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Avalanche Effect Demonstrated In Solar Cells

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the when-the-rain-washes-you-clean-you'll-know dept.

Power 234

esocid writes "Researchers at TU Delft (Netherlands) and the FOM (Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter) have found irrefutable proof that the so-called avalanche effect by electrons occurs in specific semiconducting crystals of nanometer dimensions. This physical effect could pave the way for cheap, high-output solar cells. Solar cells currently have relatively low output, typically 15%, and high manufacturing costs. One possible improvement could derive from a new type of solar cell made of semiconducting nanocrystals and could theoretically lead to a maximum output of 44%, with the added benefit of reducing manufacturing costs. In conventional solar cells, one photon can release precisely one electron. However, in some semiconducting nanocrystals, one photon can release two or three electrons, hence the term 'avalanche effect.' This effect was first measured by researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratories in 2004, and since then the scientific world had raised doubts about the value of these measurements. This current research does in fact demonstrate that the avalanche effect can occur."

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Or great! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23552015)

One more glorious advancement in energy technology!

Now my laptop can run on batteries 3 weeks instead of 2.

Re:Or great! (5, Funny)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552609)

Solar cells only work outside though.

You'd have to use a thick black raincoat, a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from the ultraviolent radiation though. And cover up any exposed spots with SPF 10000 suncream.

Even then I'd scuttle back into the basement once the batteries had recharged.
 

why come out? (2, Funny)

someone1234 (830754) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552829)

You can order workers via the internets who tile your roof with Avalanche(TM) solar cells.

Re:why come out? (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553683)

You can order workers via the internets who tile your roof with Avalanche(TM) solar cells.
Do you know any workers that work at night without having bright lights. I like to be able to supervise without wearing sunglasses. If they have blood type AB that would be a plus too.

Re:Or great! (3, Funny)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552853)

And cover up any exposed spots with SPF 10000 suncream.

You know it also comes in a new convenient spray can [rustoleum.com] !

Wait and see (4, Insightful)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552033)

as with all emerging technology, I am going to wait and see as to how this R & D develops into a commercial application.

However, I'll bet the keys on my keyboard that solar is going to be a lucrative market in the near future. Heck, it already is for solar cell manufacturers.

Isn't price the key? (3, Insightful)

jimmyhat3939 (931746) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552359)

I'm often confused when I see articles about how great it is to improve the efficiency of solar cells.

To me, the big issue is not efficiency but cost per watt. Many regions of the world have plenty of the land, particularly energy guzzlers like the US. What we really need is a super-cheap way to use that land for solar generation.

Re:Isn't price the key? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23552403)

In theory - solar cells built around these new semi-conductor materials would be less expensive to manufacture, with a doubling or tripling of electrical output per panel.

Higher output, lower unit cost - isn't that exactly how one gains a lower cost per watt?

Re:Isn't price the key? (5, Informative)

dakameleon (1126377) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552419)

To me, the big issue is not efficiency but cost per watt.
Read the bloody summary even!

could theoretically lead to a maximum output of 44%, with the added benefit of reducing manufacturing costs
So if the summary is to be believed, you're increasing output nearly threefold, and reducing cost of manufacture. The cost-per-watt ratio moves the right way on both sides.

Re:Isn't price the key? (4, Interesting)

syphax (189065) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552507)


Efficiency matters, for a few reasons, including:

1. Indirect costs (installation labor, racks, mounts, etc.) scale with the area of the array. The area of array required for a given power output goes with the inverse of efficiency. These costs are pretty significant, so efficiency has a direct impact on installed costs.

2. There's lots of area available for solar panels, but solar energy is pretty diffuse, so you need a lot of area anyway. If a 1% efficient system cost a dime per watt installed, great, but you'd have to cover huge areas to generate significant amounts of electricity. There are practical limits. Even at 10-20% efficiency, you're still looking at large areas to generate a meaningful amount of juice.

Re:Isn't price the key? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23552841)

but solar energy is pretty diffuse, so you need a lot of area anyway.
I wouldn't describe ~1kW per square metre as "diffuse"

if we could get that (100% efficiency) then say bye-bye to pretty much any other technology...

Re:Isn't price the key? (3, Interesting)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553063)

Well, the company I work for is building a 1MW tidal turbine that is around 25 metres tall, not sure exactly how large the vent is, but to me that says that solar energy is pretty diffuse compared to the tides. Sunlight isn't that predictable during the day either unless you can get rid of all the clouds?

Re:Isn't price the key? (3, Insightful)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553545)

Where can I sign up? Sounds like good job.

Tidal/geothermal power are much more constant and predictable sources than solar or wind. However, I think all of these renewable technologies are each a piece of the overall energy puzzle. Solar, Wind, Tidal, Geothermal...they've all got strengths and individual industries working for them. The current model of a dominant source is fading away into a more diversified energy market. "Never put all your eggs in one basket", as they say.

