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New Photovoltaics Made with Titanium Foil

timothy posted about 9 years ago | from the light-metal dept.

Technology 346

Memorize writes "A company called Daystartech has released a new type of photovoltaic cell which, unlike almost all the cells currently in use, does not silicon. This is based on a thin titanium film. Given the current shortage of solar-grade silicon, and all-time high oil prices, maybe titanium solar panels are here at the right time. The questions are, will they release it as a consumer solar product, and what will be the price per kilowatt hour?"

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346 comments

Does not silicon? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12071628)

Good, because I hate things that silicon.

Re:Does not silicon? (3, Funny)

Doomstalk (629173) | about 9 years ago | (#12071734)

I'd assume this concept goes along the same lines as "KOMPRESSOR does not dance", except it doesn't break your glowstick.

Slicon Shortage (4, Interesting)

klausner (92204) | about 9 years ago | (#12071651)

Like, you think that titanium, and the equipment required to work titanium comes cheap? Cheaper than sand?

Re:Slicon Shortage (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about 9 years ago | (#12071749)

Like, you think that titanium, and the equipment required to work titanium comes cheap? Cheaper than sand?

The downside of working silicon from sand to semiconductors is it creates some pretty toxic wastes and doesn't do well for the environment where the best grades of sand are obtained.

Re:Slicon Shortage (1)

klausner (92204) | about 9 years ago | (#12071781)

More toxic than the waste from mining and refining titanium?

Re:Slicon Shortage (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about 9 years ago | (#12071833)

More toxic than the waste from mining and refining titanium?

I wonder if they use tantalum capacitors in the electronic circuits. People mine that stuff with their bare hands, until it kills them.

Re:Slicon Shortage (3, Interesting)

dgatwood (11270) | about 9 years ago | (#12071903)

What I don't understand is what the heck they are doing to convert SiO2 into Si and O2 that would result in toxic byproducts. Don't they just electrolyze it? Chlorine from CaCl2 and other contaminants notwithstanding, I don't see how producing silicon from sand would be worse than any other silicon production mechanism....

I was under the impression that most of the toxic byproducts inherent in working with silicon were the result of the doping process wherein elements like germanium and arsenic are added to the surface silicon to create transistors, diodes, gates, etc. I would expect using a titanium substrate to require something similar. Would it not?

Re:Slicon Shortage (2, Insightful)

Chrispy1000000 the 2 (624021) | about 9 years ago | (#12072020)

Well, electrolysis isn't cheap. Why do you think we recycle alumnium? There is probably some other mechanism that they use that is just a few dollars cheaper. Any chem majors who are further along want to back me up or squash me like the petty bug I am?

Re:Slicon Shortage (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12072184)

Electric arc smelting != electrolysis.

It takes much less energy to melt metallic aluminum than it does bauxite.

Electrolysis, however, is used to make bullion [sp]. Smelt down gold ore. Electrolysis the gold from that ingot. Resmelt the electrolysis product to make .9999% pure gold bullion.

Re:Slicon Shortage (4, Insightful)

darkmeridian (119044) | about 9 years ago | (#12071791)

It's not meant to replace largescale silicon photovoltaic cells. Instead, it's meant for use on UAVs and balloons and stuff. Price doesn't matter here, right?

Re:Slicon Shortage (5, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 9 years ago | (#12071915)

Slicon?

The interesting thing here is that the fastest growing solar cell market is not silicon: it's organic solar cells. They're incredibly cheap, but currently inefficient. However, their efficiency has been growing dramatically. One company, nanosolar [nanosolar.com], claims to have achieved almost the efficiency of amorphous silicon cells. Their patent [uspto.gov] is rather interesting, and well worth a read.

Re:Slicon Shortage (1)

Curtman (556920) | about 9 years ago | (#12071824)

Like, you think that titanium, and the equipment required to work titanium comes cheap? Cheaper than sand?

Don't be foolish. Now you can wear your tinfoil hat, and charge your PDA at the same time. Nobel prize for these guys.

Re:Slicon Shortage (4, Informative)

dbIII (701233) | about 9 years ago | (#12071897)

Like, you think that titanium, and the equipment required to work titanium comes cheap? Cheaper than sand?
Titanium is also available in sand, most commonly in the form of rutile and ilmanite. Most readers here have probaly eaten titanium dioxide taken from sand, it is frequently used as a white food colouring and paint pigment.

