×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

"Black Silicon" Advances Imaging, Solar Energy

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the same-periodic-table-as-black-gold dept.

Power 114

waderoush writes "Forcing sulfur atoms into silicon using femtosecond laser pulses creates a material called 'black silicon' that is 100 to 500 times more sensitive to light than conventional silicon, in both the visible and infrared spectrums, according to SiOnyx, a venture-funded Massachusetts start-up that just emerged from stealth mode. Today's New York Times has a piece about the serendipitous discovery of black silicon inside the laboratory of Harvard physicist Eric Mazur. Meanwhile, a report in Xconomy explains how black silicon works and how SiOnyx and manufacturing partners hope to use it to build far more efficient photovoltaic cells and more sensitive detectors for medical imaging devices, surveillance satellites, and consumer digital cameras."

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

114 comments

I've said it once, I've said it before (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25346115)

It's African-American Silicon, you insensitive clods!

Re:I've said it once, I've said it before (5, Funny)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346531)

Yea, we really need to be more sensitive to semiconductors of color. Say, 100 to 500 times more sensitive.

Re:I've said it once, I've said it before (1)

DougWombat (1291300) | more than 5 years ago | (#25347827)

It's African-American Silicon, you insensitive clods!

Haven't you heard? Black is the new African-American.

Re:I've said it once, I've said it before (1)

kaizokuace (1082079) | more than 5 years ago | (#25348473)

Once you go black, you never go back.

Re:I've said it once, I've said it before (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25348555)

Once you go white, you crave Kid Dy-no-mite?

GNAA unveils "New for Jew Thousand and Six" produc (-1, Troll)

hithereyouguys (1383639) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346133)

GNAA unveils "New for Jew Thousand and Six" product lineup

GNAA unveils "New for Jew Thousand and Six" product lineup

Sunday January 1, 2006

Ich Bindalross (GNAP) - Stuttgart, Germany Renowned homosexual and GNAA Director of Reasearch and Development Staos today announced the unveiling of GNAA's 2006 product line. Sitting in a lavishly decorated men's rest stop bathroom, he made the first of the day's groundbreaking communiqués regarding the "New for Jew Thousand and Six" products.

While gloryholing his fourteen inch nigger cock, Staos proudly annouced the newest product to pass the GNAA's rigorous R&D testing: FourRape. Said he: "FourRape is a fully extensible, java-based crapflooding solution, based on an innovative plugin architecure. In theory and with the right plugin, you could effectively Sodomize Without Consent (SWC) anything from Futaba image boards to the deep bowels of the vast left wing goblin kike conspiracy."

Upon ejactulation of a quart of semen upon the reporter's face, he finally said "Also on the list of hot new items for 2006 is LM Go". Continued Staos: "LM Go is a hand held device that when placed on a LAN, can effectively force all properly configured computers on that LAN to netboot LMOS, the Last Measure Operating System, resulting in faster Gay Porno content delivery to the masses. We expect to see field testing of LM Go as early as Febuary, with insertion into NTT/DoCoMo headquarters." Observed a random passerby: "It truly is a marvel what they're doing with technology these days. Just last week I had to go all the way down to my local crusing joint to get some hot nigger on nigger action. With LM Go, I can get gay porno throughout my entire subnet."

About GNAA:
GNAA (GAY NIGGER ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA) is the first organization which gathers GAY NIGGERS from all over America and abroad for one common goal - being GAY NIGGERS.

Are you GAY?
Are you a NIGGER?
Are you a GAY NIGGER?

If you answered "Yes" to all of the above questions, then GNAA (GAY NIGGER ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA) might be exactly what you've been looking for!
Join GNAA (GAY NIGGER ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA) today, and enjoy all the benefits of being a full-time GNAA member.
GNAA (GAY NIGGER ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA) is the fastest-growing GAY NIGGER community with THOUSANDS of members all over United States of America and the World! You, too, can be a part of GNAA if you join today!

Why not? It's quick and easy - only 3 simple steps!

        * First, you have to obtain a copy of GAYNIGGERS FROM OUTER SPACE THE MOVIE and watch it. You can download the movie (~130mb) using BitTorrent.
        * Second, you need to succeed in posting a GNAA First Post on slashdot.org, a popular "news for trolls" website.
        * Third, you need to join the official GNAA irc channel #GNAA on irc.gnaa.us, and apply for membership.

Talk to one of the ops or any of the other members in the channel to sign up today! Upon submitting your application, you will be required to submit links to your successful First Post, and you will be tested on your knowledge of GAYNIGGERS FROM OUTER SPACE.

If you are having trouble locating #GNAA, the official GAY NIGGER ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA irc channel, you might be on a wrong irc network. The correct network is NiggerNET, and you can connect to irc.gnaa.us as our official server. Follow this link if you are using an irc client such as mIRC.

If you have mod points and would like to support GNAA, please moderate this post up.

If you have mod points and would like to support GNAA, please moderate this post up.

Copyright (c) 2003-2006 Gay Nigger Association of America

Just great... (5, Funny)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346137)

Now I'm going to have to counteract this worrying news by expediting my research on black tinfoil.

Re:Just great... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25346369)

Now I'm going to have to counteract this worrying news by expediting my research on black tinfoil.

Also known as a trash bag.

Re:Just great... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25349747)

I've discovered smoking crack out of rolled up tinfoil works good. After smoking I have lots of energy to unroll the blackened tinfoil and fashion it into different strategic panels for my campsite.

