lightweight solar cells track the sun was inspired by art

Photovoltaic array - pole-mountedSolar cells capture up to 40 percent more energy when they can track the sun across the sky, but conventional, motorized trackers are too heavy and bulky for pitched rooftops and vehicle surfaces.

Now, by borrowing from kirigami, the ancient Japanese art of paper cutting, researchers at the University of Michigan have developed solar cells that can have it both ways.

“The design takes what a large tracking solar panel does and condenses it into something that is essentially flat,” said Aaron Lamoureux, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering and first author on the paper in Nature Communications.

Residential rooftops make up about 85 percent of solar panel installations in the U.S., according to a report from the Department of Energy, but these roofs would need significant reinforcing to support the weight of conventional sun-tracking systems.

A team of engineers and an artist developed an array of small solar cells that can tilt within a larger panel, keeping their surfaces more perpendicular to the sun’s rays.

“The beauty of our design is, from the standpoint of the person who’s putting this

New way to store solar energy could lead to more common solar cell usage

Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have developed a relatively inexpensive and simple way to split water into hydrogen and oxygen through a new electrodeposition method. The method produces highly efficient solar cells that can gather solar energy for use as fuel.

The research, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, could lead to a sizable increase in the amount of hydrogen available for fuel usage.

The Missouri S&T researchers describe their full method in a paper published on the website of the journal Nature Materials.

“The work helps to solve the problem that solar energy is intermittent,” says Dr. Jay A. Switzer, the Donald L. Castleman/Foundation for Chemical Research Professor of Discovery at Missouri S&T. “Obviously, we cannot have the sun produce energy on one spot the entire day, but our process converts the energy into a form that is more easily stored.”

Switzer and his team use silicon wafers to absorb solar energy. The silicon is submerged in water, with the front surface exposed to a solar energy simulator and the back surface covered in electrodes to conduct the energy. The

Green storage for green energy

Green EnergyA team of Harvard scientists and engineers has demonstrated a rechargeable battery that could make storage of electricity from intermittent energy sources like solar and wind safe and cost-effective for both residential and commercial use. The new research builds on earlier work by members of the same team that could enable cheaper and more reliable electricity storage at the grid level.

The mismatch between the availability of intermittent wind or sunshine and the variability of demand is a great obstacle to getting a large fraction of our electricity from renewable sources. This problem could be solved by a cost-effective means of storing large amounts of electrical energy for delivery over the long periods when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.

In the operation of the battery, electrons are picked up and released by compounds composed of inexpensive, earth-abundant elements (carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, iron and potassium) dissolved in water. The compounds are non-toxic, non-flammable, and widely available, making them safer and cheaper than other battery systems.

“This is chemistry I’d be happy to put in my basement,” says Michael J. Aziz,

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Making fuel from light

Refined by nature over a billion years, photosynthesis has given life to the planet, providing an environment suitable for the smallest, most primitive organism all the way to our own species.

While scientists have been studying and mimicking the natural phenomenon in the laboratory for years, understanding how to replicate the chemical process behind it has largely remained a mystery — until now.

Recent experiments at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have afforded researchers a greater understanding of how to manipulate photosynthesis, putting humankind one step closer to harvesting “solar fuel,” a clean energy source that could one day help replace coal and natural gas.

Lisa M. Utschig, a bioinorganic chemist at Argonne for 20 years, said storing solar energy in chemical bonds such as those found in hydrogen can provide a robust and renewable energy source. Burning hydrogen as fuel creates no pollutants, making it much less harmful to the environment than common fossil fuel sources.

“We are taking sunlight, which is abundant, and we are using water to make a fuel,” said Utschig, who oversaw the project. “It’s pretty remarkable.” Unlike the energy derived from solar panels, which must be used quickly, hydrogen, a solar fuel,

Super solar cells collect higher energy photons 30 times better

By combining designer quantum dot light-emitters with spectrally matched photonic mirrors, a team of scientists with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of Illinois created solar cells that collect blue photons at 30 times the concentration of conventional solar cells, the highest luminescent concentration factor ever recorded. This breakthrough paves the way for the future development of low-cost solar cells that efficiently utilize the high-energy part of the solar spectrum.

“We’ve achieved a luminescent concentration ratio greater than 30 with an optical efficiency of 82-percent for blue photons,” says Berkeley Lab director Paul Alivisatos, who is also the Samsung Distinguished Professor of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at the University of California Berkeley, and director of the Kavli Energy Nanoscience Institute (ENSI), was the co-leader of this research. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the highest luminescent concentration factor in literature to date.”

Alivisatos and Ralph Nuzzo of the University of Illinois are the the corresponding authors of a paper in ACS Photonics describing this research entitled “Quantum Dot Luminescent Concentrator Cavity Exhibiting 30-fold Concentration.” Noah Bronstein, a member of Alivisatos’s research group, is one of three lead authors along with Yuan Yao and Lu

Artificial leaf New efficiency record for solar hydrogen production is 14 percent

An international team has succeeded in considerably increasing the efficiency for direct solar water splitting with a tandem solar cell whose surfaces have been selectively modified. The new record value is 14 percent and thus tops the previous record of 12.4 percent, broken now for the first time in 17 years.

Solar energy is abundantly available globally, but unfortunately not constantly and not everywhere. One especially interesting solution for storing this energy is artificial photosynthesis. This is what every leaf can do, namely converting sunlight to chemical energy. That can take place with artificial systems based on semiconductors as well. These use the electrical power that sunlight creates in individual semiconductor components to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen possesses very high energy density, can be employed in many ways and could replace fossil fuels.

In addition, no carbon dioxide harmful to the climate is released from hydrogen during combustion, instead only water. Until now, manufacturing of solar hydrogen at the industrial level has failed due to the costs, however. This is because the efficiency of artificial photosynthesis, i.e. the energy content of the hydrogen compared to that of sunlight, has simply been too low to produce hydrogen