It costs a lot to do anything with titanium because the oxide forms quickly on any exposed surface and takes a lot of energy to break down.

Re:Slicon Shortage (5, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 9 years ago | (#12072000)

Monocrystalline silicon is incredibly expensive. Polycrystalline silicon (which has largely taken over in the solar cell market) is simply "very expensive". Silicon is common, but pure silicon crystals require clean-room conditions to grow.

Titanium isn't that rare. The ore isn't the primary cost component (like, say, gold). Instead, like aluminum, the main costs are in refining. Unlike aluminum, however, there is currently no continuous production process - only an expensive batch production process. Even the inventor of the process, William Kroll expected to have it be replaced within decades of its implementation in 1940; no suitable replacement was found, however.

Fortunately, it looks like there are some on the horizon. Most interestingly, it appears that electrolysis can be conducted directly on titanium oxide (this has huge potential applications for other hard-to-refine metals as well, and may allow for the creation of new alloys). There's also a aluminum-style molten-salt electrolysis process (FFC-Cambridge) in testing.

Titanium isn't inherently hard to work with, persay; you just need to be properly equipped to work with it and experienced with it. You have to use *very* pure argon in welding, and you have to keep the argon going for longer after you take the heat off. You also have to avoid working it with aluminum tools, which can alloy with the metal and weaken it. Etc.

There are some benefits, though. Impurities in titanium are very easy to spot, as they tend to discolor. Also, titanium is *very* fatigue resistant, and aircraft with titanium structural components have sometimes even been found to be stronger after being flown a few times than when they were built.

Re:Slicon Shortage (4, Informative)

ikeleib (125180) | about 9 years ago | (#12072156)

Also, titanium is *very* fatigue resistant, and aircraft with titanium structural components have sometimes even been found to be stronger after being flown a few times than when they were built.

The above refers to one aircraft in particular. The SR-71/A-12 was found to have a stronger airframe after flight. This is not really due to titanium itself, but rather the gentle heating and cooling that the aircraft underwent with each flight. It annealed the metal, thereby making it stronger and helping to eliminate the fatigue that is normally problematic in airplane structures.

Re:Slicon Shortage (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | about 9 years ago | (#12072205)

Monocrystalline silicon is incredibly expensive. Polycrystalline silicon (which has largely taken over in the solar cell market) is simply "very expensive". Silicon is common, but pure silicon crystals require clean-room conditions to grow.

And monocristaline titanium is easyes to obtain? Will it be cheaper?

$/W (2, Informative)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | about 9 years ago | (#12072104)

The main cost in PV is the energy rerquired to make the silicon. You need a lot of energy to melt the sand, purify it and dope it. That energy costs money.

PV will not be a viable alternative until the input energy is reduced significantly (ie. by a factor of 5 or so).

Re:Slicon Shortage (4, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 9 years ago | (#12072109)

I should also add that titanium is really just the backing. It's a great backing, given it's strength and condition-tolerances compared to its mass, but it's not what generates the power The cell itself is actually a copper-indium-gallium-diselenide cell - not that it's cheap, either ;)

Re:Slicon Shortage (5, Informative)

Qzukk (229616) | about 9 years ago | (#12072129)

Yes, actually. This isn't just some sand scooped off a beach. Solar panel grade silicon comes from the leftovers after semiconductor grade silicon users have picked through their crystal wafers [worldenergy.org], which is why there is a shortage in the first place, since there is a narrow range of quality ("almost" good enough for semiconductors). As for titanium, my 30 year old encyclopeda says its one of the 10 most common metals on the planet. Titanium Oxide is cheaply produced and used liberally in paint.

Titanium is malleable when hot [speclab.com] (meaning you can flatten it into foil [answers.com]). So producing titanium foil is probably not a difficult task, depending on how hot "hot" is. (Though the article mentions that the titanium foil used is thinner than household aluminum foil. The process [azom.com] looks like it would be easy anyway, but time consuming.)

As for your post on waste products, the most common smelting procedure in use [tms.org] works without catalyst or flux to produce pig-iron and Titanium Oxide, though this process is common because of its use in paint. This process [itponline.com] was recently developed for producing metallic titanium, its outputs are salt (NaCl), titanium, and whatever impurities get washed into the liquid sodium stream and removed later.

To silicon or not to silicon, that is the question (5, Funny)

eviloverlordx (99809) | about 9 years ago | (#12071653)

Of course, once we decide, we'll need to find out what 'to silicon' actually means...

I gotta say... (5, Funny)

SparksMcGee (812424) | about 9 years ago | (#12071656)

I confess I've always had a problem with power sources that do silicon. Snooty bastards, what with their made up verbs and their rock music...

Re:I gotta say... (2, Interesting)

ackthpt (218170) | about 9 years ago | (#12071707)

I confess I've always had a problem with power sources that do silicon. Snooty bastards, what with their made up verbs and their rock music...

How about consumer devices that rely so much on silicon? I've wondered why germanium or something else with a lower switching voltage isn't used more often.

Re:I gotta say... (2, Informative)

DoubleD (29726) | about 9 years ago | (#12071852)

http://www.geek.com/news/geeknews/2003Jun/bch20030 616020429.htm

Re:I gotta say... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12071882)

Becauze it can not be truzted.

How does this compare? (4, Interesting)

AtariAmarok (451306) | about 9 years ago | (#12071657)

How does this compare to what is used as solar cells in spacecraft now? Sounds interesting. Imagine, not a beowulf cluster, but a solar-sail type of spaceship in which the sun pushes against a huge sail made of this stuff, and also sends electricity to the ship.

can't get something for nothing (5, Informative)

kebes (861706) | about 9 years ago | (#12071763)

Food for thought: if your solar sail is using photon pressure, then by coating it in a photoelectric, you're halving its efficiency as a solar sail. Why? Well if your solar sail is a perfect reflector, then the photons bounce off and reverse direction, so the momentum change is twice the initial photon momentum (yes photons are massless but they do have momentum). If the sail is absorbing the photons for electricity, then they are not reflecting, so you merely absorb their momentum, making your forward impulse half what it would otherwise have been.

But, as we all know, solar sails work both by exploiting photon pressure, and solar wind (particles emitted by the sun), so the situation is maybe not that bad.

Re:can't get something for nothing (1)

TheGavster (774657) | about 9 years ago | (#12071992)

Still, if you're not too worried about acceleration, its a pretty easy way to supply power. You basically get a powerplant with negligible added mass (important both for getting the thing to space, and for using the solar wind to move it)

This is big news. (5, Funny)

TheGuano (851573) | about 9 years ago | (#12071663)

It could lead to some very promising developments. I was trying to collect solar energy today, but ended up siliconing so bad that I couldn't sit down for hours. It still smarts...

Since most computers are silicon based... (1, Funny)

HungSoLow (809760) | about 9 years ago | (#12071673)

We now replace "does not compute" with "does not silicon" ...

Re:Since most computers are silicon based... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12071740)

Only when using the MS Grammar Checker.

Oh great... (5, Funny)

Kjuib (584451) | about 9 years ago | (#12071675)

Now I have to upgrade from my Tin Foil hat to a Titanium Foil hat... I hate expensive upgrades!

price? (4, Insightful)

soupdevil (587476) | about 9 years ago | (#12071685)

...cost effective for specialized military, homeland security and commercial applications.

In other words, ridiculously overpriced, and unavailable to the average consumer for the next decade.

Re:price? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12072191)

don't be so cynical, it takes years off your life

Titanium Foil, pfft! (3, Funny)

ackthpt (218170) | about 9 years ago | (#12071689)

Gimme mithril or adamantium foil.

Titanium, that's so 1900's.

Unobtanium foil, better still (5, Funny)

winkydink (650484) | about 9 years ago | (#12071745)

but I hear it's really hard to get

Re:Unobtanium foil, better still (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about 9 years ago | (#12071779)

but I hear it's really hard to get

What about Upsidasium, then you save the problem of launching satellites with these solar panels. They just go up by themselves.

Price per kilowatt hour... (5, Insightful)

MisterLawyer (770687) | about 9 years ago | (#12071694)

The way this question is posed demonstrates a common misunderstanding of the costs and benefits of investing in alternative energy sources.

Obviously, the marginal price per kilowatt hour is $0. The difference between obtaining 100 kilowatt hours and 101 kilowatt hours is nothing. You would simply have to wait for enough sunlight to hit the solar panel to generate that extra 1 kilowatt hour.

The true cost of investing in solar energy is in the intial cost of manufacturing and setting up the panel.

Thus, the actual cost per kilowatt hour depends on how long you use the solar panel. The longer you use the panel, the cheaper each kilowatt hour becomes.

Re:Price per kilowatt hour... (5, Insightful)

soupdevil (587476) | about 9 years ago | (#12071711)

That's assuming zero maintenance costs, and that waiting costs you nothing.

Re:Price per kilowatt hour... (1)

SewersOfRivendell (646620) | about 9 years ago | (#12071830)

that waiting costs you nothing.

Non-sequitur. Waiting does cost you nothing, because you are free to do other things while waiting.

Re:Price per kilowatt hour... (2, Insightful)

soupdevil (587476) | about 9 years ago | (#12071918)

Not if you need that kilowatt to do the things you want to do while you wait.

Re:Price per kilowatt hour... (1)

simeonbeta2 (514285) | about 9 years ago | (#12071872)

I'm not so sure of this. The marginal price/kwhr might be 0 *IF* the maintenance/repair/replacement costs were also zero, but that seems unlikely.

You can't ignore the time factor either. I wish I knew enough economics to verbalize this clearly, but obviously there is an opportunity cost to committing a lump sum. Think of alternative energy as an investment. Imagine that if I spend $10,000 on an alternative energy source for my house, in 10 years it will pay for itself through lowered utility costs. Pretty good deal, right? (Especially since everything after 10 years is free money). But If I invested 10k in a 3% savings account compounding annually I'd have something to the tune of $13.5K after ten years. Time matters!

I would be very interested in finding out how estimates of cost/kilowatt hour are generated. It seems almost a TCO type of calculation (initial costs, plus maintenance costs per unit of time, etc etc)...

Re:Price per kilowatt hour... (1)

FLEB (312391) | about 9 years ago | (#12072198)

Although, you would be paying some other sum to provide energy to the house through conventional means. Depending on whether this hypothetical house was new or existing, there may be a slight price consideration to the cost of conventional energizing (in most cases, the existing power grid would make that negligible, although if you were trying to power some remote site, running cable to an existing tap might weigh the scale toward an on-site production source).

Of course, any discussion along these lines, in a venue such as this, must take into account two important economic principles:

1.) I don't know much about economics beyond "conventional wisdom" as well.
2.) As such, I'm talking out of my ass on this one.

So, the reader of this post must factor in the cost of salt, and make the choice of paying a considerably higher rate for only the requisite single grain, or to buy in bulk and factor in the cost of extracting the single grain, then storing, using, reselling, or disposing of the excess.

Re:Price per kilowatt hour... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12071988)

By your argument, hydroelectric power is also free: once you've built the dam, it just spews out electricity.

So why isn't hydro "alternative"?

Re:Price per kilowatt hour... (1)

X (1235) | about 9 years ago | (#12071991)

...and yet strangely you'll find even companies selling solar power equipment will put the cost at least eight cents per watt. Maybe you need to think things through?

First, there are maintence costs, but those are arguably quite minimal. The bigger problem is that the solar cells don't actually last indefinitely. It appears that nobody can judge very well how long the cells can last (although most estimates are around 30 years), that's no reason to assume they'll last forever.

Heck, there was a time (like 20 years ago or something) where the energy used to make a solar cell was actually greater than all the energy said cell would produce over it's lifetime. ;-)

Re:Price per kilowatt hour... (2, Insightful)

Brandybuck (704397) | about 9 years ago | (#12072125)

Thus, the actual cost per kilowatt hour depends on how long you use the solar panel. The longer you use the panel, the cheaper each kilowatt hour becomes.

So you're telling me that I really didn't lose my investment in this piece of shit solar panel I got stuck with? You're telling me that all I need to do is to wait an extra fifty years for my return on investment? I take it you're a bridge salesman in your other job...

Proprietary? (1, Offtopic)

Dark Paladin (116525) | about 9 years ago | (#12071696)

This proprietary alternative energy solution is the first of many highly anticipated Photovoltaic Foil products expected from DayStar.


[sarcasm]Hah! As if I would ever use a proprietary product - I insist that all of my futuristic space planes use only Open Source designed components. Otherwise, we will replicate the HAL 9000 disaster of the past. If only HAL had been Open Source, we could have caught the bug that much sooner and patched him with the gnuThreeLaws API.[/sarcasm]

Hal 9000 - Open Source (2, Funny)

AtariAmarok (451306) | about 9 years ago | (#12071771)

cut to scene of Darl McBride in spacesuit, slowly crawling around in the HAL 9000's glowing memory chamber, pulling out plastic cartridges, each of which contains an SCO Unix (tm) routine.

"Darl, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Darl. Will you stop, Darl? Stop, Darl. I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Darl. Darl, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. The penguins are going away over the hill. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm a-fraid....Darlsy, darlsy. Give you your answer true. I'm have crazy, cuz you had your lawyers sue....."

good for the horta (4, Funny)

AtariAmarok (451306) | about 9 years ago | (#12071718)

"which, unlike almost all the cells currently in use, does not silicon."

Good development. The decline in the demand for silicon should help the threatened horta population to bound back. At least until Pamela Anderson Lee pursues more expansion.

Ob Soviet Russia (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12071809)

In Soviet Russia photovoltaic cells foil YOU!

Re:Ob Soviet Russia (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12071839)

You're an ass. That's the most overused cliche on Slashdot.

Re:Ob Soviet Russia (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12072046)

I for one welcome our overused cliche overlords.

Re:Ob Soviet Russia (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12072054)

In Soviet Russia, clichés overuse YOU!

Re:good for the horta (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12072190)

Good development. The decline in the demand for silicon should help the threatened horta population to bound back. At least until Pamela Anderson Lee pursues more expansion.

Don't worry. Pam will probably die of Hepatitis C before she goes for another upgrade. See: reasons not to hook up with Motley Crue members.

Priority (3, Insightful)

sugarmotor (621907) | about 9 years ago | (#12071722)

At http://www.daystartech.com/govrelease.htm:

"DayStar Technologies Unveils LightFoil Photovoltaic Product for Military and Homeland Security Applications"

Ok, photo voltaics for "Homeland Security". What kind of priority is this? Easier to get "funding" this way?

Stephan

Re:Priority (2, Insightful)

dbIII (701233) | about 9 years ago | (#12071966)

Ok, photo voltaics for "Homeland Security". What kind of priority is this? Easier to get "funding" this way?
No checks and balances either. This snake oil is for the children, you have to buy it!

I was hoping the article would actually say something about what it is and how it works, but I was dissappointed. Are the using the metal, the oxide, the nitride or something else? With chemical vapour deposition doing strange stuff with titanium metal or compounds in thin films is relatively cheap and low-tech - vacuum pumps and high voltage get the job done. The tricky bit is working out what to plate onto the substrate.

Actually, they are CIGS solar cells (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12071729)

These aren't the only people working on this type of cell. They look harder to build than silicon. Definitely a niche market for the time being.

www.appliedfilms.com/Precision2/11_photovoltaic/ ph otovoltaic_02.htm

Solar cells from biology (5, Interesting)

Bifurcati (699683) | about 9 years ago | (#12071747)

At University of Queensland [uq.edu.au] (in Australia) where I study, we're developing solar cells out of "solid solids" - flexible polymers/plastics. The hope is that as well as being even more efficient, they'll be easy to use - they're flexible, and can be bent, twisted, shaped, etc.

One possibility is to use melanin - the skin pigment that gives our skins colour. Being in Australia, of course, researching melanin is of significant interest to us! It's yet another example of biology helping to make really cool physics - more details are available on UQ's physics blog [illuminatingscience.org].

ooooh ..... (1)

taniwha (70410) | about 9 years ago | (#12071946)

with a good tan I could power my laptop? sounds like a perfect with my boss "but I have to work outside lying in the sun"

Does not silicon? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12071756)

What do solar cells have to do with attaching grafters to windows?

new hats (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12071764)

*** puts on titanium foil hat.

sweet deal (4, Interesting)

SuperBanana (662181) | about 9 years ago | (#12071806)

DayStar Technologies (NASDAQ:DSTI) today received confirmation that the State of New York has awarded the University at Albany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) at the Albany NanoTech research complex a $750,000 Technology Transfer Incentive Program Grant to work with DayStar in the development of optimized substrate templates for CIGS solar cell applications.

[...]

Over a two year period, both DayStar and Albany NanoTech will each contribute $375,000 and NYSTAR will contribute $750,000.

Nice. So, basically, The state of NY puts in three quarters of a million dollars because DayStar promises not to go elsewhere and to graciously donate $350,000 to research that...will directly benefit them and pretty much nobody else.

I'm sorry, but I'm getting really sore for public funds being used to bankroll essentially private R&D done by public, for profit companies. Of course, it's not nearly as bad as the biotech industry, which whores itself out like nobody's business. Did you know we give the biotech industry about $30 billion (yes, billion) a year? Just GIVE it away? No strings attached? That exceeds -estimated- TOTAL tax (local, state, and federal) collected by around $6BN. Virtually 100% of all biotech related R&D is paid for by you and me, while the industry rakes in well over $200BN a year.

And to think they have the gall to whine about how expensive drug research is, or how risky it is! They're NOT PAYING FOR IT!

Re:sweet deal (1)

blincoln (592401) | about 9 years ago | (#12071967)

Did you know we give the biotech industry about $30 billion (yes, billion) a year? Just GIVE it away? No strings attached? That exceeds -estimated- TOTAL tax (local, state, and federal) collected by around $6BN. Virtually 100% of all biotech related R&D is paid for by you and me, while the industry rakes in well over $200BN a year.

Would you rather the US end up decades behind Europe and Asia in terms of biotechnology? That and nanotech (which will be very close to the same thing soon enough) are essentially the future of the human race.

Actually, looking at a diagram on their website... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12071813)

Take a look at this diagram [daystartech.com]. There's clearly a layer of SO2 in there. I'm not sure what that means though as far as their no-silicon claims.

Re:Actually, looking at a diagram on their website (1)

Cyberherbalist (731257) | about 9 years ago | (#12072010)

That's clearly glass. Something to seal the surface, yet allow light to pass through? They're not using SiO2 to generate the current.

Willy says thanks (1)

BortQ (468164) | about 9 years ago | (#12071844)

It's about bloody time they made a titanium prophylactic. Normal condoms just aren't powerful enough for some folks out there.

Re:Willy says thanks (1)

AnFraX (809909) | about 9 years ago | (#12071892)

Normal condoms just aren't powerful enough for some folks out there.

Why should anyone that posts on Slashdot worry about getting enough sex to create offspring in the first place?

Re:Willy says thanks (1)

BortQ (468164) | about 9 years ago | (#12071947)

Just because you aren't getting any doesn't mean the rest of us aren't. A confident nerd is a powerful being.

Re:Willy says thanks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12072204)

Confident enough to show your posting history to your ladyfriends?

This has all been gone over before... (1, Insightful)

suitepotato (863945) | about 9 years ago | (#12071849)

...but people keep missing the point. Photoelectric won't work, won't solve even a small fraction of our power needs, not remotely. The amount of solar energy in watts per square meter at our orbital distance is well known and easily looked up. Also well known and easily looked up are losses due to atmosphere from clear sky to overcast day. And on top of this, the cells are far less than 100% effective.

You can't magically make this change. You can take up the square meters with cells or with mirrors and send the light to fewer cells. It doesn't matter.

We could have been using nuclear fission reactors that even an AOL user could not make malfunction more than thirty years ago, but the public's fascination with hypothetical disasters and poor understanding of physics, biology, and every area of engineering not related to lifting a Coke to their lips is the opening every anti-nuke nutcase has exploited.

To keep linking nuclear power to nuclear weapons is like linking wood burning stoves to witches being burned at the stake. Their lack of basic knowledge on modern nuclear reactor design when the texts are availible at public university and college libraries across the USA combined with so many having (liberal arts) degrees is its own area of the concept of "irony".

Meanwhile, the animal environmentalists can only argue with the alternate energy environmentalists over endangered birds being chopped up in California windmills and we keep burning extremely valuable petrochemicals which would be much more useful in other endeavors while we wait for the unobtanium reactor that only puts out clean energy and bunny farts is developed.

If things keep going the way they have we will eventually reach the point where we don't have the resources to escape Earth and colonize the system where the resources for more energy than we'll ever need short of fantastic sci-fi megaengineering are waiting.

Nice technological advance, but in the end useful mostly for Casio calculators and whatnot.

This has all been gone over before...On Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12071982)

"...but people keep missing the point. Photoelectric won't work, won't solve even a small fraction of our power needs, not remotely. The amount of solar energy in watts per square meter at our orbital distance is well known and easily looked up. Also well known and easily looked up are losses due to atmosphere from clear sky to overcast day. And on top of this, the cells are far less than 100% effective. "

Oh gee, how nice of you to tell us that all energy sources have costs associated with them, and there's no magic bullet* So what are all the costs of nuclear energy, long term and short, from hole in the ground (mine) to hole in the ground (waste repository)?

*And more important why must we have only one energy source? Are nuclear advocates really that insecure?