Re:Just great... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25351051)

A little late to the game -- it's call "blackwrap" -- used where you need black & heat resistant:

http://www.rosco.com/us/video/cinefoil.asp

Current PV cells are already up to 40% efficient (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25346141)

So how exactly are they going to become 500X better at gathering light?

Re:Current PV cells are already up to 40% efficien (4, Informative)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346163)

Not all photons have the same energy (wavelength), and this is for precision imaging not power generation. Note it's more "sensitive" not more efficient.

Re:Current PV cells are already up to 40% efficien (3, Informative)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 5 years ago | (#25347091)

Just to be a bit more explicit, sensitivity probably refers to one of two things.

The first would be an increase in quantum efficiency; that would be an increase in the ratio of photons detected to those impacting. In a photovoltaic cell this would lead to improved efficiency. Current scientific detectors, that I've looked into anyway for a research project I'm involved in, max out at maybe 70%, with most reasonably priced ones being 25%-35%. (The 70% ones tend to be things like photomultiplier tubes which require power input to achieve a high reverse voltage, so they're certainly not useful for PV cells.)

The second aspect would be to decrease the noise or dark count so that its capable of detecting dimmer and dimmer light sources, and in order to get the > 100% improvements this is definitely a large aspect of what the new method has done. Unfortunately I know more about the applications and figures of merit than the semiconductor stuff, so I can't say much about this other than I hope this opens up some new application possibilities.

Re:Current PV cells are already up to 40% efficien (3, Informative)

IceMonkiesForSenate (1316211) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346187)

The efficiency of a solar cell is equal to the power absorbed by light divided by the power that is actually sent to the circuit the device is attached to. So if the sensitivity of the collector increases 500x, then there is likely going to be a major increase in the power supplied by the cell. This has nothing to do with the efficiency

Re:Current PV cells are already up to 40% efficien (3, Informative)

necro81 (917438) | more than 5 years ago | (#25356427)

The sensitivity they are referring to is the amount of electrons released by the incident light - Amps of current per Watt of sunlight. Sunlight has a broad spectrum, and this technique allows more of the infrared portion of the spectrum (which is a lot) to cause electrons to flow.

However, and this is important, they achieved this by lowering the bandgap energy of the silicon. Why is that important? Remember that power, when it comes to electronics, is current times voltage. The voltage of a solar cell (open circuit voltage) is more or less the bandgap energy (divided by one electron charge). So, yeah, they get more electrons to flow for the same amount of incident sunlight, but the cell's voltage has also been lowered. Do you end up with more or less power as a result? Does the greater current overcome the lowered voltage? Since they haven't actually published data on a solar cell made from this technique, there isn't really a way to tell for certain.

My guess is that they won't be able to get vast power gains - possibly lower ones. The reason for this is that, right now, one photon with energy greater than the bandgap energy has a chance to create one electron-hole pair. If the photon has more energy than the bandgap energy, it doesn't make a correspondingly more energetic electron-hole pair. Even if the photon had twice the bandgap energy, it can't make two electron-hole pairs. So, a blue photon creates as much useful electrical energy as a red photon, despite the fact that the blue photon has more energy in it. One can play around with the bandgap energy of the PV cell to make better use of the high energy photons, but at the cost of excluding lower energy photons like infrared and red. More info here [google.com] . This is why the solar cells with greatest efficiency are actually multi-junction cells [wikipedia.org] - several solar cells with different bandgap energies stacked on top of each other, each tuned to a different portion of the solar spectrum.

The article mentions how these guys should be able to use their black silicon to create multiple electron-hole pairs from a single photon. In order to do that, however, they have to provide a bias voltage. In that case, the solar cell is sucking power, not producing it. That's fine if what you want is a very sensitive photo sensor - it's basically a solid-state photomultiplier tube. It's not a way to generate electrical power.

Re:Current PV cells are already up to 40% efficien (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25346197)

Read carefully: they said 500x more sensitive than silicon, not 500x more sensitive than PV cells.

It's a bit like if they said that by reacting hydrogen with oxygen, they created a compound 700 times denser than oxygen. That doesn't mean it's 700 times denser than the densest material known.

Re:Current PV cells are already up to 40% efficien (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25351811)

That 40% is at some specific wavelength (or band). Generally speaking there are vast swaths of infrared light that standard Si PV cells don't collect. These areas of the spectrum could easily be absorbed 500x more than they already are.

That being said, I don't think it's 500x more efficient, just 500x more sensitive. That simply means that the signal/noise ratio is 500x (27dB) higher than before.

dom

So what's the catch? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25346161)

This is another company using the mystique of "Trade secrets" to attract capital. If this is as good as they say, they wouldn't have any secrets and would spill the beans.

I think they have found some weaknesses that restrict the usefulness of this technology. Perhaps sensors made with this technology must be supercooled in order for them to function properly (i.e. perhaps this technology amplifies thermal noise by dozens of times).

Re:So what's the catch? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25346247)

While I'm quite skeptical as well, you should keep in mind that patent applications sit in limbo for a few years before being approved. (And 'patent pending' does nothing.) If it's that good, it would make perfect sense to keep the details under wraps until the patent application is approved - at which point anyone can read about it, just not use it for a while.

Re:So what's the catch? (3, Informative)

The Bender (801382) | more than 5 years ago | (#25348335)

You don't need to wait until a patent is granted to read it. US patent applications (for example) are published 18 months after they are filed, which is often years before they are granted (or not, as the case may be).

Re:So what's the catch? (1)

whopub (1100981) | more than 5 years ago | (#25347395)

Yep, I agree. These days there's always a catch in everything. I guess that, even if some perfect tech came up, we'd find out the company's CEO was fucking the misses behind our back, or something like that.

Perhaps there isn't one (4, Interesting)

Farmer Tim (530755) | more than 5 years ago | (#25347503)

If this is as good as they say, they wouldn't have any secrets and would spill the beans.

The fundamental research [harvard.edu] was done a long [latimes.com] time [physorg.com] ago [photonics.com] (with picture of prototypes); I've read articles about it in Electronics and Wireless World several times over the years, so it's hardly a secret. Any potentially patentable critical element is going to be kept under wraps, obviously.

I think they have found some weaknesses that restrict the usefulness of this technology.

Or they spent 3 years on R&D fixing those weaknesses, like the article says.

Further information of note from the NYT article:

SiOnyx is already commercializing sensor-based chips as a technology development platform for other companies and for use in next-generation infrared imaging systems.

So we're told:
1- There's a decade of peer-reviewed research behind the technology.
2- They have funding and partners already.
3- They're shipping parts now, not at some unknown time in the future.

Either this is real, or Dr Mazur et al are engaging in an exceptionally elaborate, very public and career-ending series of lies (and it's not as though SiOnyx will be a paying proposition if the tech doesn't work). The part of the operation that does look suspect is their web site [sionyxinc.com] (Flash warning), but that doesn't prove anything about the physics involved.

Re:Perhaps there isn't one (2, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#25347713)

> ...and it's not as though SiOnyx will be a paying proposition if the tech doesn't work...

It has already been a paying proposition for ten years for its employees, agents, consultants, lawyers, etc. This announcement could suck in enough new funding to stretch that another decade.

Note: I'm not saying that they don't have anything real: just that these things are often profitable for someone even when they don't pan out (and most don't). Look particularly at the venture capital types who get hefty fees for arranging for investing other people's money (not percentages of net profit: fees).

Re:Perhaps there isn't one (2, Insightful)

Farmer Tim (530755) | more than 5 years ago | (#25356807)

It has already been a paying proposition for ten years for its employees, agents, consultants, lawyers, etc.

SiOnyx was formed in 2005, not 1999. Before that the team had to get funding the same way as everyone else at Harvard: peer assessed grant applications, with results subject to review. That doesn't eliminate the possibility of it being a sham, but sustaining the illusion of success for that long in that environment would be an impressive feat.

This announcement could suck in enough new funding to stretch that another decade.

I seriously doubt it. This isn't an announcement of a fundamental discovery (that was years ago), this said they're currently shipping working devices to developers. That's a really big claim to falsify, especially if it's used as the basis for procuring further investments (think "fraud").

Besides, FT xconomy A:

Saylor says he hopes the company won't have to raise any more venture capital to do that. "The first strategic relationships are going to be with very well-aligned industry leaders, so those will lead to development relationships and eventually product-revenue relationships," he says. The company will be "careful with cash" until it can grow to the point that it "becomes interesting to someone outside the venture investing community," he says.

Maybe it's reverse psychology, but that doesn't sound to me like they're seeking investors. What it does sound like is they're trying to attract interest from semiconductor manufacturers to develop the process at a production level, which makes sense when you consider that the odds of a startup raising enough capital to build a commercial scale fabrication plant are pretty much zero.

I'm not saying that they don't have anything real: just that these things are often profitable for someone even when they don't pan out (and most don't).

The fact that VCs collect fees bears no direct relationship to the viability of any given project. And the majority of businesses fail*, not just high tech startups. Generalisations like this tell us nothing about which companies and technologies will be successful, so they're of little value.

Scepticism is perfectly reasonable for any new technology, but black silicon has already passed a significant number of checks to get to this stage, and a lot of that was before any prospect of commercialisation. On that basis I believe the article's claims, but without specific details about the development path, business plans and licensing arrangements making a judgement on the commercial viability one way or the other is pure uninformed speculation based on spurious assumpions.

*The figure I've heard is 50% of all businesses fail within 6 months.

Re:Perhaps there isn't one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25347987)

I read through those articles and they don't say much about this technology at all. All the articles say is "if this technology can boost efficiency greater than existing technologies, then it will be a breakthrough". I'm guessing because the articles provide no mention that this technology is better than the rest, then it isn't.

I'm sure this dark silicon is hundreds of times more light than pure silicon, or distilled water for that matter. That doesn't mean much.

I'm sure they've found something interesting, although it sounds like it's probably not economically practical. That's why I suspect this article is designed to sucker in investors and buyers through hush-hush and hype. It's designed more to disinform than inform.

Re:Perhaps there isn't one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25351049)

Please note they did not say it is 100 x more sensitive than all other detectors in the visible, just more sensitive than silicon, which itself is not sensitive in the visible without doping.
This is just legalese hype that is precise that hides that the true value.!!

A physicist who is an expert in detectors.

Gentlemen... (2, Informative)

afxgrin (208686) | more than 5 years ago | (#25348615)

They already spilled the beans - femtosecond laser pulses against silicon wafer in sulfur hexafluoride gas.

The problems probably are:

1. femtosecond laser pulses aren't exactly easy to make

2. the power density of the beam (if they increase the spot size, the power density goes down, meaning it's more costly and difficult to expose larger portions of the wafer at once, hence increasing time and cost)

3. sulfur hexafluoride - ummm hexafluoride anything is probably not the safest thing to deal with, hence - increasing cost

4. effects of oxide formation post-processing probably increases problems

5. thermal noise ... probably not much of an issue, plus I don't think they're talking about far IR photons, just IR that would normally be picked up in a GaAs detector

6. there is no mention of what wavelength of laser light they're using, so if it's something in the UV range, they'd need more expensive optics, increasing costs yet again.

I just want these SiOnyx people to do this with Uranium Hexafluoride. I want them to do it NOAW!

That should have a beautifully large cross-section, gobbling up lots of photons, and would give the nuclear industry something to do besides fission. This is just a guess, maybe there's some fucked up reason UF6 just wouldn't work for this purpose. I just like the idea of increasing the absorption band of photovoltaics.

meh ... back to reading the Modern Physics textbook.

The company name is a good choice, it sounds like Psionics, which implies of Psi, the Greek letter used to represent wavefunctions, on top of the onyx for black.

Re:Gentlemen... (2, Interesting)

synaptik (125) | more than 5 years ago | (#25348981)

3. Sulfur Hexaflouride is apparently safe enough to inhale... well, as safe as helium, anyway. It will make your voice very deep, owing to its high density. There are countless Youtube videos that demonstrate all of the hijinx possible with this heavier-than-air gas.

However, since it displaces oxygen, you would eventually die from asphyxiation if you breathed it exclusively for several minutes.

Re:Gentlemen... (1)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 5 years ago | (#25352059)

Sulfur Hexaflouride is apparently safe enough to inhale... well, as safe as helium, anyway.

If it's heavier than oxygen, wouldn't it pool at the bottom of your lungs? I.e. with each breath a little more SF6 gets left in your lungs, and pretty soon only the swept volume of your lungs is operational. It'd at least take more effort to clear SF6 from your system than He would.

Re:Gentlemen... (1)

renoX (11677) | more than 5 years ago | (#25352755)

>1. femtosecond laser pulses aren't exactly easy to make

I wouldn't say easy, but not too hard either: many years ago I remember visiting a school about optical where they had a 'tabletop' femtosecond laser.
So it depends on the properties needed for the pulse: some femtosecond laser are tabletop materials, others are definitely more involved..

Re:So what's the catch? (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 5 years ago | (#25349357)

Not necessarily, the licensing office was completely mesmerized by bio-tech and drug patent licensing, this was neither and ignored until more enlightened personel were hired the office at Harvard.

Harvard, for its part, is holding up SiOnyx as one early result of the ongoing overhaul of the university's technology licensing efforts. The school gained a reputation early in this decade as being unresponsive, even hostile, toward faculty and students who wished to commercialize discoveries made in the university's labs, especially in areas outside of biotechnology and drug development. For years after the discovery of black silicon in Mazur's lab, the school's technology transfer office âoewasn't very excitedâ about the work, according to Carey.

improved solar panels (4, Insightful)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346175)

... again. I love solar power, and I realize that it progresses in small increments. But there have been so many stories of "break through" improvements that I don't really care until a profoundly more efficient product is made. Black silicon have twice the sensitivity to light that regular silicon does, which is great news for digital cameras and night vision scopes. I might be great news for solar power, but tell me about it once you have a working prototype with a noteworthy efficiency improvement.

Efficiency isn't important - $/Watt IS (4, Insightful)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346693)

I might be great news for solar power, but tell me about it once you have a working prototype with a noteworthy efficiency improvement.

From what I've read this story is more about image sensors, but for solar cell applications: I don't understand the fuss about all these 'breakthrough efficiency record' stories. For all but a few applications (think satellites, pocket calculators etc.) efficiency doesn't matter. There is no shortage of sunlight, and therefore no need to turn a maximum of it into electricity. What matters is price per generated electric power ($/Watt), and how long the solar cells will last.

If I'm not mistaken, the solar cell market is hitting the 1 $/Watt mark around now, and growing at what, 10% ? 20% ? 50% per year? Wake me up when solar cells become cheaper than roof tiles, or provide a return on investment in <5 years (for average households), and will last decades after that. Then you have a breakthrough.

$/Watt IS efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25346807)

As far as I know, efficiency can apply to any resource, including money.

ROI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25347673)

Just a note, but you have no idea whatsoever what a true ROI is unless you personally have a signed ironclad contract with your current electricity provider as to their "cost per watt" delivered for your uses, say a 5 to 20 year locked in price. And with that said, because for residential purposes this does not exist, even then it is still apples and oranges, you never have a ROI with your normal electricity provider because of how the pricing and delivery model is set up, no matter how much money you give them over the years, that bill is never paid off. It costs you money, you never build any equity whatsoever. Want a car analogy? You can lease a car, or buy it. Leasing is cheaper up front and for the payments, but if you want to drive, you'll be making that payment forever. If you buy, it is higher upfront and the monthlies are higher, but eventually it is paid off and you can garner several years cheaper driving by only doing normal maintenance, usually. A house? You can lease/rent forever, or buy it. One way gives you a place to crash, plus builds equity, the other just gives you a place to crash. So right now, even at today's solar prices, for most people you can build equity, get it paid off, and have x-years electricity for just the cost of maintenance. That is a big variable of course, I cannot make any general price point comparison, and it depends on how much sweat equity you are willing to assume with the installation, it can run as high as 50% or more of the quoted price from some dealer if you do none of the install labor. If you are handy with tools, you can do roughly 90% of the install yourself, and only leave the first design and recommendations and then the final connections to a licensed electrical contractor, then present it to the inspector.

Re:Efficiency isn't important - $/Watt IS (2, Informative)

smaddox (928261) | more than 5 years ago | (#25349205)

We are getting there. There are several companies that are currently making a large profit on Solar Cells. The basic science has all been performed. We know what material systems work the best (Silicon, CIGS, CdTe). There have been several improvements on production method of the last several years, as well. I personally believe ribbon silicon has the greatest promise. However, if researches can get solution deposited, nano-particle devices up to decent efficiencies, they could rule the market.

The business market is starting to catch on, as well. First Solar stock tripled in price in six months last year. Honestly, raw material is our biggest limit. As these PV manufacturers ramp up production, Silicon, Indium, Tellurium, and perhaps even Cadmium prices are going to rise. However, with proper recycling, solar cells can easily fill the impending energy deficit.

Re:Efficiency isn't important - $/Watt IS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25354077)

"ribbon silicon"... for her pleasure.

Efficiency counts (1)

phorm (591458) | more than 5 years ago | (#25350613)

Efficiency counts in terms of size. Yes, if we need more power, we can build bigger collectors. However, in many cases space=money. Moreover, convenience=easier sell=more money.

There's already plenty of little solar gadgets for charging your cellular or whatever while camping, those wouldn't work too well if you needed an area the size of a football field to get enough power. More efficient collectors can mean (in general) that you can get *the same* amount of power (as a less efficient collector) in a smaller area, although with many techs there may be a minimum to that as well.

Imagine if you could power your air-conditioner with a simple collector that was the size of, well, the top of your air conditioner. That's convenient, efficient, and sellable. In fact, even if it doubled the cost of the unit itself (for a standard window unit, $150-400), the convenience - especially for mobile purposes - and savings-over-time feature (not to mention the gizmo feature) would probably make it a good sell.

Re:Efficiency isn't important - $/Watt IS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25351417)

I don't understand the fuss about all these 'breakthrough efficiency record' stories. For all but a few applications (think satellites, pocket calculators etc.) efficiency doesn't matter. There is no shortage of sunlight, and therefore no need to turn a maximum of it into electricity.

What the FUCK are you talking about? In the vast majority of places in the United States, save for some warm states, there isn't enough sunlight hitting the roof of a house to power said house. I call that a shortage of sunlight.

Re:Efficiency isn't important - $/Watt IS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25354831)

In most of the US, household solar cells are an asinine waste of money. We subcontract out all other tasks we can't do efficiently to people who can, why not power generation?

Re:Efficiency isn't important - $/Watt IS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25358325)

There is no shortage of sunlight, and therefore no need to turn a maximum of it into electricity.

That's kind of a dumb thing to say, if you think about it. At least half of the surface area of this planet has a serious shortage of sunlight during any given part of the day or year, depending on location and cloud cover. Those of us living in areas that are often totally or mostly covered by clouds or in the shadow of a mountain half the day are very interested in seeing highly efficient solar cells enter the market. Especially cells that are more sensitive to infrared and/or UV, since those wavelengths get through cloud cover much more readily than visible light wavelengths.

It is pointless to invest in solar power no matter what the cost if it simply can't generate enough energy to do the job without needing an acre of solar cells per house. Cost per watt is a different kind of breakthrough. Efficiency is still very important and a breakthrough in that area would cause a lot more people to invest in solar even if it costs them a fortune. Which in turn would help bring the costs down and cause even more people to invest, etc. It's a vicious cycle.

Saying that efficiency doesn't matter is just silly unless you assume that anyone who would ever invest in solar power is only interested in getting cheaper electricity. Some people just want to get off the grid, or they live somewhere the grid can't reach, or they want to reduce their carbon footprint.

The real breakthrough WILL be in efficiency. The cost breakthrough will come later.

Re:improved solar panels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25346789)

the article clearly stated:

"Black silicon is between 100 and 500 times more sensitive to light than untreated silicon, the company says."

i'm sure that this is in regard to charged imaging devices, but it bodes very well for pv solar cells.

Re:improved solar panels (1)

HiThere (15173) | more than 5 years ago | (#25350409)

Not necessarily. It sounds expensive to make.

Still, better cameras, etc. are also very worthwhile, and perhaps after a while of making this material, ways will be found which are cheaper. THEN it will be interesting as a solar cell material.

Breakthroughs are everyday... (5, Interesting)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346791)

But there have been so many stories of "break through" improvements that I don't really care until a profoundly more efficient product is made.

Some years back, I read an article in an old magazine (I think it was a 1960's Popular Science) about a new method of blowing glass resulting in "near unbreakable" bottles. It went on excitedly for page, after page, talking about the new era of safety that this kind of glass could behest - glass that doesn't easily break - you could drop your soda or medicine bottle and it wouldn't shatter!

Intrigued, I spent an entire afternoon at the local University library trying to figure out exactly what happened to this miraculous technology! I even did some searching (AltaVista) on the then new-fangled Internet. The truth rather surprised me...

This "breakthrough" technology that had gone invisible was part of my everyday life, including the bottle of Diet Coke I was then slurping from! It had become so common that virtually nobody produced the old-fashioned fragile bottles and glass anymore!

That's why it works to have coffee tables with glass counter tops. That's why restaurants can get away with the sterile, easily cleaned, hard-to-scratch glass overlays on their tables. Next time you are at a corner market and see the glass countertop with the items for sale inside, think about that article in the ancient Popular Science article.

Once breakthroughs actually become available, they don't seem like breakthroughs - they quickly just become part of the landscape, and people don't notice them, anymore. This is why the "Intelligent Design" idiots can get out of their incredibly complex, affordable, high-tech SUVs and then announce that Science has it all wrong. Once it's routine, it no longer seems like such a big deal.

Proof? Affordable, thin-film photovoltaics is still largely considered a "breakthrough" technology. But there's a company doing it now, today, affordably [nanosolar.com] . Alas, while they are growing as fast as they are able, all their production capacity is already sold to germany. I'd suggest you read up on it [wikipedia.org] .

High tech is introduced slowly. At first, the high engineering cost can only be paid in niche markets where the return on investment is fat. But as the original engineering cost gets paid back, and as the technology itself is matured and tested, the cost of implementation drops rapidly, so that it applies to more and more and more niches. By the time it's available for common Joes like you and me, it doesn't seem like such a big deal, and we are left wondering "where are the breakthroughs?" from our satellite/GPS navigated, MP3 playing, fuel-injected, ABS-brakes protecting, vulcanized rubber-tired, air-conditioned, hybrid gas/electric, high-tech wonder machine.

Where are the breakthroughs? Look at the beer bottle in your trashcan.

Technological Design (1)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 5 years ago | (#25347627)

Very good point, but the attack on Intelligent Design doesn't _quite follow (sadly!).

Not that I am a fan of ID. Not on the same page at all. Perhaps not even in the same library. But there is nothing illogical about considering organisms to be 'designed' the same way that technology is.

I think it is because complex design is so familiar to us that it is easy for some people to assume that's how biological systems came about.

In fact, biological structures are very different to most human-designed artifacts. They self-assemble, are wet, made from millions to trillions of tiny parts, exploit chemistry to an amazing degree, and so on.

Ironically, it is only now we are starting to design systems that are nearly as complex as biological ones that most people are cut off from the design process and many are probably unable to understand modern high tech.

So, yes the ID advocate in a high-tech SUV is ridiculous. What he sees is the large-scale parts (wheels, body, seats) and fails to notice the tiny parts in the airbag trigger.

Re:Technological Design (1)

Hucko (998827) | more than 5 years ago | (#25348101)

Wouldn't an ID advocate say that the trigger is a statistical nightmare to have been constructed by random clumping in a presumably adverse environment? I understood that the argument was: at a certain amount of complexity was required for a 'device' to have existed in the first place. That while random chance can produce interesting groupings or patterns etc, physical demands actually makes it impossible to the parts to have 'self-assembled' because physics actually prevents all parts from occurring originally? Thus the need for a designer. If I'm mistaken, then I need to rework a lot of past arguments.

no need to rework those arguments! (2, Insightful)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 5 years ago | (#25348357)

You are right, that is the idea. From Behe's book "Darwin's Black Box" (a pretty stupid book) the 'problem' is that systems can be "irreducibly complex". That is, like the mousetrap - remove or change any part and it stops working.

The problem again (and since Behe's is a biochemist he is either stupid or lying if he doesn't understand this) is that nature builds her mousetraps in a very different way.

All previous 'versions' of any particular mousetrap (or other design) HAD to work. Small changes to them, including replacing parts or modifying parts were made, and those mousetraps that failed to catch any mice were rejected (died off).

This is only possible with systems whose parts can be replaced with slightly similar ones, and still sort of work. Evolutionary systems have evolved to be evolvable.

So, it's not the self-assembly, but the mutability of natural systems that is under dispute. Most biologists understand that natural systems can change quite radically - species evolution - while a few ID-ers just don't get it. Their loss; natural systems are truly astonishing.

Re:Technological Design (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 5 years ago | (#25350309)

ID is the very simplistic "it's all too hard - the God ate my homework". It's a way to attempt to beat the intellect of scientists and even Jesuits unarmed.

About market prices (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 5 years ago | (#25347937)

It seems that the subsidies in some countries, especially Germany, are keeping prices for photovoltaics panels up. Companies like Nanosolar can sell their panels for way more than manufacturing costs, because the subsidies are designed to make more conventional and expensive panels economically viable. There is a yearly degression built into the legislation, but so far it does not keep up with improvements in manufacturing.

I expect this situation to change drastically once the German market reaches saturation. At that point, real competition will kick in and panel prices will drop to a price where they will be attractive without subsidies. And Nanosolar are not alone in developing cheaper panels.

For instance, there is First Solar: http://www.firstsolar.com/ [firstsolar.com]

Re:Breakthroughs are everyday... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25348371)

"This is why the "Intelligent Design" idiots can get out of their incredibly complex, affordable, high-tech SUVs and then announce that Science has it all wrong"

This is why highly complex, self-organizing, self-engineered, biotech beings can get out of bed in the morning, and then proclaim that they are not technology and the ID ists are all wrong!

Re:Breakthroughs are everyday... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25349229)

Ironic. Most scientists I know would be quite willing to look at things this way, at least in a hypothetical fashion.

It's the experience with dealing with fundamentalists that stops them doing it in polite company.

Re:Breakthroughs are everyday... (1)

SethJohnson (112166) | more than 5 years ago | (#25350453)

In support of the parent, I'd like to point out that another challenge to adoption of each 'revolutionary' solar breakthrough is that everyone considering a massive solar project is aware that shit-piles of research funds have been rapidly re-directed towards this field. Every time some advancement is made, purchasers have to be wary that their investment won't be ridiculously obsoleted by the next advancement in a few months time. This while their investment may take years to pay itself off.

Seth

Re:improved solar panels (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 5 years ago | (#25349825)

tell me about it once you have a working prototype with a noteworthy efficiency improvement.

If you have no interest in technological advancements, you simply shouldn't be reading Slashdot... You don't go to car dealership and complain that they don't have cantaloupes.

The "is it on the exam" attitude (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 5 years ago | (#25350207)

It will most likely be many years before this turns up in a product or it may not even happen at all as work on this progresses and the details are sorted out or not. It is still interesting to some people before you can buy it at Walmart or your local equivalent and you don't have to read the article if you don't want to.

Whoa. (-1, Redundant)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346183)

So this process makes the material 100-500X more sensitive than plain silicon.

And current solar cells are about 10% efficient.

That means we'll have solar cells that are 1000% to 5000% efficient! That's phenomenal!

Re:Whoa. (1)

vsage3 (718267) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346299)

Sensitivity may refer to the ratio between light and dark current. Obviously one can't knock out 500 times more electrons with the same amount of photons in this material because typical silicon photodetectors aren't THAT bad. The increase in efficiency may only be a few percent for reasons I won't go into.

Re:Whoa. (1)

failedlogic (627314) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346429)

I'll take your 1000 - 5000 % and at least qunituple it. There's other similarly exiciting new releases each week on solar. Within the decade we should have 25,000% efficient pannels though it could go as high as 1,000,000%. Phenomenal indeed!

Re:Whoa. (2, Funny)

EtherealFlaim (768450) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346827)

We'll effectively be stealing energy that DIDN'T strike earth! Sucks to be anyone else harvesting energy from Sol...

Re:Whoa. (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346489)

you forgot to factor in the last 20 or so Slashdot stories about efficiency boosts. They're about 100,000% efficient now. But seriously, all these people need to get together and make some sort of electron cascading, black silicon, graphite, whatever the hell else solar panel that's way efficient

Bad science writers annoy me... (5, Interesting)

LetterRip (30937) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346201)

Science writers who don't know what they are talking about annoy me,

There's an interesting irony to SiOnyx's business: a large chunk of the semiconductor industry's effort over the past 50 years has gone toward making silicon as pure as possible. But now SiOnyx and other companies are showing how useful--and perhaps profitable--it can be to craft silicon devices with impurities, defects, and unconventional structures.

A pure silicon crystal ingot and a doped silicon wafer are entirely different. You want a pure crystal to grow the ingot as large as possible. To make silicon useful you take the wafer sliced form the ingot, ant it has to be doped (ie add impurities) amongst many other steps.

LetterRip

Re:Bad science writers annoy me... (4, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346251)

A pure silicon crystal ingot and a doped silicon wafer are entirely different. You want a pure crystal to grow the ingot as large as possible. To make silicon useful you take the wafer sliced form the ingot, ant it has to be doped (ie add impurities) amongst many other steps.

Some impurities are introduced while growing the crystal, but most are added after the fact.

It just depends on what you're using the silicon for.

Re:Bad science writers annoy me... (1)

belg4mit (152620) | more than 5 years ago | (#25347165)

It's not stupidity (unless you count ignorance of the fact that essentially all
semi-conductor technologies rely on impurities), just lazy writing/bad wording.

Re:Bad science writers annoy me... (1)

djdbrand (687594) | more than 5 years ago | (#25357171)

I work as an engineer in a TV station and it is painful to convince any journalist that they need to rewrite a science story. They look for pieces of information to make a compelling story. Unfortunately, they often do not have enough science background to connect the dots correctly. I understand your frustration I feel it every day. I have suggested that instead of a "science writer" they have a scientist working with a writer. Just as a positive note sometimes, they understand after I explain it to them and they get it right.

Who does that? (1, Interesting)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346263)

Forcing sulfur atoms into silicon using femtosecond laser pulses...

Who sits around and dreams up a process like that? "Hey, I wonder what would happen hitting sulphur ions with a femtosecond laser pulse?" Just bizarre what some people sit around thinking about all day.

Re:Who does that? (1)

blues_shuffle (921429) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346321)

Sulphur Hexafluoride is commonly used in the production of silicon chips, so the only real new part here is that the sulphur was deposited using lasers. I imagine many researchers in the semiconductor industry have thought of this before.

Re:Who does that? (2, Funny)

DrMrLordX (559371) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346387)

How many of them thought to utilize angry sea bass in the process? Hmm? Makes you wonder doesn't it?

Re:Who does that? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25347149)

Bizarre indeed, but on the other hand he just made a (hopefully) fantastic new from of our pal Silicaon Wafer so who are we to say anything. If you RTFA the scientist talks about the need for more people to sit around and act on their hunches rather then the immediate payoffs granted by rigid scopes. Or in other words he wants more scientists to start acting like scientists again.

AC because of mod points.

Re:Who does that? (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 5 years ago | (#25350441)

Using a laser in the photo lithography process isn't to far fetched nor would seeing what happens when you start playing with high-tech toys like femtosecond laser pulses that logically go together with commonly used materials like sulfur hexafluoride which is commonly ionized into a plasma and used to etch silicon wafers.

Re:Who does that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25354919)

Welcome to 2008.

Barack Obama is not a black silicon! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25346367)

He isn't even from the fab! Just know this when you vote for him, he is not a black silicon.

Negro silicon (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25346393)

It'll pump you up!

It's Dolomite, baby (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25346395)

The tough black silicon that won't cop out when there's light about.

About that 100X to 500X (0)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346661)

There are already solar cells (albeit expensive ones) that are rated at 40% efficiency. Going on the low end of this how can you improve 40% by even 100X and not have perpetual motion? Heck, you think we had a Global Warming problem before, imagine how hot things are going to get once we start generating 4000% of all received solar energy.

Re:About that 100X to 500X (1)

Entropy2016 (751922) | more than 5 years ago | (#25347031)

That 100X was in the context of the word "sensitivity", which I'm guessing is not an synonym for efficiency.

You think that's bad. (1)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#25347059)

There were two other discoveries for silicon (such as 3d structures) that claimed similar improvement. So do you get x1,000,000 improvement or only x300 improvement? Or are the improvements going to negate each other?

the possible applications are endless... (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 5 years ago | (#25346781)

If you build a 3-D version of this in a pyramid shape, you could either destroy the Sun (something that Man has yearned to do since the dawn of time), take photos of the future or the past, or, if you're really ambitious, hook it up to a very powerful laser and spin it, and you could vaporize a human target from orbit.

Either way, it sounds like it's time to party with the ladies from the local cosmetology school. They're so impressive; I don't think I could handle that zero gravity stuff.

Will it help in imagers? (2, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#25347095)

The problem with most uncooled imagers isn't insufficient sensitivity any more. It's thermal noise. Unless this improves the S/N ratio, it won't help for uncooled imagers. That's why digital cameras which increase sensitivity in darkness show more and more noise as less light is received.

Cooled imagers, though, as in astronomy and fancier night vision equipment, might benefit. Cooling is done to reduce the random photons from heat within the imager. So cooled imagers do run into the sensitivity limitations of silicon, and might benefit.

But that's an exotic application. Cooled imagers are found mostly in military, space, and astronomy. Some require liquid nitrogen. It's not a mainstream technology.

Re:Will it help in imagers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25352001)

Unless you're talking about far-IR imagers, thermal noise (Johnson-Nyquist noise) is a problem of random electrons, not random photons. If each photon shakes loose 100 electrons instead of 1 electron, the 20 electron noise floor is easy to avoid.

So yes, it will help in imagers.

dom

Interesting, not new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25347361)

Black silicon has long been known in the semiconductor processing industry (usually as an undesirable effect). All high performance silicon solar cells already use some kind of texturing to increase light absorption through scattering and optical confinement, and indeed do look quite "black".

So it's unclear if this particular approach will be significantly better. Black silicon is produced by a plasma etch process, which I think is more expensive to do than the plain old anisotropic wet etch you can use to pit the surface of silicon.

Black? Red? Green? White? Just like Kryptonite? (1)

itsybitsy (149808) | more than 5 years ago | (#25347379)

Black Kryptonite? Doesn't that turn out to be Spike The Vampire on Steriods?

Red Krytonite? Now that turns you on to more energy and wild behaviors! Let go your wild side.

Green Krytonite? Well, that's painful even though it's all environmental green it's a disaster for everyone who comes into contact with it.

White Krytonite? Known to build crystal fortresses and cities as long as you want to live in solitude.

So bring on the Black Silicon! Let's absorb the Sun's rays and make it happen! At least we'll super power our devices with all that Yellow Sunshine and recharge our batteries!

I read about this years ago in New Scientist (1)

QJimbo (779370) | more than 5 years ago | (#25347497)

It must've been at least 6 or 7 years ago when I read about this technique, and how it was accidentally discovered, in an article. Why has it taken so long to reach the market?

photodetectors-yes; solar cells-NO (3, Informative)

sup2100 (996095) | more than 5 years ago | (#25350169)

If you read the journal articles http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.mseb.2006.10.002 [doi.org] you'll find that this process esentially creates a large number of impurity states at the center of the band gap, creating an impurity band. What this means is that light is absorbed very very fast, but then its also turned to to heat very very fast. In other words you can excite electrons but that electron will decay back down before it creates any current. This could still work for a photodetector because you can apply a voltage to sweep out the excited carriers before they recombine/decay but not for a solar cell since you want to generate power.

So what might this mean for cameras? (1)

ocularb0b (1042776) | more than 5 years ago | (#25351367)

100-500 sounds like a lot to me, and I'm wondering how close is that to the sensitivity of the human eye's cones and rods? And are we talking about full spectrum sensors or a narrow band? Getting anywhere close to the power of the eye would have a profound effect on the photographic world and doubly so for motion photography.

Re:So what might this mean for cameras? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25352757)

For cameras, it means less noise on your indoors pictures.

Re:So what might this mean for cameras? (2, Informative)

matfud (464184) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358577)

The sensors in cameras are already many many times more sensitive to light then the rods in your eyes.

Sensors exist that can detect single photons (if properly cooled). However the sensors are not as flexible as the human eye. They tend to have a linear response to light intensity rather then the eyes Log response (rods and cones don't actually respond to the intensity of light but the signal generated by a change seems to be log) although some sensors exist that produce log outputs.

Sensors are hitting thier sensitivity limits (think low light photography) but that is in terms of sensor noise. The human eye has far more noise to but it has a massive chunk of grey matter behind it that really helps filter the noise out.

Another difference is that the cones in you eye do not respond to the intensity of light they respond to the change in the intensity of light. Sensors respond directly to the intensity of light.

So improving the sensitivity of a sensor is unlikely to have any much impact on normal photography, perhaps it may reduce the dark noise.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...