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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' at 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license 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.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid