News / Science & Technology

Volunteers Help Scientists in Search for Cheap Solar Cells

Volunteers Help Scientists in Search for Cheap Solar Cellsi
X
July 15, 2013 6:40 PM
Solar cells remain a relatively expensive investment for ordinary consumers of electric power. But a group of scientists at Harvard University is looking for cheaper, organic solar cells, which could be painted on rooftops and building facades. In their research, they are employing the help of thousands of volunteers around the world. VOA's George Putic has more.
George Putic
Solar cells remain a relatively expensive investment for ordinary consumers of electric power. But a group of scientists at Harvard University is looking for cheaper, organic solar cells, which could be painted on rooftops and building facades. In their research, they are employing the help of thousands of volunteers around the world.

Most of today's solar cells are silicon-based and their manufacture requires sophisticated machinery and expertise. An average home in the United States uses between 20 and 24 kilowatt hours of electricity every day. And it may cost up to $20,000 to buy and install solar panels that can produce that much energy. While economical in the long run, it is an expense many cannot afford.

But a group of researchers in the Harvard Clean Energy Project is looking for cheaper, carbon-based compounds that could substantially lower that price. Project head Alan Aspuru said that a carbon-based solar cell would have to be about 10 percent efficient to make an impact.  

"This basically means that 10 percent of the sunlight that hits the device is converted into energy. There's about three, or four, or maybe five - a handful of molecules that we know about, that already have this efficiency. And this has been discovered in the last year or a couple of years," said Aspuru.

Aspuru says today's most commonly used silicon-based solar cells also do not have a very high efficiency, just about 15 percent. More-efficient solar cells do exist, but they are used mainly on satellites, due to their high cost. But cheap carbon-based solar cells could cover large surfaces - compensating for their low efficiency.

Researchers already have identified 2.3 million carbon-based compounds, out of which 35,000 potentially could have efficiency above 10 percent.

"That does not necessarily mean that those 35,000 molecules, all of them would be above 10 percent efficient. For a solar cell that basically means they could potentially be, and more research has to be done on them," he said.

Aspuru said further analysis of those compounds requires large computing power, which his group is getting from volunteers around the world who donate their computers' time to a "virtual supercomputer" project.

"In my case, in partnership with [the] IBM project for the World Community Grid, hundreds of thousands of people that are registered in the database of IBM are on and off computing for many projects, including ours," he said.

Researchers are hopeful their findings will spur innovation, and that based on this research, experimental laboratories around the world will be able to come up with new materials.  

Results so far are encouraging. The Clean Energy Project already has discovered a powerful organic semiconductor named DA2T. It's the second best semiconductor reported in scientific literature.

You May Like

US Gives Malaysia Questionable Upgrade in Human Trafficking Ranks

Malaysia’s upgrade seen as removing barrier to country’s participation in the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Turkey, US Try to Establish Buffer Despite Differences

Coalition airstrikes in proposed zone would aim to drive out Islamic extremists, allowing targeted area to come under sway of anti-Assad rebels More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Shane Bird from: Temecula CA
July 18, 2013 1:16 PM
I was interested in the claim made about DA2T but I found that the claim reported here is somewhat misleading, it is actually the second best organic semiconductor.
In Response

by: boyce from: solarpanelcellonline.com/
July 31, 2013 11:40 PM
The Clean Energy Project already has discovered a powerful organic semiconductor named DA2T. It's the second best semiconductor reported in scientific literature.

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
July 17, 2013 3:26 AM
Yes, I agree solar panel is too expensive to apply the roof of my house at present. Its life expectancy is about ten to twenty years so that we have to replace it with new one before installing cost is payed.

New solar cells using carbon or bio-based compounds sound promising for popular use. It makes sense that selecting some compounds efficient above 10 percent from 35,000 candidates needs so many calculations. I hope crowd computers offered by numerous volunteers world wide would work well.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs