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Not Transparent Aluminum, But Conductive Plastic

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the see-through-power-generator dept.

Power 96

michaelmalak writes "Scientists at the US Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory have fabricated transparent, thin films capable of absorbing light and generating electric charge over a relatively large area. The material, described in the journal Chemistry of Materials (subscription required), could be used to develop transparent solar panels or even windows that absorb solar energy to generate electricity. The material consists of a semiconducting polymer doped with carbon-rich fullerenes."

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Application: Skyscrapers (4, Insightful)

suso (153703) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147422)

Sounds like this would be great for skyscapers, where you have huge windows all the way up and direct sunlight for long periods of the day.

Re:Application: Skyscrapers (3, Insightful)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147600)

These would be great in windows, but I don't see why it should be limited to windows, since it's a coating that could be applied to all sorts of things.

A covering for housing siding, for example, or attached to roofing sheets. Something like this, if it ends up being cheap (and it should, it's a super simple process to make - the trick was getting the chemical solution right), would have a lot more applications than just in windows.

Cross your fingers, I say.

Re:Application: Skyscrapers (1)

Decker-Mage (782424) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148038)

Since it could be applied to any surface, it would practically ideal for use on the surfaces of devices (smart devices anyone?) to work much as the way the early solar-cell calculators did. Even if it did not totally provide device power, it would probably be a nice supplement. Heck, see what wavelengths work best with certain configurations (mixtures) perhaps even body heat might work.

Re:Application: Skyscrapers (1)

fifedrum (611338) | more than 3 years ago | (#34150822)

didn't RTFM... but one of the biggest problems with roofing shingles is UV, hopefully that's the same radiation this stuff is supposed to absorb... so, coat your roof in it and your roof lasts longer, bonus electricity.

if its transparent how does it absorb? (3, Insightful)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148024)

How can a transparent thing absorb a large fraction of the energy? This sounds like an oxymoron.

Re:if its transparent how does it absorb? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148052)

1/7000000000000000000000000. See how large that fraction is?

Re:if its transparent how does it absorb? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148176)

Humans are only able to "see" a very small portion of the spectrum of light. This leaves a lot of IR and some UV available for absorption without humans noticing.
Wikipedia has a nice chart of the spectrum here [wikipedia.org]

Nobody expects the Inquisition... (1)

TheBilgeRat (1629569) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148222)

Pope Innocent IV would like a word with you all...

Re:if its transparent how does it absorb? (3, Informative)

spike hay (534165) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148380)

The great majority of the sun's energy that reaches the surface is in visible. That's why we see in visible rather than NIR or ultraviolet, which have pretty much the same optical properties.

The sun is pretty close to being a 5800K blackbody, which means that it emits primarily in visible, but also some UV and near infrared.

  However, the UV mostly gets cut off in the stratosphere by ozone (which is why the stratosphere is actually warmer that the upper troposphere). A good portion of the NIR is cut off by water and other stuff.

Re:if its transparent how does it absorb? (1)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148514)

IR photons require a very low band gap. that is to say, not much voltage. You could harvest them but it's not anywhere near as energetically profitable as harvesting the Visible. And there just are not a lot of UV photons.

Re:if its transparent how does it absorb? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148712)

Maybe it eats the light in part of the spectrum we can't see.

Absorbs visible - tinted glass? (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148900)

Maybe it eats the light in part of the spectrum we can't see.

Not according to the article. It absorbes visible light but only at the edges of a small honeycomb structure. This leads me to think that if will only be useful as a replacement for tinted windows and not fully transparent ones.

Re:if its transparent how does it absorb? (1)

sosume (680416) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148858)

So windows would be a bad application, as it would leave out the natural heating from outside, and even pickup the heat from inside as well. You'd need to increase the central heating inside to compensate, probably costing more energy than the sheet absorbs.
This raises the question why it's transparent in the first place! (puts on his tin foil hat)

Re:if its transparent how does it absorb? (1)

magus_melchior (262681) | more than 3 years ago | (#34150712)

I'm not sure if anyone's saying this stuff would "absorb a large fraction of the energy". If anything, its absorption would probably be rather pitiful compared to even polycrystalline silicon cells.

Re:Application: Skyscrapers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34149374)

Yeah, it works great. (picture below) OPV is nothing really new to me. My company has been developing material like this for several years now.

