time I checked, the U.S. gov't. mandated warranties on new cars were something like 3 years/100,000 miles, and manufacturers routinely outdo that to attract customers. A car model that is "literally designed to break down" would cost the manufacturer a significant fraction of a billion dollars. The first car I owned was older than me and provided barely adequate transportation. My current vehicle was made in 1987, was poorly maintained by the previous owner, and still manages to run acceptably well. And this crappiness is because I'm cheap: I refuse to spend more than a couple of thousand dollars on a car. If I bought a good car ($15,000 price range), I could have a car made to higher precision than the first spacecraft, and it would last a significant fraction of the rest of my life.

Sheesh. Try to understand market economics: if a fossil fuel power company makes $100 billion/year in business, and a solar power company finds a way that is 10% more efficient, the solar company can charge $95 billion/year and pocket the $5 billion profit. We're supposed to believe that the venture capitalists are running away screaming from $5 billion/year?

Or look at it this way: if solar is really violenty efficient, the first fossil fuel company to go solar will get a market stranglehold and simultaneously blow all the competitors out of the water.

Ditto for the "hundred mile/gallon carburator". If the Exxon (for example) honchos discovered such a thing, they'd instantaneously auction off most of their company, getting tens of billions of dollars in cash. Then they'd auction off the carburator, getting more billions of dollars. Their competitors would be stuck holding the now-worthless pieces of Exxon. Furthermore, the new mini-Exxon, flush with cash, would have be best position to exploit the residual petroleum market. Exxon stockholders would take the lowest loss of all oil company stockholders, and all Exxon honchos would live like kings for the rest of their lives.

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

Really good for the environment too! (4.50 / 2) (#42)
by cyfex on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 09:06:06 AM EST

Anyone could put a few of these on their roof for a few hundred dollars and never have to pay an electric bill again.

And that would be really great benefit for the environment 'cause nowadays a lot of energy is lost on its way to everyone's house.(If someone knows the exact percentage, i'd like to know it) Cyfex

[ Parent ]

Shoot, and I had a book with me yesterday.. (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by angelo on Tue Jan 09, 2001 at 12:24:33 PM EST

Shoot, and I had a book with me yesterday that had that number too. I think it's somewhere from 15-24% of heat loss, with the biggest loss being the northern wall.
lowmagnet.org
[ Parent ]
Good idea but... (3.00 / 2) (#36)
by Zenith on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 11:28:06 PM EST

Although the potential of Solar energy is a good idea, but it will only be worth investment in certain area, here in Australia its generally hot and dry all year around, so it will be ideal to use those kind of energy source. With that say, it still need plenty of testing to be sure that the so called "energy cube" will function properly. Needless say, oil and other fossil fuel company will try to delay the time it gets to the market and thus its still needs to wait and see when the technologies is avaliable to general public.

"Truth is what people conceit, but in reality there is no real truth, just opinions." - Zenith

Hum... (3.00 / 2) (#37)
by Houdini on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 11:59:03 PM EST

I think this is a great idea, and may solve a lot of the problems we have today if it becomes widely used. But as far as being a lot more cost efficient, does anyone else see having to pay someone a monthly bill for the amount of solar energy we use within a months time *after* we buy the solar cells? This of course after the idea catches on and people become dependant on it...

Even if that happens...it would still be a lot easier on the enviroment.

0, 1. (Just my two bits.)

Umm... (4.00 / 1) (#51)
by Trickster Coyote on Sat Jan 13, 2001 at 09:26:15 AM EST

...Who would you be paying bills to? Is someone supplying you with sunshine? Who would have any kind of legal authority to demand a monthly payment for your use of solar power??

Your cost would only be the cost of the equipment. If you are thinking about the patent holder, well they would get their slice of money from the sale of the equipment. If they decided to try some kind of licencing scheme where you pay per output, they would have to do that up front, not after people have bought, installed and are already using them. They would have no legal grounds for attempting such a thing.

Howl at the moon.

[ Parent ]

Solar Cells != Easier on the Environment! (4.00 / 1) (#49)
by xtal on Thu Jan 11, 2001 at 02:40:44 PM EST

First off - just because it uses solar power, doesn't mean that it's better for the environment. As far as pollution goes relative to power output, a modern coal-fired generating plant ain't bad (tm). The problem, of course, is NIMBY.. there's lots and lots of coal, lots and lots of hydro power out there.

The problem, of course, is that these devices need to be manufactured, replaced, and maintained. If they use metals, it needs to be smelted and/or refined. If they use silicon - heh heh - you don't want to KNOW what chemicals get used during semiconductor manufacture, and in the manufacture of machines that make semiconductors. So, you shift the polution yet again, except that it might be manufactured in another country - just so long as everything is all NIMBY.

Electric power generation is a small fraction of the total pollution output on the planet, and I doubt that these cure-alls will be on your roof anytime soon. Central generation of power is the most efficient and most reliable technique we have, and even if this technique proved to be doable on a large scale, it's still more efficient to do it all in one place.

Although, since all the crazies live in California, maybe they can lament their policies in the dark, or buy all their power from us Canadians. Heh heh.


Not quite (4.00 / 2) (#50)
by jmargaglione on Fri Jan 12, 2001 at 05:02:58 PM EST

Your argument considers the manufacturing process of solar cells, and decries the chemicals used in their manufacture. Then you say that coal producing plants are clean burning.

What you don't say, though, is that once a solar/fuel-cell is running, it causes NO pollution. Conversely, you don't mention that to produce the coal used for burning, you need to do some pretty hideous things to the environment.

You said that central generation of power is not a major contributing factor to the environment, but that argument only considers the _generation_ of the power, not the collection of the raw fuels. Now the biggest polluter of the atmosphere is probably vehicles. Now think about the massive vehicles used to strip mine for coal. There is the problem.

Solar/fuel cells offer long-term power with minimal future impact on the environment. Coal may be abundant, but stripping the coal from the land displaces a lot of trees/animals/people/etc.



[ Parent ]
New Solar Battery Undergoes Testing | 51 comments (51 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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