Re:Isn't price the key? (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553629)

I think we have all the engineers we need, sorry ;) I just do the IT stuff anyway (though I have been doing the controller and interface software for one of our deep water mass-flow excavators :) )

Re:Isn't price the key? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23553633)

all solar panels are not created equal, look at Unisolar panels a subsidiary of energy conversion devices

they start produce electricity earlier and keep producing it for a lot longer than convential silicon solar cells,and are imo therefore much better than other cells, but on a pure efficieny measure this is not obvious

the poster is right cost per watt is the measure people should be using, conversion efficency imo is perpetrated as a marketing tool by the traditional silicon solar companies

Re:Isn't price the key? (1)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554373)

The general assumption is that improving the efficiency improves the cost per watt. If something that costs $10 produces 1 watt at 15% efficiency, then it should produce 2 watts at 30% efficiency; halving the $/watt.

Re:Wait and see (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554529)

And if you're wrong, well, that keyboard probably isn't worth much anyway.

Manufacturing Energy Costs? (5, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552043)

Manufacturing solar PV cells is usually said to cost quite a lot of energy. But how much exactly (on average)?

How many joules are consumed from raw materials to a deliverable PV cell of a given output wattage? Of the old "about 15%" (really about 20-25% these days), and of these new proposed "avalance" PV material ones?

I want to compare that energy cost to the cells' projected energy contribution over their lifetime, which is about 30+ years for today's PV cells. How long would the new ones last in typical service?

Re:Manufacturing Energy Costs? (5, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552177)

The head of Applied Materials' solar division said in a 2007 talk at Stanford that their current production process costs about 2 years of output for a solar panel. He thinks they can get that down to 6 months of output; he said some things about improvements to the sputtering process. which is derived from IC manufacturing technology where the wafers are smaller.

They'll probably do it. What Applied Materials does is improve semiconductor process technology. They're the world's largest maker of semiconductor fab equipment. This led them into making LCD displays, and then solar panels.

Re:Manufacturing Energy Costs? (1)

marvin_pa (751407) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552897)

And of course we should not forget that at least part of the energy that goes into the manufacturing could come from clean sources as well like solar.

Then the argument that solar cells cost more energy to produce loses all validity.

Re:Manufacturing Energy Costs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23553535)

How could they power there own plant. They would have to build enough solar panels, to make there production for one day which means they would need to use 712 times the output they would need for one day at full production. So if they diverted all there production to making solar panels it would take them 712 days to make all there own panels. Or if they used half there cells it would take 826 days to make all the panels. It would also take some where under 3.8 years for the solar panels to repay the power then used (Assuming panels go online as they are being produced. But the problem is that they want to increase the amount production every couple of years. (open new plants,etc) If you rework the problem with six moth cells it works out a lot better. The next question is how did they get to their 2 year figure. Does this include all the power used to extract and refine the raw materials, the power used by those who work at the solar plant and the raw material plants. (getting to work, office lights etc.) Don't forget the shipping costs Solar Cells suck because of there high initial costs and really should be avoided for anywhere that doesn't have stringent space and weight constraints. At least for the time being.

Re:Manufacturing Energy Costs? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23554229)

This runon sentence has been brought to you by 4chan.org

Re:Manufacturing Energy Costs? (1)

mrbluze (1034940) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552493)

I want to compare that energy cost to the cells' projected energy contribution over their lifetime, which is about 30+ years for today's PV cells. How long would the new ones last in typical service?

Estimated cost per watt of energy for a household system is about $8-10 US. From what I could determine (Source [wisc.edu] the expected energy return currently is 10-15 times the 'energy cost of manufacture' over the life of the cell.

That's not brilliant, but I guess a 10% reinvestment of the energy would mean solar cells can power the manufacture of solar cells.

Re:Manufacturing Energy Costs? (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553939)

yes but that is at the 10-15% efficiency that they have now. doubling the efficiency will provide a much larger return over the course of the life of the cell. all of this has only been possible in recent years as we refine your understanding of how it works.

Re:Manufacturing Energy Costs? (3, Interesting)

syphax (189065) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552551)


The numbers [energybulletin.net] are all over the place and constantly coming down with new technologies, but you're looking at breakeven after 1-5 years or so.

This is pretty good (EROEI is >> 1), and will continue to get better.

APDs (5, Informative)

Wilson_6500 (896824) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552063)

Avalanche photodiodes of certain semiconductor materials have been around for a while now. I believe the novel part of this research is that they're confirming other researchers' data showing that lead selenide semiconductors can exhibit electron cascade effects.

Re:APDs (0)

noidentity (188756) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553903)

I believe the novel part of this research is that they're confirming other researchers' data showing that lead selenide semiconductors can exhibit electron cascade effects.

The fact that it has lead in it will surely prevent it from being accepted in these "modern" times.

Re:APDs (1)

IorDMUX (870522) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554349)

Does anyone know if the "avalanche" behavior observed in these solar cells is in any way related to diode/photodiode avalanche breakdown? If so, could someone explain to me how energy can be produced in this manner?

During a photodiode's avalanche breakdown, for example, the act of a photon hitting a reverse-biased photodiode diode excites an electron into the conduction band. The excited electron gains energy from the strong reverse bias potential and "smashes" into other electrons on its way down-potential, which electrons are also excited, and excite more electrons, and so forth. However, all the energy in the system (aside from the photon's few eV) is supplied by the source that reverse biases the diode and provides the excited electrons with the energy to accelerate through the semiconductor (which is why a photodiode can be used as a switch, trigger, or sensor).

TFA didn't do much to explain this issue... can anyone give me a hand?

Los Alamos (4, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552073)

The avalanche effect was first measured by researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratories in 2004. Since then, the scientific world has raised doubts about the value of these measurements. Does the avalanche effect really exist or not?
This is the Los Alamos stuff they're talking about:

http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/05/20/1436213 [slashdot.org]

Solar Cells Get Boost
Posted by michael on Thursday May 20 2004, @02:15PM
from the juiced-up dept.
Science Technology
An anonymous reader writes "Researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory have tapped the efficiencies of nanotechnology [trnmag.com] to double solar cells' potential energy production. The key to the method is the use of lead selenium nanocrystals which can produce 2 electrons where 1 was produced before. Other optical applications can also benefit."

Re:Los Alamos (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23552461)

At this rate they will have a third study that verfies the results of the first and second studies sometime in late May 2012. Stop it with this whirlwind of progress!!

Someone said it before, I will now. (4, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552079)

Somebody else said this the last time solar cells were brought up, and it is just as relevant here:

SOMEBODY PLEASE BRING SOME ACTUAL "IMPROVEMENTS" TO MARKET!!!

If all the "improvements" to solar cell manufacturing I have read about in recent decades became actuality, we would all have homes and cars powered solely by a 1-meter-square panel on the roof and the panels would cost $1 apiece.

Please, either DO SOMETHING with this, or stop making predictions!

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (2, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552115)

Yes, to the ever increasing market of solar cells. They put em in calculators and on caravans and ummm.. uhh.. those remote weather sensors and, uhhh, emergency phones on the side of the highway.... oh yeah, and satellites and NASA robots. As you can see, clearly the market is massive and the competition is cut-throat.

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (2, Interesting)

Cairnarvon (901868) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552459)

A lot of governments give incentives for installing solar cells on your roof, and a lot of people *are* getting them installed as a result, so yes, there is a market, and a pretty big one at that. The fact that the US is lagging behind doesn't make that disappear.

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (2, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552503)

A subsidized market is hardly a market at all. The *fact* is that there are few manufacturers of solar cells.. and most of them are differentiated anyway, so they don't compete.

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (1)

jberryman (1175517) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552587)

AFAIK right now the emerging markets are places with little electricity infrastructure like rural India, but cost is still prohibitive.

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (1)

syphax (189065) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552599)

... you forgot Germany, Spain, California, NJ, MA, [solarbuzz.com] etc.

World solar photovoltaic (PV) market installations reached a record high of 2,826 megawatts (MW) in 2007, representing growth of 62% over the previous year...The PV industry raised nearly $10 billion in 2007. 84 identified financial transactions accounted for $7.5 billion in 2007, Of this amount, $5.3 billion came in the form of equity financing, while $2.2 billion came from debt financing.


3 GW (peak), isn't much in the grand scheme of things, but I tend to pay attention to markets that grow at over 50% a year. It'll get even more interesting once all the new silicon capacity comes online, and drives Si costs back to sane ranges.

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23552685)

Silicon cells are important, but keep your eye on companies developing CIGS and CdTe cells. These cells have efficiencies and lifetimes similar to polysilicon, but the advantage of being thin film.

Solar will grow exponentially in the coming years. Just look at the market in Germany.

MOD UP (1)

gorim (700913) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552127)

Was about to say the same thing. At least twice a month something about new improvement in solar cells is posted, but they never materialize into something people can use!

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (2, Funny)

stagnantProse (1296359) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552379)

Yeah, you tell 'em. And while your on it ask them what's holding up my flying car? Now where did I put my phone-watch?

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (2, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552519)

Phone watches have been available for years now (so have television watches, but not watches that do both).