(link provides images of skyscraper, sun umbrella, and portable applications)
http://www.konarka.com/index.php/power-plastic/about-power-plastic/

I'm just an IT monkey but I think its neat how its kind of flexible and light weight.

Re:Application: Skyscrapers (1)

Phoghat (1288088) | more than 3 years ago | (#34153284)

Not to mention the safety factor of having windows that wouldn't shatter and rain death on those below.

BTW, don't know where I saw it (might have even been on /.) that someone was actually working on that transparent aluminum thing.

Coming soon (4, Insightful)

pooh666 (624584) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147480)

to a manufacturer in China..

Re:Coming soon (2, Insightful)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147502)

Don't worry, the US patent owners will earn a lot more profit on it than the Chinese (they don't give a damn about patents, but if they want to sell it in the US they need the license nonetheless).

Re:Coming soon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148146)

Good at least that way it's affordable.

Re:Coming soon (3, Informative)

the gnat (153162) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148294)

I work for the DOE (at a different lab), and from what I've seen, patented technology is almost always licensed to American companies. If it wasn't, a major argument for the existence of the national labs goes out the window, and Congress would probably throw a fit. I don't know if patent licenses come with strings attached (like "thou shalt not offshore manufacturing"), but my guess is that any company wanting to profit from publicly-funded basic research has to tread carefully.

(Obvious disclaimer: I speak for no one except myself - I'm just a lowly programmer anyway.)

tinted glass? (4, Interesting)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147492)

I assume they'd act like tinted windows since they'd be absorbing some of the light.

car windows which gradually charge the battery perhaps?

Re:tinted glass? (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147540)

That's what I would expect too. My hope is that, since it is a fairly simple process (just super-tiny water droplets filled with the proper chemical spread out on a sheet) they will be able to produce reasonably efficient solar panels for much less than they cost now. Since they can be created on plastic, I'd like to see it used as some kind of siding. Then you wouldn't have to worry about them being very transparent either (i.e. more densely packed hexagons).

Either way, it's very cool.

Re:tinted glass? (3, Interesting)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148290)

Why stop with the windows? Auto bodies normally have a "clear coat" over the pigmented layer, so why not have the entire vehicle surface act as a collector?

Re:tinted glass? (1)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148500)

Exactly what I was thinking: make the hood, top and trunk coated with this material and you have a cheap way to help charge the batteries in a hybrid or electric vehicle. It doesn't need to do all the charging to be effective, just a significant fraction for the average person. Granted, this might not be the best application for much of western Europe, but in much of the western hemisphere and elsewhere, it would be worthwhile.

Would also be interesting for rooftops of commercial and apartment buildings, and for interstate signs as a way to charge batteries, to run LED lighting at night. No more need to run power all the way out to every sign. I would be curious to know what the hell we spend on just sign lighting for interstate and federal highways each year.

Re:tinted glass? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34150756)

Also if the battery is topped off on trickle charge, would it still make enough juice to run the vent blower? Would be nice to have a car that runs the fan and brings in fresh outside air while parked during those hot summer days.

Re:tinted glass? (1)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 3 years ago | (#34155112)

A normal sized car has about 4 m^2 of area, so it results in about 24 kWh per day in sunny CA at 100%. More likely it would be 2.4 kWh with all the loses or about 100 watts average.

Apocalypse averted (4, Interesting)

Zerth (26112) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147504)

Now when we run out of indium-tin oxide(or the chinese just stop selling it to us), we can still make LCDs, OLEDs, and EL wire.

What Colour Is light Coming Out? (1)

BeardedChimp (1416531) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147506)

If it is transparent but also absorbs light, which parts of the spectrum does it absorb? PV panels typically only convert a limited part of the spectrum, so if these transparent panels absorbed only green light you would not get white light coming out but purple.
This wouldn't be an absolute show stopper, but coloured windows are not all that appealing.

Re:What Colour Is light Coming Out? (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147564)

It's not going to absorb all the light, most of the light getting through is going through the middle of the hexagons, while most of the light being absorbed is at the edge of the hexagons.

I would expect more of a darkening effect than a color change - the edges of the hexagon are basically opaque, so there shouldn't be any light going through them. A portion of the light gets blocked, and of that blocked light a portion gets turned into electricity.

Looking in from the outside they might have some kind of color to them though, as what doesn't get absorbed will be reflected back.

Re:What Colour Is light Coming Out? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34147572)

The transparency of surfaces incorporating this material is likely due to the imperceptible holes in the honeycomb-shaped material rather than the material itself acting as a filter on certain areas of the visible spectrum. It'll tint but probably not color.

So... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34147516)

"windows that absorb solar energy to generate electricity" so... that would be unlike "transparent solar panels" how?

*shakes head*

The invisible man would be blind (2, Insightful)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147518)

The more transparent it is, the less energy it can absorb. What level of efficiency can it achieve?

.

Re:The invisible man would be blind (4, Insightful)

Raleel (30913) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147598)

the question is, transparent to what, really. If it's opaque to everything _except_ human-visible light, that's still a pile of the spectrum and of energy.

Re:The invisible man would be blind (5, Informative)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147638)

It's transparent because the film has a hexagonal structure - extremely thin (and therefore transparent) at the center of the hexagon, thick (and therefore opaque) at the edges of the hexagons. The electricity is generated at the edges, as that is where the light is absorbed and that's where all the electrons are ready to be knocked off their molecules. It's not blocking certain wavelengths and allowing others through (well obviously to some degree it is, but not in the visible spectrum). It's blocking light in certain parts and allowing light through in others.

It's basically going to tint the windows, how much will be determined by how densely the hexagons are packed - more hexagons means more electricity but also a darker tint.

Re:The invisible man would be blind (5, Informative)

JustinOpinion (1246824) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147804)

It's transparent because the film has a hexagonal structure - extremely thin (and therefore transparent) at the center of the hexagon, thick (and therefore opaque) at the edges of the hexagons.

Actually it's a little bit more interesting than that. In addition to being thinner at the center, the light-absorbing polymer is not well-ordered (amorphous) in the center region, which leads to it being worse at absorbing light. At the edges of the hexagons, the polymer orders better, which allows it to absorb light more efficiently. This makes the structure more intelligent, in principle: if the honeycomb structure acts as one half of the conduction pathway (necessary for a photo-voltaic), then it makes sense to have the material close to it do the light-absorbing, and have the material further away (center of hexagons) which cannot participate in light harvesting, just be transparent. So this in principle allows one to design more efficient semi-transparent solar cells.

Peeling back the layers of hype a bit, however, these kinds of solar cells are horribly inefficient. The best materials we currently have to make plastic solar-cells ("organic photo-voltaics") have pretty poor efficiency. Making a solar cell that's semi-transparent just makes the efficiency (per unit area) even worse. But, this is fairly fundamental research: by demonstrating that they can tune the light-absorbing capabilities of the polymer based on its ordering (and control ordering by using the honeycomb patterning and preparation parameters), this provides useful information about how to make higher-performance plastic solar-cells. So this research may actually end up being more important for conventional solar cells ('opaque') than it is for window-coating solar-cells or whatever.

P.S.: The materials used in the paper have an absorption maximum at 503 nm (green), so they probably create a purplish tint. The absorption spectrum can be tuned to change the tint, however this will impact the solar collection efficiency.

Disclaimer: Some of the co-authors are colleagues of mine. However I wasn't involved in this work in any way.

Re:The invisible man would be blind (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147908)

Peeling back the layers of hype a bit, however, these kinds of solar cells are horribly inefficient.

That's true, but this is made up for by the fact that you can place them in more places. For example, high-efficiency silicon solar panels can never be used as windows. It is simply not an area available for solar collection even though we generally place windows in areas that get a lot of sunlight. That's because a window is useless if we can't see through it, obviously.

So this is going to generate solar power in areas that currently cannot be practically collected. In that sense, it's infinitely more efficient than current tech.

Also, if this stuff is cheap enough to produce, and it sounds like it should be, you could expand to non-transparent applications. Something like a coating for home siding material to turn the side of your house into a giant solar panel. For these applications too you care more about absorbing the light, so you pack the hexagons tighter and raise efficiency.

So yeah, your efficiency per square foot may be crap, but your square footage can be huge. That's assuming, of course, this stuff ends up being cheap. The manufacturing process should be ultra cheap, but I don't know about producing the solution. It should be a lot cheaper than traditional panels, but will it be cheap enough to make it worth it? That's the question.

Re:The invisible man would be blind (3, Interesting)

JustinOpinion (1246824) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147976)

your efficiency per square foot may be crap, but your square footage can be huge. That's assuming, of course, this stuff ends up being cheap. The manufacturing process should be ultra cheap, but I don't know about producing the solution. It should be a lot cheaper than traditional panels, but will it be cheap enough to make it worth it? That's the question.

That's exactly right. The promise of organic photo-voltaics is that they will be so much cheaper to produce that the lower efficiency won't matter. But one of the harsh realities is that a photo-voltaic setup has certain fixed base costs (think of how much it costs to physically install each 1 m^2 panel, and tie it into a house's electricity system). Thus, according to industry partners, there is actually an efficiently level below which a solar material is not worth using even if it were completely free to produce. So, for organic solar cells to become commercially viable, they need to improve efficiency, even while reducing costs. Of course we're now reaching levels where it is indeed viable to use organic photo-voltaics, see for example Konarka's flexible solar panel [konarka.com] that is built into a bag, so that it charges your cellphone; but there is a threshold of efficiency necessary to offset fixed installation costs.

Re:The invisible man would be blind (2, Insightful)

Low Ranked Craig (1327799) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148102)

but there is a threshold of efficiency necessary to offset fixed installation costs.

This threshold will become lower as the costs of fossil fuel goes up. Assume for the sake of argument that the cost basis of solar tech like this doesn't change, the rising costs and shrinking supply of traditional sources will make things like this more attractive. Of course, it is likely that the costs for this tech will decrease over time...

Re:The invisible man would be blind (1)

kainosnous (1753770) | more than 3 years ago | (#34152366)

That's assuming that fossil fuel costs must go up. There is currently such a great supply of fossil fuel that it would be far cheaper to lobby the governments to allow it's use/production. As I see it, even if the world does last longer than the supply of oil, coal, etc, we would likely have changed how we think of energy. Perhpas we will be more effecient with it. Also, the "fixed" installation cost might lower by then from more effecient production.

I don't think that this particular technology will make much impact. However, it furthers research that may have a big impact over time, so it is still worth the effort.

Re:The invisible man would be blind (1)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | more than 3 years ago | (#34153910)

A decreasing resource in the hands of a few large corporations? The price will go up.

Re:The invisible man would be blind (1)

willy_me (212994) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148932)

but there is a threshold of efficiency necessary to offset fixed installation costs.

Very true, but we really don't know what it is. The installation costs on existing structures would likely be excessive, but if future architectural designs are changed to accommodate for such panels, installation costs would be greatly reduced.

There are lots of things they could do. For example, run aluminium strips underneath the siding to allow for all the windows (on that story) to easily connect together. Now I'm no architect and there are likely far better ways to do this - but my point is that such designs could make the described solar panels relevant even if they are not for existing architecture.

So step one is to develop the panels. Even if they don't look efficient enough, it is still a good subject of research. And your points are well noted - a good dose of reality.

Re:The invisible man would be blind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34150590)

Actually, if the material were really cheap to produce the ticket is laws. Make it mandatory on all new buildings and all new cars and so on. The material is basically free and the work helps create job while reducing dependency on (all) other energy sources.

Re:The invisible man would be blind (1)

twidarkling (1537077) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147946)

That's pretty interesting, though I'd think that someone's idea of replacing skyscraper windows with these would be a worthy endeavour, assuming the process is relatively cheap, and the resulting product relatively long-lasting. Would it be worth the effort of doing something like that? And would it have any effect on the amount of air-con needed in summer? Some of the light being blocked from entering the building would cool it, but I'm assuming the panels heat up more due to the electrical current, and would radiate some heat still. I just don't know if it'd be to a noticeable amount.

Re:The invisible man would be blind (1)

emt377 (610337) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148104)

The best materials we currently have to make plastic solar-cells ("organic photo-voltaics") have pretty poor efficiency.

But if it's a transparent film, even in the absorption spectrum, you could stack it several layers deep and possibly give each layer a slightly different absorption spectrum. Behind the stack you sandwich a mirror so residual light reflects out for a second trip. Maybe the mirror or a top film could be made to fluoresce as well to bring more energy into the absorption spectrum.

Re:The invisible man would be blind (1)

contrapunctus (907549) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147810)

microwave door analogy :)

Re:The invisible man would be blind (1)

dontmakemethink (1186169) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148448)

They should make it so you can filter whatever frequency bands you want. I've always wanted a blue tan.

Re:The invisible man would be blind (2, Informative)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147752)

It really depends what part of the spectrum it is absorbing in. If it absorbs strongly in the near IR region but completely passes visible, then how transparent it looks to us really isn't going to affect how efficient it is. Some chemical bonds just don't absorb energy in the visible region, which is hopefully what they are going for here, so that the primary function of the window itself is not compromised.

Ideally you want to absorb the energy above the visible region - it's more energetic after all, but there's a huge range of the spectrum available to choose from, with only a small portion of it apparent to us as humans (at least through detection by our eyes - you can obviously perceive IR radiation directly and UV/Xrays/other ionising radiation indirectly with no instruments).

Re:The invisible man would be blind (2, Informative)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148282)

It's only part of the solar panel. I'm over-simplifying, but solar panels are a sandwich of three layers: the transparent conductor (currently indium doped tin oxide), the semiconductor layer (silicon), and the back collector (metal). This discovery will replace that pesky transparent conductor layer.

Great idea (3, Insightful)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147528)

This is the kind of implementation that actually makes sense. You don't need dedicated hardware or real estate to set it up. Granted northern exposure probably would work but put this stuff all over southern exposure windows in a whole city and tie it all onto the grid. It's akin to not using food crops for biofuels. Algae and switch grass make more sense.

Now the big key is getting the cost per kilowatt down where it's competitive with traditional power generation. And of course you really need a large scale storage system. I remember a Popular Science article about giant underground flywheels.

Re:Great idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34147550)

giant underground flywheels

It will work. For a time. Then we'll discover it screws up the Earth's rotation. The Mayans predicted it. They also predicted the end of the pisces calendar.

Funny: captcha is geology

Re:Great idea (2, Funny)

belthize (990217) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147626)

Not if you do it right, we just need to set them up so they properly affect the earths rotation, say give us 4 more hours of sunlight a day for more solar power. Two rocs with one stone.

Re:Great idea (1)

ortholattice (175065) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147668)

I remember a Popular Science article about giant underground flywheels.

Yes, the perfect way to power our flying cars and cities under the ocean.

Re:Great idea (1)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | more than 3 years ago | (#34149848)

Oh, you mean this: http://www.eaavideo.org/video.aspx?v=635469588001 [eaavideo.org]

As for living under the ocean, when mammals the size of 18-wheelers can accidentally ram into your windows, I'll stay on dry land, thanks.

tiny tiny area, and inefficient (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34147530)

The "relatively large area" is just a few millimeters. The transparency of the material is because it has almost no light gathering area. Like putting up chicken-wire to keep the wind out. OP is hyperbole

Science journalism (1)

zrbyte (1666979) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147644)

Kudos for adding a link to the original research article. Not a lot of blogs, news sites, etc. do this. BTW the supporting information [acs.org] to the article is available free of charge (nitty - gritty experimental details). (This is common among paywalled articles)

Windows? (1)

trasgu (603018) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147646)

Windows that effeciently absorb light are NOT windows. They would be called WALLS.

Re:Windows? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34147704)

Your an idiot.....

Re:Windows? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34147850)

His an idiot?

Re:Windows? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34147852)

Your an idiot.....

Sew our ewe.....

Good for social justice (1)

cryfreedomlove (929828) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147710)

Personal energy consumption is a benefit of wealth. Lowering the cost of energy generation should increase the ability for larger proportions of mankind to increase their own personal energy consumption and move one step closer to a rightfully just existence.

Re:Good for social justice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34147808)

So lighting wood on fire is a benefit of wealth? Neanderthals would probably disagree. Owning a sturdy domicile that you could consider putting these plastic windows or solar panels on, thats probably as sign of wealth.

Re:Good for social justice (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147830)

Personal energy consumption is a benefit of responsibility. If larger portions of mankind used the capital and energy they already have in more responsible manner they would be living the same existence as the rest of us.

Re:Good for social justice (1)

cryfreedomlove (929828) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148138)

By that argument, at each stage of history, we would have benefitted from 'responsible capital use'. In your world, we would not have been allowed to develop the automobile until all of mankind had the finest horses and carriages available.

in my world, wealthy people clamoring for automobiles creates a market that leads to Henry Ford's model-t, which led to cars for everyone. In your world, they'd all still be knee deep in manure.

Re:Good for social justice (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148628)

In your world, we would not have been allowed to develop the automobile until all of mankind had the finest horses and carriages available.

I'm not sure where you get this impression. You're the one clamoring for "social justice" (which is just a euphemism for wealth redistribution), not me.

Besides, the first automobiles were steam-powered, and could run on wood, a perfectly renewable resource.

What's the difference? (1)

znerk (1162519) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147720)

Sorry if I'm just being dense, but what, exactly, is the difference between "could be used to develop transparent solar panels or even windows that absorb solar energy to generate electricity."

Re:What's the difference? (1)

belthize (990217) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147788)

i think it's a spatial thing, one goes on the top of the house, the other on the side.

I agree with your point, transparent solar panels seem fairly useless since their efficiency is directly related to their opacity, windows that absorb solar energy seems pretty slick.

Re:What's the difference? (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147798)

Not much, obviously. But, then again, what's the difference between a pile of dirt and rocks and a nuclear reactor?

Re:What's the difference? (2, Insightful)

znerk (1162519) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148158)

Not much, obviously. But, then again, what's the difference between a pile of dirt and rocks and a nuclear reactor?

Engineering :)

Well, that and the fact that one of them generates gobs of power, while the other just kinda sits there.

Re:What's the difference? (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156400)

one of them generates gobs of power, while the other just kinda sits there.

Not [wikipedia.org] true [world-nuclear-news.org] .

Re:What's the difference? (1)

znerk (1162519) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156958)

Sorry, I guess I should have been more precise in my response.

A "pile of rocks", regardless of whether it is a "naturally-occuring nuclear reactor", is not usable to generate power that is immediately available for use by humans. A "nuclear reactor" is a purpose-built facility designed to do exactly that.

Oh, and Oklo is more of an out-lier than you seem to imply, seeing as it is the only one of its kind (and the reactions occurred 2 billion years ago).

As for Petratherm's Paralana Geothermal Project, you're getting very disingenuous there. Geothermal power != nuclear power, and that particular "pile of rocks" has quite a bit of human interaction before it's ready to supply usable power... Ie, engineering.

I stand by my answer, this is merely clarification.

Transparent/Conductive is an oxymoron (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34147732)

I just wanted to point out that there is no magic involved here. Necessarily, as the conductivity of a material increases, it becomes more opaque. This is because conductivity is directly related to how well the material screens (i.e. blocks) electric fields (like light). Usually, a material is at one extreme though -- either it is pretty conductive or pretty transparent, and so it's hard to find a material that's OK at both. The real advantage here is probably that the material is flexible, unlike traditional transparent/conductive materials like Indium-tin-oxide (ITO)

More materials science overclaiming (2, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147744)

Again, we have some minor bit of progress in materials science being touted as a big breakthrough. They haven't fabricated anything but a hexagonal membrane, which has been done before. They're not even able to make a small prototype device. From that, it's a huge jump to "Imagine a house with windows made of this kind of material, which, combined with a solar roof, would cut its electricity costs significantly. This is pretty exciting.". There are lots of other solar cell technologies which are much further along and still don't yield useful products. Nanosolar [nanosolar.com] , a hype-based solar panel company, comes to mind. The enthusiasm for thin-film solar has decreased since ordinary solar cells became cheaper, and thin-film cells got stuck at half the efficiency of regular ones. This is turning into a manufacturing problem, not a technology one. "We grow every year with double revenue and almost double capacity. At end of the year, we will have 1.8 gigawatts of capacity and will have grown from 4,000 employees at the beginning of this year to more than 11,000." - Fang Pen, JA Solar, Shanghai.

Conductive plastic isn't a big deal. Conductive plastics [chomerics.com] are commercially available. The foam in which ICs are packed is conductive.

This is Los Alamos and Brookhaven, the old atomic labs, struggling to avoid more downsizing.

The real action in solar (5, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147820)

What's really going on in solar is that big US companies with real manufacturing expertise are moving in.

  • Dow Chemical [dowsolar.com] is about to release solar shingles. "About to release" means "passed UL certification last week" and "volume shipments in 2011". Solar enthusiasts have blithered about solar shingles for a decade, but Dow actually solved all the real world problems, like the roof not leaking, the interconnect system being safe, and the installation being do-able by a typical roofer.
  • General Eletric [gepower.com] is now active in solar. They make not only panels, but major parts you need to really get things done, like megawatt-sized inverters.
  • 3M [3m.com] now makes solar panels.

This is where the action is. Solar is a heavy-manufacturing business, and it's the companies with experience in running big factories that are now taking over.

Re:The real action in solar (2, Interesting)

belthize (990217) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148066)

You can't have a manufacturing business until you figure out the technical details. There's a reason Dow invests 1.2B a year in R&D. Ten years from now I suspect there'll be an article on some new conductive something or other and somebody will point out what a waste that is because you can already buy windows for Andersen Windows that act as transparent solar panels.

Last year there were numerous scoffing posts at the announcement that Dow would be rolling out shingles next year.
http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/09/10/05/2126210/Dow-Chemical-Rolling-Our-Solar-Shingles-Next-Year?from=rss [slashdot.org]

Places like LANL aren't set up to invent and patent products (though they have), they do pure research and post their findings so companies like Dow, GE and 3M can further advance the findings as real products. It is extremely risky to do pure research, there is little or no guarantee that areas of inquiry will lead to anything let alone a cost effective product. A centralized system for pure research backed by the combined economic force of an entire nation and then distributed to focused companies to implement promising lines is about as efficient as it gets (efficient there is a relative term, it doesn' t mean it is in itself efficient, just more efficient than alternatives).

Lastly all conductive polymers aren't created equal, simply making a conductive plastic is not a one size fits all regime. Some of the best work in polymeric photovoltaics is being done at LANL which, oddly enough, is the point of the article.

Getting around the paywall? (3, Informative)

znerk (1162519) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147770)

Some links that have more information, without having to give money to the Chemistry of Materials:

http://news.discovery.com/tech/material-could-collect-sunlight-from-roof-and-windows.html [discovery.com]

http://www.lanl.gov/news/releases/scientists_produce_transparent_light-harvesting_material.html [lanl.gov]

Oh, and one more thing:
Buckminster Fuller strikes again! AHAHAHAHAHAhahahahahaha... hah.

--
I want my Dymaxion [wikipedia.org]

Transparent panels (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34147912)

Have existed for years already. Low power and expensive, but they have existed. Paint on PV exists as well, a company in the UK was going to incorporate it into sheet metal for buildings, the siding and the roof.

Except a lot of this stuff disappears after it is announced, you never hear of it again. Once or twice, a coincidence, now that it has been twenty years and change I have been following solar breakthroughs, and noticed that hardly any of these breakthroughs, dozens and dozens, actually make it to retail, I am calling large scale conspiracy and market manipulation.

Time to market (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148122)

In 1987 I saw a functioning hybrid car which was sent out to run at a mine - electric underground, fuel above ground and regenerating power from the brakes. Consider how long it was between that finished specialty product and a mass market hybrid vehicle like the Prius (ten years).
It's the same deal with these other things. You might not be hearing about them but that doesn't mean that they are not in use in some niche somewhere.

Re:Time to market (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148276)

That may be true, but I know for a fact that a lot of entrenched industry on the old money energy side hates the idea of solar and has gone way out of their way to make it not happen, because it threatens their business model. Solar can break the perpetual check to them, because eventually it can be paid off. You can NEVER pay off your local utility monopoly, and that's the way they like it. And speaking of hybrids, read up on large NiMH batteries and chevron, an oil company and how they bought up the patents, etc and then sat on it, refused to license it, making manufacturers start from scratch an building large ones, helping delay electric vehicles. Toyota had to develop their own, when it already existed!

Any way, back to solar. I've been into it for decades now, and back in the old days we had to do "guerrilla solar" (and also wind chargers, which are sorta hard to hide) because damn if you could get a "permit" to install it. Local electric company guys would get to the building inspectors (read:bribes) and no matter what, they wouldn't "permit" it, so we had to do it stealthily. This was on purpose, conspiracy, market manipulation stuff. You can google "guerrilla solar" for some stories about how much of a rip it was. Home Power mag has a lot of it in their old back issues.

I have NO doubt it still goes on with amazing solar breakthroughs, the patents get bought, then poofed away, stuff like that.

Re:Time to market (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 3 years ago | (#34152108)

All that is moot globally because China rarely gives a shit about those patents for internal use and will probably be happy to stall things in court for five years to sell the stuff to the USA as well. The bastards that want to run conspiracies are going to find they are now small players. Besides, innovation is not happening so much in the USA anymore so they'll have nothing to sit on anyway.
Bought government interference is annoying but won't stop everything. In Australia for instance we had a wind farm stopped because it was going to kill a rare parrot but none of the environmental groups or parrot experts even knew the parrot was supposedly there or raised the issue with the government (it would be interesting to trace the money trail). However, that example that was so obviously faked and became the source of many jokes that it would be very difficult for anyone to pull the same stunt again and political rivals are ready to drag others down in such a situation.

dangerous solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34157864)

In fairness, there is also the problem that improperly done PV is DANGEROUS. There have been numerous cases of fires in houses equipped with PVs where it turned out to be an electrical fire starting with frayed wires off the PVs (squirrels etc.). Even *IF* the PV isn't the origin, it still can be a problem in a fire. During a fire, it is beneficial to be able to shut off the power, fire departments are VARY picky about this. At the data-center I work at we had to jump through all types of hoops to make sure power from our (old-fashion diesel) generators could be disconnected by emergency personnel. That isn't the power company (they know it isn't cost-effective for us to run on diesel and with the amount of power we use, they love us), that's the firefighters.

The other thing we had to do was prove it wasn't going to back-feed onto the lines. That is the power company, but not because of some conspiracy to keep you from competing. The reason we have to do that is so that when they send workers up to work on the lines, after they disconnect power, they want to be sure power is actually disconnected. Our facility is on a decommissioned air force base, and in a number of places power was designed to back-feed (military wanted it redundant), It has cost more then on electrician their life.

Sounds useful (1)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 3 years ago | (#34147958)

So we can use these in windows to both block out the sunlight and power indoor lighting? Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

dejavu (1)

jappleng (1805148) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148042)

Either there's a glitch in the matrix or I feel like something similar had been created about 8 or 9 years ago. I remember reading about it either here or on engadget around 2004. After some googling back in time I managed to find this: http://www.rense.com/general20/transparentalum.htm [rense.com] which is the closest thing that comes to mind. I wish I had better source. Can anyone please explain how the two differ?

Some better article headlines (2, Interesting)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148076)

Here are some improved article headlines:

Not Transparent Steel, But Conductive Plastic

Not Non-Conductive Plastic, But Conductive Plastic

Not Green Eggs And Ham, But Conductive Plastic

'Doping' (1)

ocdscouter (1922930) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148098)

What?? We're doping plastic now? Just imagine what other innocent materials could also be sullied with 'performance-enhancing' substances!

we already have transparent aluminum (2, Interesting)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 3 years ago | (#34148284)

My watch is made with Transparent Aluminum [wikipedia.org] .

yuo Fail it?! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34148746)

By simple fuc4ing

Transparency, where does the energy come from (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34149178)

This is just BS, transparency means photons are not absobed. If they are not absorbed there is no energy, so the yield will be very low.

Re:Transparency, where does the energy come from (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 3 years ago | (#34150890)

Transparent to our vision doesn't mean transparent to every wavelength.

Leaded glass will block out radio 'light' quite handily.

Not Time Travel, But Everyday Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34149382)

sheeesshhh....

That's ALUMINIUM (0, Troll)

NoSleepDemon (1521253) | more than 3 years ago | (#34149464)

Not Aluminum, idiots.

Re:That's ALUMINIUM (1)

walshy007 (906710) | more than 3 years ago | (#34150936)

Fail to see how this is a troll, aluminum was originally a brand name for a seller of aluminium. Do you call iridium iridum too?

Re:That's ALUMINIUM (0, Troll)

NoSleepDemon (1521253) | more than 3 years ago | (#34151130)

Really? Haha that's hilarious. Whenever my colleagues tell me it's pronounced wrong I just tell them only Americans can pronounce it wrong, which I suppose is OK because they're American. (I live in Canada)

Government waste. (2, Funny)

bigtrike (904535) | more than 3 years ago | (#34150730)

Why are our tax dollars funding things like this when we're losing a war and faith based initiatives are underfunded? We need to shrink our government and trust that if there were any hope for this to work, private industry would be investing in it so they could maximize their long term profits.

Re:Government waste. (1)

Lohrno (670867) | more than 3 years ago | (#34152490)

I think I just puked in my mouth a bit.

Prior Art? 1990 (1)

ImitationEnergy (993881) | more than 3 years ago | (#34151894)

Uhm, I can't afford any high priced lawyers but I projected a car paint ~a top coat clear with metal fibers~ to do this. It was in my copyrighted mini-novel of early 1990. Not that anybody gives a damn but I'll state it for the record anyway => my novel is on record as "Anti-Synergy: The Story of Project Badwater" so if anyone decides I was first and these guys got wind of my idea from me, my air + steam wind-powered explosion-without-combustion engine could use a few bucks. It only develops 1500% more horsepower than every combustion engine known to Man.

No doubt Jules Verne beat me to it, any excuse to keep my zero pollution, zero exhaust engine from having funding. Thank goodness the planet still has plenty of good ol' crude oil. End of useless post.
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