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Purple Pokeberries Yield Cheap Solar Power

kdawson posted more than 3 years ago | from the poke-salad-annie dept.

Earth 206

separsons writes "Researchers at Wake Forest's Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials created a low-cost solar power system geared towards developing nations. By coating fiber-based solar cells with dye from purple pokeberries, a common weed, scientists created a cheap yet highly efficient solar system. Wake Forest researchers and their accompanying company, FiberCell Inc., have filed for a patent for fiber-based solar. Plastic sheets are stamped with plastic fibers, creating millions of tiny 'cans' that trap light until it is absorbed. The fibers create a huge surface area, meaning sunlight can be collected at any angle from the time the sun rises until it sets. Coating the system with pokeberry dye creates even greater absorption: researchers say the system can produce twice as much power as traditional flat-cell technology."

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206 comments

Pokeberries? (3, Funny)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 3 years ago | (#32045746)

I can't decide if I should make a pokemon joke, or a your mom joke.

Your mom poked my berries? I guess? I got nothin'.

Re:Pokeberries? (4, Funny)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 3 years ago | (#32045810)

I can't decide if I should make a pokemon joke, or a your mom joke.

Your mom poked my berries? I guess? I got nothin'.

Go with a modified classic quote: "I eated the purple pokeberries. They taste like solar energy."

Re:Pokeberries? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046106)

The question I have for Obama is this: Who is stimulating the economy? Me, the guy who has provided 14 people good paying jobs and serves over 200,000 people per year with a flourishing business? Or, the single fat colored mammy sitting at home pregnant with her fourth child waiting for her next welfare check?

And as far as purple Pokéberries go, I'm sure B. Hussein Obama doesn't give a rat's ass. For my part, I give purple Pokéberries two thumbs up.

Re:Pokeberries? (-1, Offtopic)

Hylandr (813770) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046278)

Off topic I know, but to address your stereo-type.

You're way off, on an old stereo type that doesn't exist anymore. They are White, and get their income through child support, by having babies by as many people as they can to ostensibly, spread the load. Now they just use the system to juice the unlucky victims and have medicaid.

We don't give out money unless they are working or trying to find work.

I know this, because I am one of those victims.
- Dan.

Re:Pokeberries? (0, Offtopic)

causality (777677) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046612)

Off topic I know, but to address your stereo-type. You're way off, on an old stereo type that doesn't exist anymore. They are White, and get their income through child support, by having babies by as many people as they can to ostensibly, spread the load. Now they just use the system to juice the unlucky victims and have medicaid. We don't give out money unless they are working or trying to find work. I know this, because I am one of those victims. - Dan.

This is one reason (of many) why it's unwise to date single mothers, especially if they have never been married to the father(s) of their children. They have a way of being quite fertile.

You also have to wonder why a man who was involved with her enough to have a child with her did not want to stay with her. It means one of three things: she has poor taste in men, she dates decent men but doesn't treat them well, or the act of creating life is so meaningless to her that she'll allow herself to become pregnant by a man who's a casual sex partner and has no interest in a serious relationship (I bet she thinks that's a matter of "luck" too). All of those are red flags! You're thinking with the wrong head if you believe you can ignore them without regretting it.

Another reason is that parenting is a full-time job. If you are a single man with no dependents you can afford to invest a lot of time and energy into a relationship that a single mother could not possibly match. That sort of one-way relationship where there is a lack of reciprocity tends to be unstable. This is another red flag that you ignore at your own peril.

You call yourself a "victim". Unless you are claiming that this woman raped you, then you're not a victim and you're not "unlucky". You just engaged in poor decision-making. That is what made you vulnerable to someone who decided to use you for her own selfish needs. I'll go one further and say that you probably have some kind of dissatisfaction with life or other personal issues, otherwise a woman like that would not have been attractive in your eyes or otherwise appealed to you.

Re:Pokeberries? (-1, Offtopic)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046872)

You call yourself a "victim". Unless you are claiming that this woman raped you, then you're not a victim and you're not "unlucky".

He could have been the first victim - she could easily have been on the pill for a while and then stopped taking it, or just pretended she was all along.. could say that was his fault for having unprotected sex, but if you were trying for a serious relationship then not trusting your gf over such a thing isn't really a great start.. plus condoms suck, and not in a good way.

Re:Pokeberries? (-1, Offtopic)

saider (177166) | more than 3 years ago | (#32047224)

Always double-up on the protection. Use condoms even if she is on the pill. Both methods have about a 2% failure rate, which means that 2% of the people who use them as directed for a year will get pregnant.

If you double-up, you reduce that to less than one in one thousand, since both would have to fail at the same time.

Using a condom has nothing to do with "trust" and has everything to do with preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Re:Pokeberries? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046524)

You do understand that you're still not a superhero, right?

Re:Pokeberries? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046580)

My business is selling toxic assets! After the crash I had to lay off all my employees. Adam Smith says let 'em starve because the market has no heart, no compassion; but my govt (the best in the world!) is mandated by the Constitution to provide for the general welfare. So now those former employees, instead of dying of starvation, get a little stimulus money to spend on the new breed of toxic asset businesses, and hey look the market is up 60%! Economy stimulated, ppl not suffering. I know the cognitive dissonance is hard, but when your ideology fails to conform to facts, it separates the men from the ideologues...

cocksucker (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32045984)

cum guzzler.

Re:Pokeberries? (1)

Ironchew (1069966) | more than 3 years ago | (#32045998)

They think they have the answer to cheap solar power now, but the Berry glitch will get them. Just wait another 100 hours...any minute now...

Re:Pokeberries? (2, Funny)

Snarf You (1285360) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046476)

An upcoming Ask Yahoo question:

Someone poked my berries and they have now turned purple, should I be worried????

Re:Pokeberries? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046532)

But what about the Snozzberries? this may spell doom for the Oompa Loompa tribes GNP.

Re:Pokeberries? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046774)

Researcher used Pokeberry, it was super effective.

Re:Pokeberries? (1)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046784)

I can't decide if I should make a pokemon joke, or a your mom joke.

No, not a pokemon joke, just a type of berry...

Honestly, though, it's hard to imagine coming out ahead. I mean, to cultivate the berries you have to fly from town to town, finding small patches of soil where you can plant a berry or two, then you need to keep coming back every few hours to water the damn things or the soil will dry up and the berries will die. All this and maybe in a couple days that berry you planted will sprout into a bush with, what, two or three berries on it? And then as soon as you pick 'em, the plant dies and you have to start over. It's a really annoying system.

more like "resident", amirite? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32047046)

js christ, more inhabitant spam. can we get a section for these so we can ignore them?

Re:Pokeberries? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32047144)

I was going to go for the Super Troopers reference:

All these pokeberries are important but when will we be able to explain why shnozberries taste like shnozberries!?

Pokeberries, Shmokeberries (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32045788)

Welcome To Fascism.

fdrill, baby, drill [guardian.co.uk] .... Bitch

Yours In Petrograd,
K.T.

Pokeberry's weed status is endangered (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32045834)

Weeds are only weeds because we don't want them. If this solar technology takes off, the Pokeberry will cease to be a weed. Horrors!

Re:Pokeberry's weed status is endangered (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046342)

I have onions growing in my yard. They are weeds.

Re:Pokeberry's weed status is endangered (3, Funny)

spookymonster (238226) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046412)

One man's weed is another man's smoke. It's all perspective, baby.

Re:Pokeberry's weed status is endangered (1)

Ogive17 (691899) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046860)

knowing my luck I'd try to grow purple pokeberries but those would get choked out by grass :(

Re:Pokeberry's weed status is endangered (3, Funny)

fifedrum (611338) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046936)

they weren't weeds 150 years ago, people used the juice for a base for ink. they're toxic though, so boil it 14 times, throw the sauce away and eat the pot.

And abandoned fields... (5, Interesting)

millia (35740) | more than 3 years ago | (#32045894)

And abandoned fields across the American south became the new gold fields of the Yukon.

That stuff pops up everywhere, and grows like you wouldn't believe. I can't imagine how well it would do if you fertilized.

And of course, you can use the leaves for poke salad. With a lot of boiling...

Re:And abandoned fields... (2, Interesting)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 3 years ago | (#32045954)

Sometimes the best thing to do is benign neglect.

Re:And abandoned fields... (1)

causality (777677) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046286)

Sometimes the best thing to do is benign neglect.