What is holding up your flying car is not the car itself, it is infrastructure. Letting everybody who could afford to fly go wherever they wanted to, uncontrolled, would be pure mayhem. Death, destruction, and injury on a massive scale. Until they get absolutely reliable tracking and automated control, there will be no commonly available "flying cars". And the technology to do that, i.e., a distributed communications and computing network, did not exist until the cellular phone network was established (and greatly improved).

Now that we know we have the tracking and control technology, you might start seeing flying cars. But it is really no surprise that it has not happened before.

Flying Car? (3, Insightful)

camperdave (969942) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552661)

And while your on it ask them what's holding up my flying car?

Anti-grav units? Powerful downward facing thrusters? Wings? Rotors?

Truth be told, there's nothing holding up your flying car except the name. It's not a flying car. It's a personal aircraft, and they come in many different sizes and shapes, from ultralights, LongEZs, and autogyros, to Beavers, Cesnas and Learjets.

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (1)

wellingj (1030460) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552505)

Do something yourself if you think development and science are so easy.

I'm pretty sure if it was beyond revolutionary and economically feasible then it would be along faster than you can spit "I want it, and I don't know how it works, but I want it now!"

Or would you rather they make something that can't turn a profit, and just have the government subsidize it?

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (5, Insightful)

jberryman (1175517) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552545)

We need to wake up, and start the new Manhattan Project for energy; I don't think we can wait on the Free Market for this one.

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Meoward (665631) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553833)

We may not need something as drastic as a Manhattan Project. How about the Apollo program instead?

When JFK pledged to put a man on the moon in 10 years, we did it -- even though the Cold War arguments re: national security were a bit hysterical.

Why can't we have a leader pledge to reduce America's dependence on oil by 50% in 10 years? Sounds just as possible to me as Apollo XI would have in 1960. And it's obviously more practical.

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (1)

houghi (78078) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553931)

Free market? This will be heavily patentented so that any gain will be lost in the nice way of scre-I mean-doing business.

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (2, Funny)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554081)

We need to wake up, and start the new Manhattan Project for energy; I don't think we can wait on the Free Market for this one.
ZOMG!!!! COMMUNIST!

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (1)

JonBuck (112195) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552743)

Hear hear!

Get out of the lab, get onto my roof!

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (1)

QuantumPete (1247776) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553023)

patience... ;)

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (1)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553677)

patience... ;)
patents :(

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (2, Interesting)

Obvius (779709) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553383)

If I remember correctly from my old physics undergraduate days, the total available solar power across the entire spectrum is only just over 1kW per square metre at the Earth's surface. It's a useful thing to bear in mind when considering the viability of solar power. even with 100% efficient solar panels, we're unlikely ever to run a house on a single small panel.

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (1)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554507)

Last time I checked, my roof is a good bit bigger than 1m^2. The south facing side is probably in the 300m^2 to 450m^ range (purely estimate). Since the only purpose that is serving is keeping the weather out, lining it with solar panels is perfectly fine with me. I don't really need to run my house off of a single panel.

But in order to install that solar, I need the cost to come down such that break even falls within the five year range (or less)....assuming constant / current energy prices and usage.

Layne

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554551)

The south facing side is probably in the 300m^2 to 450m^ range (purely estimate).



That must be a really, really large house. How many m^2 floor space does it have ?

This is far from insightful (5, Insightful)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553661)

Do you have any idea how long it takes to commercialise a technology in volume? Obviously not.

If you actually read up on solar cells instead of sounding off like an idiot, you would know that the cost per watt is dropping quite fast, durability has doubled in the last 5 years, that Sharp are making cells which are nearly twice as efficient as much of the competition and they are being sold as roof panels, that the recently opened German factory can sell everything it makes for many months ahead.

Nobody has ever pretended that a 1 sq M panel would power anything large. There is only so much sunlight, and nobody has ever pretended the second law of thermodynamics would be broken. No-one has ever pretended that 1 sq M panels would cost $1 apiece; you could not make a structure to withstand wind loading that cheaply. There is a huge difference between actual forecasts of an eventual $1 per peak watt, and $1 per sq M. $1 per watt works out at about $140 per sq M for a 14% efficient panel.

To the people who modded this insightful: if you can't tell an obvious troll from engineering reality, plase hand in your geek cards now and go play with Facebook.

Re:Someone said it before, I will now. (1)

Xandu (99419) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554247)

If all the "improvements" to solar cell manufacturing I have read about in recent decades became actuality, we would all have homes and cars powered solely by a 1-meter-square panel on the roof and the panels would cost $1 apiece.

Hmmm. We'd need other advances as well. Forgetting the fact that there are clouds some of the time and the sun is below the horizion about half of the time, and assuming that the roof of your house/car is pointed squarely at the sun at all times (slightly possible if you have pointed arrays) what would a 1 square meter array give you. Well, with 100% efficiency we'd get all of the ~1400 W/m^2 that the sun bathes us in. Multiply by the 1 m^2 array we get, (whew, tough math) 1400W.

For your car, that's (thankyou google calculator) a little less than 2 horsepower. Sure, you could save up some power in batteries, but 2 HP is certainly not sufficient for cars running on todays roads in todays traffic. It's impressive how much stuff you could power off your car (even if you have a very small car) if you hooked a generator up to it. It takes alot to change the momentum of ~1000kg amalgamation of man and machine.

As for your house, if you totally cut back on pretty much everything you use (including your computer to post comments on /.) you might be able to get away with that. (And if you weren't so whiny and insist on only 1 square meter, and installed PV arrays over all of your roof you'd be doing great). And that's assuming you live in a mystical place where the sun is up 24 hours a day (and 365 days a year).

Thermaldynamics? (4, Interesting)

mlts (1038732) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552083)

Without violating thermaldynamic laws, I wonder how much electricity output this will add. I don't think it would double the current flow with 2-3 electrons popping out for each photon that strikes the array, but I know this should add a significant amount of efficiency.

I just hope all these advances, especially ones that make solar cells cheaper to manufacture go into production. There are huge chunks of the world that are lifeless desert, and would be perfect for large solar and wind arrays, assuming one could find a way to transport the generated electricity to cities without too much current loss. Perhaps some chemical reaction that pulls carbon from the air directly to make ethane, then another reaction that converts the ethane to ethanol to be piped to places that can burn the ethanol for electricity. Yes, the chemical reactions to pull carbon from the air, and get it into ethanol are wasteful, but for very long distance transfer of energy (100-200+ miles), it would be less wasteful to do that, than to use standard power transmission lines. Even though the ethanol electricity generating plants would be adding carbon into the air, it would be carbon neutral due to the carbon being extracted at the solar/wind site.

Re:Thermaldynamics? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23552203)

I frequently try to break the laws of thermaldynamics. Especially ones involving Intropy and the Carnal Cycle.

Re:Thermaldynamics? (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554533)

I don't know... You got moded Funny, but I can't think breaking the Carnal Cycle could be any funny.

Re:Thermaldynamics? (4, Interesting)

Yetihehe (971185) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553247)

Perhaps some chemical reaction that pulls carbon from the air directly to make ethane, then another reaction that converts the ethane to ethanol to be piped to places that can burn the ethanol for electricity.
Would methane be ok? If so, it is already done with CO2 and sunlight [slashdot.org] .

Re:Thermaldynamics? (2, Interesting)

mlts (1038732) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553449)

Methane works, but ethane is a lot easier on metal compounds (far less corrosive) and safer in general (although its still highly flammible). Drink ethanol (assuming not denatured), one gets drunk (or dies from alcohol poisoning). Drink methanol, and the optic nerve gets permanently polymerized by the by-products such as formic acid, which renders a person permanently blind.

Re:Thermaldynamics? (1)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553915)

"Drink ethanol (assuming not denatured), one gets drunk (or dies from alcohol poisoning). Drink methanol, and the optic nerve gets permanently polymerized by the by-products such as formic acid, which renders a person permanently blind."

Are you now using a brail keyboard? Or are you the lucky one who drank the ethanol and typing while drunk.

Re:Thermaldynamics? (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554089)

Perhaps some chemical reaction that pulls carbon from the air directly to make ethane, then another reaction that converts the ethane to ethanol to be piped to places that can burn the ethanol for electricity. Yes, the chemical reactions to pull carbon from the air, and get it into ethanol are wasteful, but for very long distance transfer of energy (100-200+ miles), it would be less wasteful to do that, than to use standard power transmission lines.



Why turn perfectly good ethane into ethanol ? That doesn't make any sense. Ethane is much, much easier to work with than ethanol. Forget fscking ethanol. Ethanol is only good as a fuel when you can make it in bulk from agricultural waste and/or non-food crops (and even then, biomass-to-liquid could also produce a liquid fuel from this stuff that is much, much closer to gasoline/diesel than ethanol). Other than that, keep it in your beer/wine/hard liquor.

Re:Thermaldynamics? (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554505)

Without violating thermaldynamic laws

You can get a 95% efficient PV cell without violating those "thermaldynamic laws".

Developing nations (3, Interesting)

William Robinson (875390) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552093)

This is great news, especially for developing nations whose energy demands are on rising trend. Countries like Indonesia, India and other middle east countries, where sun light is available in abundance, will benefit most.

Re:Developing nations (1)

dakameleon (1126377) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552439)

...Countries like Indonesia, India and other middle east countries, where sun light is available in abundance, will benefit most.
As opposed to Europe and the US, where sunlight isn't available in abundance?

Colour me confused.

Re:Developing nations (1)

QuantumPete (1247776) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553047)

you obviously don't live in England. When the sun deigns to peek out behind the clouds for five minutes, 7 million people try to cram into Hyde Park at once.

Re:Developing nations (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553105)

It's cloudy in Scotland, you insensitive clod!

Actually, the weather has been really nice here for a couple of weeks now :)

Let's be realistic (5, Insightful)

actionbastard (1206160) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552099)

Whether they're hairy [slashdot.org] , nanotube [technologyreview.com] , or amorphous [wikipedia.org] , cheap, efficient solar cells are always going to be thirty years away as long as there is 'cheap' oil around.

Re:Let's be realistic (1)

BungaDunga (801391) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552511)

Since when is $135/barrel "cheap"?

Re:Let's be realistic (5, Funny)

Chuck Chunder (21021) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552753)

Since next year!

Re:Let's be realistic (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23552999)

Since when is $135/barrel "cheap"?
@ $135/barrel, people are still wasting energy left and right. So it is still cheap.

Re:Let's be realistic (1)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554001)

"@ $135/barrel, people are still wasting energy left and right. So it is still cheap."

I agree. Give it some time though. These large social changes take time. Hell, people still use Snail mail for bills and communication. And where the hell is that "paperless environment" while we are at it? Late in 2007 the futures for Oil were predicting $200/barrel by the close of 2008. Then the fun will begin.

Re:Let's be realistic (1)

syphax (189065) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552619)


I know a couple people who made/make their money in private equity and managing investment funds, people who hard-nosed financial types, who are convinced it's more like 5 years away.

There's been a huge run on Si that's kept Si prices high and solar prices slightly up; once a ton of in-process Si capacity turns on, it should get interesting (hint: don't go long on Si right now).

BTW the qualifier to your prediction isn't that valid these days...

Move along (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23552155)

Move along, nothing to see here in the present or past. In fact, just forget about any alternative energy source that we already have and Just keep your sights on the future, and keep using oil in the meantime.

Re:Move along (1)

fractoid (1076465) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553323)

At least they seem to have moved on from the stupidity that was the "hydrogen economy". Basic back-of-the-envelope maths shows that hydrogen is a clear loser compared to battery electric vehicles etc.

PhysOrg says I'm right, too. [physorg.com]

Re:Move along (2, Informative)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553339)

At least they seem to have moved on from the stupidity that was the "hydrogen economy".



Oh yeah. There will be a hydrogen economy if/when we manage to get useful energy out of nuclear fusion. Until then, hydrogen is just a fuel with one advantage on paper and a long list of disadvantages in practice.

Sunlight is better used for heating (2, Interesting)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552231)

Using sunlight for electricity is not particularly attractive, but for the neat 'no moving parts' aspect. It is far better to use solar power for light, water and space heating - those remarkable innovations called windows and skylights for example.

Re:Sunlight is better used for heating (4, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552295)

Man, let me tell you about skylights. I have a skylight, and I thought it was cool. Here's how it works: I get free light all day long, except at night when there isn't enough light coming in through the window.

I get free heating all summer long, but in the winter it's too cloudy to make a difference. Yeah, skylights sound good and all, but give me a solar panel over that any day.

Re:Sunlight is better used for heating (1)

Cairnarvon (901868) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552479)

This may come as a shock, but you can do both at the same time.

Re:Sunlight is better used for heating (1)

RuBLed (995686) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552549)

Real nerds use RTG for electricity and heating, perfectly suitable for basement use.

Re:Sunlight is better used for heating (3, Interesting)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552719)

Using sunlight for electricity is not particularly attractive, but for the neat 'no moving parts' aspect. It is far better to use solar power for light, water and space heating - those remarkable innovations called windows and skylights for example.
Tell that to the entire African Continent which has an abundance of sun & empty space, but a deficit of fresh water, power & air conditioning.

I look forward to a future with solar powered desalination plants.
It's a much brighter outlook than continent wide water wars forcefully giving everyone a skylight.

Re:Sunlight is better used for heating (1)

1 a bee (817783) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552913)

You do realize, though, that if the solar generated electricity is consumed inside the building, the laws of thermodynamics dictate that the electrical power consumed eventually dissipates as heat inside the building. I have nothing against skylights, per se, but this is the same heat you're worried about letting in through the skylight. And besides, what are you proposing here? steam powered laptops?

--
[FaunOS [faunos.com] ]

Re:Sunlight is better used for heating (1)

Jeppe Salvesen (101622) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553125)

Water heating - sure! Light - sure. But heating? There's not enough angle when the sun strikes the earth in the wintertime, that's why it's cold - the energy is absorbed by the atmosphere.

However, photovoltaics is excellent for powering something else - air conditioning. If you stick photovoltaics on your roof, you get a double whammy: Less heating from the sun because the photons are either deflected or converted into energy, and electricity to power the air conditioning at daytime. I imagine this is particularly interesting for office buildings, since they use most energy at daytime.

The tricky part is covering consumption when it's dark.

Re:Sunlight is better used for heating (2, Insightful)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554167)

Water heating - sure! Light - sure. But heating? There's not enough angle when the sun strikes the earth in the wintertime, that's why it's cold - the energy is absorbed by the atmosphere.

Erm. Some of my colleagues heat their (superinsulated) houses with solar, with a small electric auxiliary heater. This year, they didn't have to use the auxiliary heater from late January on.

So, sure, you may not be able to heat your house with solar all the time, and in all latitudes, but you can use it to significantly cut your usage of other forms of power for heating.

Penny wise, pound foolish (5, Insightful)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552237)

We seem to cavil about a few million dollars, or even a few hundred million, being spent to jump start emerging energy technology, but we have no problem spending billions on oil industry subsidies.

We need to acknowledge that any new tech investment involves high risk. Success brings high rewards. We accept exactly this reasoning when oil executives tell us that oil exploration is expensive and risky, and therefore requires continuing subsidies even when record profits are rolling in. A few million spent on alt energy research that tanks, however, is usually reported as a "this is what happens when you listen to the tree huggers" story.

An attitude adjustment as 'way overdue, and a rediscovery of our spirit of adventure and innovation. Perhaps putting some money into finding out whether this kind of solar cell works and can be mass produced would be a place to start.

Re:Penny wise, pound foolish (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23552637)

Don't forget 3 trillion dollars for Iraq (plus years of ongoing medical care for the veterans).

Basically spent on oil defense AND in response to us sending that area money which some parts use to make trouble with.
The islamic countries would be a lot more reasonable if we were not sending them huge piles of money.

Three trillion in solar technology would go a looong way.

You could build photo-voltaic systems for 60,000 homes.
You could subsidize 120,000 homes.

Re:Penny wise, pound foolish (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553193)

Three trillion in solar technology would go a looong way.

Not if spending it was up to the people who brought us the DMV and Amtrak, it wouldn't.

-jcr

Re:Penny wise, pound foolish (4, Informative)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552813)

We seem to cavil about a few million dollars, or even a few hundred million, being spent to jump start emerging energy technology, but we have no problem spending billions on oil industry subsidies.

Maybe because most alternative energy sources are big money losers? Take a look at page 16 of this report [doe.gov] for the actual numbers about subsidies...

I predict once you can start to get alternative energy sources like solar and wind down an order of magnitude or so in terms of cost you'll see things turn around. However, for now they're getting somewhere around 100X the subsidy per Megawatt-hour that "Big Oil" gets.

An improvement from 15% to 40% simply isn't enough - natural gas and oil get around $0.25 per MWhr, while solar and wind get 100 times that amount per MWhr. And remember, those nasty "Big Oil" companies also pay over $3 in direct federal taxes for every $1 in profit. Over $200 billion flows into the Federal government every year in terms of direct taxes and fees (that's not including the taxes you're paying on consumption of their products).

Right now, and for the last 20 years, wind and solar have been huge money-losers, and only exists BECAUSE of the massive subsidies. If we subsidized wind or solar at a level to get useful output levels, we'd spend literally trillions more per year.

And then there's that whole baseload thing...

Re:Penny wise, pound foolish (2, Insightful)

dmgxmichael (1219692) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553033)

The problem isn't oil - it's the abuse of it. Like an adict we've allowed oil to change the entire structure of our nation and our society. When the oil is gone this structure will not be sustainable.

It won't be armageddon. People will simply move back into the cities. The suburbs will become ghettos just as the inner cities are now and then they will die out. By the end of the century New York, Chicago and the other large cities of the US will contract back into the boundaries they had in the year 1900 before the oil infection took hold. It will only occur when people have no other choice - but now that we are beyond Heubert's peak that day is fast approaching.

Another sign of this is that even as the housing market overall is in crisis real estate in the inner cities has actually increased in value. Part of this is the lessors of such properties are usually corporations or affluent individuals, the other part is that the price of oil's rise creates a condensation pressure on cities that is only beginning.

Wind Energy works, just ask Denmark (2, Interesting)

soren100 (63191) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554339)

Right now, and for the last 20 years, wind and solar have been huge money-losers, and only exists BECAUSE of the massive subsidies. If we subsidized wind or solar at a level to get useful output levels, we'd spend literally trillions more per year.
Nice try, troll. Countries like Denmark have had tremendous success [foxnews.com] with alternative energy sources such as wind power. Currently about 20% of the energy used in Denmark comes from wind power, and there is about a $5 billion market in exporting turbines. Currently over a third of the wind turbines used worldwide [wikipedia.org] are built by Danish manufacturers such as Vestas.

On windy days, Denmark actually generates "too much" power from wind (about 40%) so they are working on an electric car system [theregister.co.uk] to act as a "sink" to dump the excess energy. (currently the hydroelectric generating facilities in Norway and Sweden are used to smooth out the changes in energy production from wind)

The wind power project has been such a success that Denmark is currently planning to double its offshore wind farms, after studies showed that it would not harm the environment. The current goal is to increase wind power to 30% of total output by 2025.

Oh, ho ho ho... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23552321)

This current research does in fact demonstrate that the avalanche effect can occur.
Oh boy, that's a good one.

Irrefutable? Then it's NOT science! (5, Insightful)

Mathinker (909784) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552647)

There is no such thing as irrefutable in science. In fact, some people attempt to define science as the pursuit of knowledge which can be corroborated and refuted using the "scientific method" (to preempt a lot of comments: I said "attempt to define", because this definition rapidly becomes circular unless you are very careful, and it is not clear that defining the "scientific method" is easier than defining science itself).

OTOH, I rather doubt that the scientists themselves claimed irrefutability here. The journalists are probably to blame.

Re:Irrefutable? Then it's NOT science! (1)

CyberLife (63954) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554037)

Damn right! :)

Re:Irrefutable? Then it's NOT science! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23554243)

There is no such thing as irrefutable in science.

So does that mean that statement is itself refutable? However if it is irrefutable then the statement is not science by your own definition.

but snowballs... (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552947)

You know how much it would hurt to get hit by a rolled up snowball of electrons though? Anyway, this is totally sweet but I don't get it. If a photon has the energy to move more than one electron significantly, why couldn't they just simply layer or stack them somehow in a nice, flat way instead of having to do it on some fancy crystal where they have to collide and "avalanche" in a certain pattern and all that? If the photons in fact don't have the energy to move 2-3 electrons with the same energy as it can move 1 in a regular solar cell and...well...just read that back out loud, then this would just be like some pointless executive ball clicker effect that can't possibly have a net gain in energy and they're BSing something to get funding. If photons can in fact move more than one electron with the same energy it could impact one with then why couldn't they have stacked several layers of electron holding substance like blankets on top of each other and the impact on the top layer would cause impacts on the electrons below it with the same amount of energy collected? It all sounds a little fishy to me.

Decentralize - Decentralize - Decentralize. (5, Insightful)

dmgxmichael (1219692) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552991)

Imagine for a moment if we geeks hadn't come up with DNS but instead tried to use a small handful of machines to handle domain name resolution. The Internet would collapse rather quickly no?

Funny then that to date our power grid is based on a centralized model. Sadly, as much as 20-30% of all power generated is lost during transmission over the grid.

Now effective solar panels and batteries to go with them would allow us to move to a more decentralized model. Imagine whole neighborhoods creating most - though not all - of their power needs. If the panels can get to around 80% of the needs of the house then the current power plants we have can be the only ones we need for awhile.

Or even better, instead of having massive plants with a huge footprint make use of smaller pup nuclear reactors - about the size used in a naval ship. One of those could be placed where the power substations are now and pick up the slack that the solar panels can't fulfill. They wouldn't present any real contamination danger as once their fuel was spent after 30 years or so you truck out the entire unit and refurbish (i.e. refuel) it under controlled conditions in a remote area - while in service the internals of the thing aren't opened up.

These things also wouldn't have to make as much power as the current power stations because, by virtue of being closer to the customers they serve, they wouldn't lose as much power in the lines.

Max Power (1)

Obvius (779709) | more than 6 years ago | (#23553401)

If I remember correctly from my old physics undergraduate days, the total available power from the Sun is only about 1kW per square metre at the Earth's surface. That's across the entire spectrum. So even assuming 100% efficiency, it's still a useful thing to bear in mind when considering the viability of solar power.

Re:Max Power (2, Interesting)

catprog (849688) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554199)

Average of 5 hours a day = total power per square meter = 5Kw

My house + 50% = 30kwh / day

= 6 square meter

30% efficiency

Only about 20 square meters required.

40% is already a reality. (1)

Kintanon (65528) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554601)

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/04/stateoftheart_m.php [treehugger.com]

So if this is an improvement up to 40%, then it is FAIL. If it can be applied to the existing 40% cells to make them even more efficient then Solar power is about to take off in a big way.

Re:40% is already a reality. (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554633)

So if this is an improvement up to 40%, then it is FAIL. If it can be applied to the existing 40% cells to make them even more efficient then Solar power is about to take off in a big way.

I'd rather have 40% efficiency solar cells at half the cost than 50% efficiency solar cells at the same cost.

Solar power is going to take off in a big way once the price of the panels drops enough. Let's hope this discovery helps with that.

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