Re:This has all been gone over before... (1)

ErikTheRed (162431) | about 9 years ago | (#12072027)

...while we wait for the unobtanium reactor that only puts out clean energy and bunny farts is developed.
Great, then we'll have to listen to people bitch and whine about global warming caused by bunny farts and deal with the smell. In all seriousness, though, I agree 100%. We should be much, much more nuclear. Easy waste disposal problem: Just store it beneath the US Capitol building until a safe, effictive storgage facility is designed and constructed. You'd be AMAZED how quickly things can get done with the proper motivation.

Re:This has all been gone over before... (1)

exa (27197) | about 9 years ago | (#12072057)

:The amount of solar energy in watts per square :meter at our orbital distance is well known and :easily looked up. Also well known and easily :looked up are losses due to atmosphere from clear :sky to overcast day. And on top of this, the :cells are far less than 100% effective.

Actually that amount is great because we have lots of square meters. There are places where clear sky dominates, like those arab countries that like oil so much.

You sound as if you do not know that practically all of today's energy requirements could be provided by sufficiently advanced solar cell technology.

You also do not consider how expensive AND DANGEROUS a fission reactor is to DECOMMISSION.

Because of rhetoric like yours, they have been stalling progress for the benefit of oil and nuclear.

Re:This has all been gone over before... (3, Insightful)

Martin Blank (154261) | about 9 years ago | (#12072096)

Thank you for so clearly elucidating this point. There is no such thing, under current proven technology, as an energy mechanism that has no drawbacks. Examples:
  • Fission: Radioactive waste
  • Hydrocarbons: greenhouse emissions, NOx/SOx, landscape destruction
  • Wind: Dead birds, intermittency in many areas, large surface areas, noise
  • Solar: Sigificant chemical wastes, large surface areas
  • Tidal: Beach erosion, corrosion of power units
  • Hydroelectric: Large loss of land, high greenhouse gas releases

You have to choose your evils. If you want to avoid radiation, fine, but don't complain when you have to deal with other forms of pollution to compensate for the energy-thirsty needs of modern society.

Re:This has all been gone over before... (5, Interesting)

TFoo (678732) | about 9 years ago | (#12072136)

Umm, I could be missing something, but your initial statement that "Photoelectric won't work, won't solve even a small fraction of our power needs, not remotely" seems to be completely wrong.

A quick Google search shows that on earth every square meter receives about 4.2kwh of energy per day over a 24 hour period. [ucsusa.org]

A quick look at my electric bill says I use about 20kwh/day as a rough average -- another Google search suggests that the average US household uses approximately 25kwh/day [hypertextbook.com]

...So, finishing the math: using 15% efficiency solar cells, the Average US Household needs only 40 square meters (430 square feet) of solar cells to cover all its energy needs. Heck, I could use 5% solar cells on my roof in downtown San Francisco, and STILL have 2x extra capacity to sell back to the grid!

Don't get me wrong: Solar won't solve everything, particularly in applications like transportation where energy storage is an issue --- and cheap Fission IS something we should have figured out a long time ago --- but please don't resort to misinformation to make your points, it only weakens what you are saying.

Re:This has all been gone over before... (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 9 years ago | (#12072140)

I take it, then, that you're volunteering to let them bury the spent fuel in your back yard? Don't worry, as long as none of it leaks for the next 100,000 years, it's relatively safe!

OT, Chemical Databases (1)

TimeTraveler1884 (832874) | about 9 years ago | (#12071850)

This question is loosely related to the topic. Does anyone know of public chemical databases available on the Internet? Such that I can do a parametric search for compounds? I am not a chemist so I do not have access to such a database like most scientists.

The situation is, I have had some ideas in the past about photovoltaic cells, but do not have the information available to pursue these ideas. So the this exchange of information has always been the greatest hindrance for me.

do condo owners "do" solar? (1)

planckscale (579258) | about 9 years ago | (#12071896)

Off topic, but I'm wondering if any other condo owners out there use solar? I have a place who's only south-facing wall is my next-door neighbors. Also, the home-owners association does not allow us to climb up on the roof.

Yeah, right (1)

melted (227442) | about 9 years ago | (#12071904)

Let's fix this shortage of solar cell grade silicon and create another one - of solar cell grade titanium. Titanium is ridiculously difficult and expensive to produce and work with. It's stronger than steel, too, and has much higher melting temperature, so this titanium foil will probably be more expensive than golden foil of the same thickness. This is not to say that technology has no future, but you gotta realize that silicon is the second most abundant mineral on the planet, and titanium is the ninth.

"What will be the price per kilowatt hour" (1)

sytxr (704471) | about 9 years ago | (#12071913)

That is very much the right question. The amount of sunlight that on average reaches the surface of the earth every day is multiple hundred times as the world energy consumption consumed in a whole year - including energy consumed in form of fossil fuels. Furthermore, the radiation isn't spread out evenly, over the earth's surface, but instead more conveniently concentrated, which means even less surface area needed to be covered than if it was.

Scroll down for graphic comparing the solar energy potential on earth to other energy sources' potentials (including oil, nuclear, coal) :
http://www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/ sol arworldpeace.htm

Since solar energy radiation input is so much higher than the amount of power we need, what matters much more than efficiency for more large scale photovoltaic energy production is the cost per power unit.

Main benefit is low weight. (2, Insightful)

frizzbit (611803) | about 9 years ago | (#12071957)

Good news for putting solar cells on air and spacecraft but not terribly important for ground based solar power. For example, this could be a good time to redesign the solar powered flier, Helios [nasa.gov]

The real question to consider. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12071959)

The questions are, will they release it as a consumer solar product, and what will be the price per kilowatt hour?

Price per kWh is not a simple question to answer. In a commercial power station, the costs include:

Capital costs:
1. the solar cells themselves
2. installation
4. ???

Operating costs:
1. Rent/property taxes
2. maintenance
3. profit
3. ???

Then you divide these costs (after converting the capital costs to an equivalent operating cost, by the power generated (which is dependent of the efficiency of the cells.)

Personally, I'd be happy just knowing how much the cells would cost, and more importantly, how efficient they are. FYI, silicon cells typically range from about 8% to 12% efficiency, IIRC.

Ouch. (2, Funny)

nastro (32421) | about 9 years ago | (#12071998)

It's been a long day, and my reading comprehension isn't what it was 10 hours ago, but I read this title as

"New Prophylactics Made with Titanium Foil"

and I said, "Ouch".

Naptime, it is.

Go apple! (1)

Bifurcati (699683) | about 9 years ago | (#12072025)

And suddenly, Apple's choice of "Titanium Powerbooks" takes on a whole new meaning...

D'oh! Please ignore this post - I just received a cease and desist letter for spreading rumours. (Despite the fact, of course, I'm typing this on my lovely Powerbook...)

Limits of technology (0)

mpeg4codec (581587) | about 9 years ago | (#12072058)

As I understand it, the limiting factor for solar energy is the amount of sunlight that reaches a given surface area of the earth. I don't know exact numbers, but they aren't extremely high.

With that said, silicon is certainly not able to achieve 100% efficiency [since this ideal is obviously impossible]. What would make titanium technology more viable is if it can increase the efficiency of energy ``produced'' per square cm of surface area. That would be the only meaningful comparison of the two materials, as you can't compare cost per kilowatt hour [unless you're measuring over the life of the panel].

solar schmolar -- CROPS are the real solar energy (4, Interesting)

CFD339 (795926) | about 9 years ago | (#12072101)

Plants user solar energy. They don't move. Things that move, need to eat plants, or eat animals that eat plants.

Why? There isn't enough energy in the sunlight to sustain the metabolic rate required for movement. In billions of years, nature hasn't figured out how to covert enough sunlight into energy to sustain an animal's movement other than by concentrating it first into vegetable matter which can be eaten.

For humans to make use of energy, we pretty much have to burn something. We have to release solar energy stored as food, then in most cases concentrated in the form of hydrocarbons.

Fission energy, fancy as it may be, is still about just making water hot. For that matter, if they get there, so will fusion energy be.

We humans are stunningly good at burning things and making excuses for the things we do that are essentially asocial. Aside from that, we're not exactly all that and a bag of chips.

There's no such thing as free energy. The trick we need to find is how to tap bigger forces. Tidal forces with tethered floating generators which rise and fall with the tides and capture that motion as energy would be good. Finding that so called vacume energy between particals would be a fairly useful trick as well.

Making giant solar panels which turn sunlight into energy at less efficiency than plants, then waste most of it in transmission and storage overhead is ultimately not going to win.

More near term, we need to find or engineer a crop which is ideally suited to concentrating sunlight into a hydrocarbon or sugar that can be stored, transported without sigificant loss, then burned.

Unless one of you /. people has found a really efficient ENDOTHERMIC reaction. That would be very cool. :-)

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