If it's truly benign then I would not call it neglect. Sometimes doing nothing and leaving well enough alone is truly your best option (not that politicians want to understand this). The wisdom to know when this is the case versus situations you really should be taking direct control over is also not what I would call neglectful. Neglect would be failing to consider these things and act accordingly.

Re:And abandoned fields... (2, Insightful)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 3 years ago | (#32045968)

Actually poke gets toxic as it gets older. By the time it has berries, you'd best not eat it.

Now shut up and start doing the hokey pokey!

Re:And abandoned fields... (0, Troll)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 3 years ago | (#32045990)

And of course, you can use the leaves for poke salad. With a lot of boiling...

Not meaning to sound like a dick, but it's poke salat. There was even a song about it way back in the day, Poke Salat Annie.

Don't ask me what salat means, though. I have no idea.

Re:And abandoned fields... (3, Informative)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046068)

According to watersheds.org:

"Salat is the German word for salad, and probably came to the Ozarks with German settlers. Poke salat is made from Pokeweed."

Re:And abandoned fields... (1, Informative)

irondonkey (1137243) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046082)

Don't ask me what salat means, though. I have no idea.

Salad. At least in german.

Re:And abandoned fields... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046094)

Salat is German for salad.

Re:And abandoned fields... (4, Funny)

causality (777677) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046312)

And of course, you can use the leaves for poke salad. With a lot of boiling...

Not meaning to sound like a dick, but it's poke salat. There was even a song about it way back in the day, Poke Salat Annie.

Don't ask me what salat means, though. I have no idea.

It's a German word that roughly translates to "Google me to learn what I mean in about ten seconds".

Re:And abandoned fields... (2, Funny)

migla (1099771) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046668)

It is a clue relating to an old worldwide mystery. "salat" means "the secrets" in Finnish. I can't tell you anything more than that right now. Just trust me, you will find the coming couple of days strangely erotic...

Re:And abandoned fields... (2, Interesting)

millia (35740) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046344)

Not meaning to sound like a dick, but it's poke salat. There was even a song about it way back in the day, Poke Salat Annie.

It's also poke sallet and salit. It's still pronounced as salad is normally. My grandma spelled it sallet, but said it as salad, so I went for conventional orthography.

Re:And abandoned fields... (3, Informative)

ehrichweiss (706417) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046204)

Poke doesn't become non-toxic regardless of the amount of boiling. I had to look it up a few years ago when I was considering harvesting some from our backyard.

Re:And abandoned fields... (2, Insightful)

fifedrum (611338) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046966)

the first time I saw this stuff pop up in my yard, I really couldn't believe it. The first day there was a sprout, it was purple. The second day, it was knee high, purple. At least this is the way it seems. It really did look like a cartoon drawing of an alien plant, I expected seed pods in the front yard, each capable of implanting a crab shaped alien baby for incubation in human host. After a few weeks it was 2 meters, bright green with little hard green berries sprouting, I don't remember the flower stage. I had to kill it with fire. Not joking.

Thank god it's not smurfberries. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046000)

Thank god it's not smurfberries, or we'd have to sit through Dances with Smurfs...again...

Still need nuclear (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046046)

Nothing will change the fact that the 1100W/m^2 (that's a napkin math theoretical maximum assuming such nice impossibilities as 100% energy capture) we're getting from the sun means going completely solar will never meet our demands. Unleash nuclear power; quit the NIMBYism and forcing the industry to use 40yr old designs and North America can be a net exporter of clean generated energy in 10 years.

Re:Still need nuclear (3, Funny)

haruchai (17472) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046118)

Wind!! Considering all the gassy North Americans I've met ( me included ) we could export power to Mars. If we could figure out a way to harness farts, it would be a multiple source - wind power, methane, hydrogen.

Re:Still need nuclear (1)

abigor (540274) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046146)

Unfortunately, to make this happen we'd need either a benign dictatorship of some sort, or a massive change in the public's ill-informed opinion of nuclear power.

In the meantime, we'll continue to paint stuff with berry juice.

Re:Still need nuclear (4, Insightful)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046224)

Total world energy consumption ~ 1.5 terawatts.

At 1.5x10^13 / 1.1x10^3 = 1.4e10 m^2

= 1.4e4 km^2... or roughly a patch of land just 116km x 116km.

So assuming the unachievable 100% capture, we could generate all the power we need in the world by covering the state of Connecticut with magic solar panels.

I totally support the idea of clean nuclear power, but let's get our figures straight.

Re:Still need nuclear (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046354)

Nothing to get straight there. Glassing Conneticut sure doesn't sound that green to me.

Re:Still need nuclear (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046760)

Nothing to get straight there. Glassing Conneticut sure doesn't sound that green to me.

How about the Sahara desert then, which is about as far from green as it gets? The side effect of providing shade and trapping moisture will make it more green.

Re:Still need nuclear (2, Informative)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046700)

You made a huge error on your math there.

If we include all energy use (even cars) the US uses about 29 PW/a (29000000000000000 Watts per year) or about 79397672826830 Watts / day.

Current solar thermal power plants can operate around 30% efficiency without much difficulty at least 8 hours per day. So each meter^2 of solar plant can generate 2640 Watts / day.

That means we can supply 100% of our energy needs with about 30074876070 meter^2 of solar plant.

That is a square in the Arizona desert 173421 meters wide (just over a hundred miles).

Of course, I really want to see us invest in nuclear power as well, but you are completely underestimating the potential of solar.

Re:Still need nuclear (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32047202)

Your units seem wrong.. Do you mean 29 PJ (Peta Joules) per year ? or 29 PWh (Peta Watt hours) per year ?

Re:Still need nuclear (2, Insightful)

Jake Griffin (1153451) | more than 3 years ago | (#32047120)

1100W/m^2... so with enough area, we'd have limitless energy... how does that not meet our needs? Who says we need to stay on EARTH with our solar panels? Our available area is practically limitless, so it would take some time, but we COULD, theoretically speaking, run entirely off solar power.

The name is too long (5, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046126)

"Wake Forest's Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials"

Seriously? That's a little bit too long. MacGyver Photonics has a much nicer ring to it.

so little detail.. (1)

slashkitty (21637) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046144)

What kind of solar panel is this? PV? Solar Thermal I guess would make more sense. Why would they not just spray the dye on at the factory? Does the dye degrade? Wash off in rain? If it's good for Africa, is it also good for everywhere else? It sounds like they were clinging to straws to tie in the manufacturing of the product with something local in Africa.

Re:so little detail.. (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046876)

It very well could be the specific chemical compound that gives the berries their color which is what is effective.. something with he same color might not be the same compound and might not have the same specific effect.

there are a lot of substances that go into manufacturing things - and if we can get them pre-made from a plant and it is easier to extract it from the plant to to make it our selves then it is advantages to do it.

Re:so little detail.. (1)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 3 years ago | (#32047014)

Solar-thermal is most effective for a big plant. But big plants don't solve the power problems of developing third-world nations. Small plants without miles and miles of power-line infrastructure are more effective.

If you look at the history of the developed world you'll see a lot of small (non-electric) power sources bootstrapping the process. Long before you had big centralized power plants, there were plenty windmills and water mills, at first just for agriculture but later for things like manufacturing (textiles). Abundant water power was one of the reasons New England was a center of industry and the South wasn't.

Why only "developing nations"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046158)

"...researchers say the system can produce twice as much power as traditional flat-cell technology."

Sounds like a breakthrough technology, and more advances than other current available options out there, but why would it be benefit for only developing nations? I'm sure any cheap power source is needed every where, even here in the US.

Great... (2, Informative)

ProdigyPuNk (614140) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046200)

Most of the "Developing nations" out there are still having trouble with clean water, roads, and reliable power. So we're going to stick them with solar ? First, who is going to pay for it ? Second, if they aren't getting reliable power through more traditional means (like coal), how is this REALLY going to help them at all ?

Re:Great... (2, Informative)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046336)

A small local solar generator may be more reliable than a large distant coal plant if there's likely to be interruptions in the power grid or political/economic turmoil which shuts the coal plant down or topples power lines. It's not "run a huge factory and light your home at night" but it could run some small agricultural equipment (a small mill, perhaps) or provide power for some communications equipment (radio, television, charge a cell phone) and things like that.

Re:Great... (1)

Message (303377) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046350)

I'd imagine the problem is power distribution. With these they could theoretically have local solar farms which in turn could power water purification systems and wells. Unless they can pave roads with these things, you've got me on that one. I can definitely see the benefit to developing countries or HA/DAR support.

Re:Great... (3, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046480)

Most of the "Developing nations" out there are still having trouble with clean water, roads, and reliable power. So we're going to stick them with solar ? First, who is going to pay for it ? Second, if they aren't getting reliable power through more traditional means (like coal), how is this REALLY going to help them at all ?

Well, solar can be hooked up directly to the building you need to power, so you could get power into a school, for example, without needing any infrastructure.

And, I can see someone using this to run one of those UV water sterilizers. Imagine that -- a method of actually getting them sanitary water.

Getting cheap power to remote places facing the problems you identify might actually help them to try to alleviate some of the problems. I bet there's loads of examples that people can identify that if you can provide power, you can do something. Having power is better than not since you get more options.

Cheers

Re:Great... (2, Interesting)

chronosan (1109639) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046598)

Clean abundant energy can solve a lot of problems. Being able to run a sizable desalination plant would solve one of those listed.

Is it actually environmentally friendly? (1)

J3TP4CKKN1GHT5 (1764232) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046206)

While this sounds like a win-win, environmentally speaking (renewable energy using renewable plant materials) and TFA uses the term "environmentally friendly," it doesn't address whether the fiber based cells are using traditional photovoltaic material. If they are, there's still going to be a significant initial environmental negative, because AFAIK, photovoltaics are still pretty messy to produce. Though, if the new cells are cheaper and more efficient as the article says, it's still an improvement, albeit not a perfectly green one.

Unobtainium Still Required (4, Insightful)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046212)

This page [fibercellinc.com] indicates that indium tin oxide is still used in the solar panel. Indium has got to be removed because it is an extremely expensive, worth over $500/kg, and it is rare and unsustainable. It's used to make transparent conductors. If we could make some kind of plastic as a transparent conductor, that would be helpful.

Or we could skip the solar panels and build a steam engine.

Re:Unobtainium Still Required (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046676)

I don't know where you got $500/kg from... It's considerably more than that. I've got a piece of 99.99% pure indium wire in my desk drawer and a 36" piece cost me $300. It can't be but maybe 5 grams.

i have a similar technology for 3rd world solar (5, Funny)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046242)

my tech is extremely advanced

what i do is a store the construction information for a prefab nanoscale solar cell set up in a small protected sphere. with a little coaxing, the information stored in the sphere will begin assembling the solar array in a progressive manner that scales well in a fractal pattern that also maximizes solar exposure, including proprietary feedback mechanisms that is highly sensitive intellectual proerty. the solar assemblies are also plant based like the pokeberry mentioned one and are easily configured to various 3rd world climates

the solar technology i employ even cleans up greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and converts it into oxygen, water, and an energy storage compound which also happens to taste delicious. this solar product can be utilized as an energy source by 3rd world peoples in a variety of ways, including direct reconstitution to carbon via a high energy oxygen based deconstruction process that also produces a form of heating, or- get this, this is the part i'm most proud of- the 3rd world residents can consume the solar arrays DIRECTLY and their own bodies can utilize the energy storage medium for biological sustenance

how come nobody thought of this tech before?

Re:i have a similar technology for 3rd world solar (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046664)

this solar product can be utilized as an energy source by 3rd world peoples in a variety of ways, including direct reconstitution to carbon via a high energy oxygen based deconstruction process that also produces a form of heating, or- get this, this is the part i'm most proud of- the 3rd world residents can consume the solar arrays DIRECTLY and their own bodies can utilize the energy storage medium for biological sustenance

how come nobody thought of this tech before?

So the "3rd world residents" are also trees? If we could convince all the people in the 3rd world to just turn into trees, that would be great! You have to go public with your technology!

Re:i have a similar technology for 3rd world solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046924)

my tech is extremely advanced

what i do is a store the construction information for a prefab nanoscale solar cell set up in a small protected sphere. with a little coaxing, the information stored in the sphere will begin assembling the solar array in a progressive manner that scales well in a fractal pattern that also maximizes solar exposure, including proprietary feedback mechanisms that is highly sensitive intellectual proerty. the solar assemblies are also plant based like the pokeberry mentioned one and are easily configured to various 3rd world climates

the solar technology i employ even cleans up greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and converts it into oxygen, water, and an energy storage compound which also happens to taste delicious. this solar product can be utilized as an energy source by 3rd world peoples in a variety of ways, including direct reconstitution to carbon via a high energy oxygen based deconstruction process that also produces a form of heating, or- get this, this is the part i'm most proud of- the 3rd world residents can consume the solar arrays DIRECTLY and their own bodies can utilize the energy storage medium for biological sustenance

how come nobody thought of this tech before?

I find your ideas fascinating, and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

Re:i have a similar technology for 3rd world solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32047176)

Very interesting. Do you own all the patents for this technology?

Does the technology also automatically mark spring with self-assembling ornaments in different bright colors, which also produce produce raw materials for self-managed factories of social insectum species that produce organic and bio-degradable sweetener, which in turn can serve as a raw material for organic and bio-degradable food preservatives?

There are small businesses in my area which are using this technology. You might wanna sue for patent infringement.

Appears to be PR stunt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046260)

While I have no doubt that the technology works, FiberCell Inc's (creators of these pokeberry juice enhanced cells) website [fibercellinc.com] has only generic information, and an investor 'Give us money!' shtick, and that's it. No list to retailers, no list of available products.

According to their sales pitch data, their cells operate on par with polycrystalline silicon based cells, with a significantly superior output in lower light conditions.

Considering the issues with wind, rain, (and hail!) that menace my area, I would be very interested in this solar technology, but I can find no pricing data with which to compare it to costs of polycrystalline silicon, nor can I find any lists of distributors from which I can purchase a sample.

Thus, this press release stinks mightily of a PR stunt, intended to increase investor attention. That tells me that the technology is not yet ready for primetime.

It’s funny what people focus on (1)

big dumb dog (876383) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046274)

Is it just me or does this seem like an odd perspective to this story?

I thought that the Civil War technology to make die out of Pokeberries was about the least interesting part of the story, but for some reason the writer chose to focus on the berries instead of the innovative fiber-based solar cells – odd?

make die (1)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046844)

Is it just me or does this seem like an odd perspective to this story?

I thought that the Civil War technology to make die out of Pokeberries was about the least interesting part of the story

So wait...

there's civil war technology which people are killing off with Pokeberries?
Or did someone in the civil war era figure out how to use Pokeberries to make molds and similar toolings for casting?

I was going to call this hype, but... (5, Interesting)

EriktheGreen (660160) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046318)

I expected reading this article to call this hype... there are many new discoveries reported here on Slashdot, especially with regard to optical technologies like solar cells and LCD displays, that are interesting and potentially useful... if they were at all practical or near market ready.

This looked like another one, except upon reading what there is of the article and web page it just looks like the company building these has no PR or web staff, and seems completely focused on technology. Their web page looks like it was made by an intern, and they don't seem to have supplied much in the way of exciting facts or sound bites to the reporter, leaving them to provide some basic facts and fill in some boilerplate hyperbole: "Could Provide Low-Cost Solar for Developing Nations".

From the looks of the technology, the basic principles were discovered prior to 2007 and a patent filed about then. Likely the patent was just granted. The company that is researching this stuff formed then, got a round of funding, and started delivering prototypes and test types.

As of now they seem to be creating and testing whole assemblies, IE solar panels you can put outside and use for electricity.

This is interesting because it means this isn't a lab curiosity.. they haven't demonstrated an effect in the lab, they've actually managed to develop it into a form that is nearing mass production capability.

So why is this interesting for those of us not in the third world? Well, that bit about "developing nations" is an attempt to get people to relate to what the tech is good for.... possibly because wide implementation of solar power needs more than just good cells to work, it requires a massive change in infrastructure to distribute power or a major change on a per home basis to store and use the power in your own house. That's not as much of a problem in third world countries which have no reliable power anyway, and where people would be happy to have solar during the day.

Third world comments aside, if the efficiency curve they're measuring is correct, these cells are a disruptive technology for the solar cell business. They're cheap to produce, relatively environmentally friendly, flexible, light... basically an excellent solar cell technology that everyone can use everywhere it's sunny.

If these work out and get into mass production (the technology company making them is partnered with a couple manufacturing firms already) then you'll see a lot of them around everywhere, because they'll remove a couple major barriers to wider solar cell use... cost and the fragility of existing cells.

Of course, odds are this is another cool announcement that won't go anywhere, but at least there are indications of some substance here and there...

Erik

Re:I was going to call this hype, but... (1)

jasenj1 (575309) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046686)

They look like a great acquisition target for GE, Shell, BP, or any of the other energy giants. Who could then lock these guys up in a lab forever doing "feasibility tests" and further research.

- Jasen.

The actual article (4, Informative)

xilmaril (573709) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046386)

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100429141430.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily+(ScienceDaily%3A+Latest+Science+News) [sciencedaily.com]

The summary link is to a blog, which gives a short not too useful summary and then links to this Science Daily article.

I like how Science Daily includes APA and MLA citation information at the bottom of their articles. Also, it seems like the fiber-based solar cells this article is about are the development, and the purple pokeberries are one of many possible natural or artificial dyes which could be used.

It's a shame that the article tells us nothing about how the fiber-based solar cells work. Here is some information on that:
http://www.fibercellinc.com/Technology.html [fibercellinc.com]

The patent is with the EPO (european parliament patent office), so if anyone could find that, it'd be rad.

Yet another solar cell innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046446)

If Slashdot would write an article about every single innovation in solar cells it would probably be several articles per week.

How many postgraduate students are working on this at the moment around the world? 1000? 10.000? 100.000?

The thing that I wonder, as an amateur with no chemistry and very little physics under my belt, is whether there is there a solid theory that guides these attempts at making better solar cells, or whether they are mostly tinkering away in the lab, perhaps in search of such a theory.

If they are tinkering, this is just like another monkey on a typewriter producing another random word or two of Shakespeare. Then every new advance is just that -- an interesting looking dead end.
But if these people have a solid theory this is one incremental step closer to cheap abundant energy for everyone.

Re:Yet another solar cell innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32047114)

There are is well-established physics involved.

Essentially, the electrical charge produced by a solar collector is created when an atom (or molecule) that is semi-conductive absorbs a photon. This causes one of the valence electrons (one of the outer-most electrons in the atom/molecule's outer-most orbitals) to rise up one orbital higher, moving it into the "conduction band."

Improvements in the technology take one of several (this list is not comprehensive) forms:

1) Increase rate at which photon interacts with the semiconductor. (concentrator technologies, substrate material selection)

2) Increase number of valence electrons that get promoted to conduction band per photon absorbed. (Materials selection)

3) increase the active spectrum of photons that can perform such promotions. (more materials selection)

Thus, the idea behind improving solar technologies is to find a way to concentrate more photons in a given sample of cell medium, to increase the rate at which the photons interact with it, while simultaneously increasing the number of electrons "freed" per photon, and increasing the variety of needed photons to do the freeing.

Examples in nature: Chlorophyll. This green substance absorbs light in two discrete spectral ranges: reddish light (poor), and yellow light (good).

The individual elements that comprise chlorophyll are not particularly solar-reactive; it is the configuration of the elements that gives rise to regions of the molecule that are sensitive to photon exposure. Some parts of the molecule react to red light, which subtly changes the electrical configuration of the molecule. These effects are cumulative (over the whole molecule), so that several interactions with "weaker" red light photons are capable of initiating the chemical process of photosynthesis. (which requires much more energy than a single red photon can provide.) Yellow light photons carry considerably more energy, and are absorbed by a different region of the chlorophyll complex. Absorption of yellow light requires far fewer photons to initiate photosynthesis. The regions of the molecule that react to red light are distinct from the regions that react to yellow light; However, the whole molecule is able to react to both kinds of light, making it more robust.

Materials researchers working on new photosensitive materials take a similar approach; While one kind of semiconductor can react with a certain wavelength of light (type of photon), other kinds react with other wavelengths. For instance, Titanium Dioxide reacts "Very very strongly" with ultraviolet photons. However, less than 5% of sunlight is UV light. That is more than 95% of the light energy being simply discarded, if you create a cell based exclusively on this semiconductive material.

What the researchers do, is perform calculations to determine which semiconductors will "Play well" together, and which ones will not.

This is important, because photons that are not re-emitted, or which cause promotion to the conductance band, only produce heat in the material when they are absorbed by it. Some semiconductors are transparent to one kind of light, but opaque to others. If you combine two "incompatible" photosensitive semiconductors, they will be opaque to each other's respective wavelengths of photons, and instead of having an increase in power generation, you will get a net decrease, and a sizable increase in heat production.

In addition to the actual doping agents used, the substrate itself also imposes limitations. It has to be capable of transporting both electrons AND "holes" (research semiconductors for more on that.), while being transparent to as many photons as possible, to avoid having the photons and the liberated electrons blocked by the substrate itself.

It is the cost of "useful" substrates, as well as the costs of some of the doping agents that are what primarily makes solar panel fabrication so damned expensive:

the "best performing" solar cells on the commercial marketplace are "Monocrystalline silicon"-- they are made of the exact same substrate that your spiffy new quad core AMD Phenom is made out of... Only MUCH bigger. this is because it has excellent, and well known semiconductive properties, and is highly transparent to light. It is also astronomically expensive, due to the refinement and growth techniques that must be employed to produce crystals large enough to be used in this way.

The second best substrate currently available on the market, is "Polycrystalline silicon", which as the name suggests, is silicon crystal that is comprised of multiple overlapping crystal lattices, instead of one great big one. The boundries between crystal structures trap light in the "bad" way-- they convert it to heat instead of conducting it through to the doping materials. As such, these cells, while substantially cheaper to produce than monocrystalline silicon, are also considerably less efficient. They also can have high variability in output between discrete cells.

The third major player in the solar pannel market is "Amorphous silicon"-- or, 'Silicon based glass'

It is even cheaper still, since it can be produced from very very low quality silicon ore; but it admits considerably less light photons that are useful for solar power generation. The typical cells you buy at RadioShack for your hobby project are usually made from this substrate.

The "new kids in town" are the "Plastic semiconductors"-- Plastic polymers that can behave like semiconductors under certain circumstances. These are as wide and varied as there are organic molecules that can become plastics. (read, HUGE numbers that could work.)

Depending on the polymer, and the doping agents required to fabricate the collector, these can be dramatically more efficient than amorphous silicon, be highly flexible due to the plastic nature of the substrate, and admit more useful light photons to actually interact with the doping compounds. These, coupled with a recent emergent approach that more resembles the way chlorophyll works (by using a large macro-molecule as the collector, which is basically what happens in "Dye based" thin film collectors) are the current disruptive technologies that are being put forth in the solar cell marketplace.

Most of the "Advances" in solar technology come from the creation of new, novel substrates (like plastics), photoreactive dyes, etc. Sometimes there are serendipitous moments with "unexpected, but not unwelcome" results from these experiments, that pushes the high end up; but most of the time these present curiosities that are impractical for industrial scale fabrication; by studying the mechanisms that they present, however, we can devise more practical solutions that use the same ideas.

The serendipitous moments provide insights, which are then studied, and the knowledge gained from that study is used to devise new approaches that are not simply "Trial and error."

What?!? No one cught this?!? (1)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046458)

...a common weed, scientists created a cheap yet highly efficient solar system

A cheap and efficient solar system - guys?! Come on!

Yeah, a solar system of cheap weed!

A solar system populated with Chinese labor?

Duuuuuuude! A solar system made out weed! That's soooo knarly!

I mean let's go!

Longevity? (3, Insightful)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046470)

Current photovoltaics are expected to last for 30 years; what is the functional lifetime of this device? It seems to me that plastic and pokeberry dye won't last anywhere near as long as silicone.

Singularly BAD articles (2, Insightful)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046530)

Zero technical information. The obvious question is HOW does device create electricity from sunlight. Is the dye just a booster, or does it actuallly create the electricity? They need a better writer, one who has some curiosity and perhaps a science degree.

Purple pokeberries, yeah? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32046626)

now the cat in the hat gets free 'leccy forever.

Weed killer (1)

kiehlster (844523) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046796)

This is not good news for weed killer spray companies. Anti-weed-killer environmental protest in 3... 2... 1...

...And the best subset of pokeberry? (1)

ittybad (896498) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046870)

The best subset of pokeberry for power-generation: obviously, pikachuberry.

Sounds like a Graetzel cell (3, Interesting)

Bender_ (179208) | more than 3 years ago | (#32046978)

This sounds very much like a Dye-sensitized solar cell [wikipedia.org] , also known as Graetzel cell.

Unfortunately that means that the new invention does probably share the same (unsolved) long term stability problems.

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