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

Photogallery US to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Expanded Ebola Effort

At US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Obama is to announce troop deployment, other details of US plans to fight Ebola outbreak More

China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa 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.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid