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Solar Power-Cell Breakthrough

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the better-to-work-in-the-shade- dept.

Power 361

An anonymous reader writes "Researchers from the Nanomaterials Research Centre at Massey University in New Zealand have developed synthetic dyes that can be used to generate electricity at one tenth of the cost of current silicon-based solar panels. These photosynthesis-like compounds work in low-light conditions and can be cheaply incorporated into window-panes and building materials, thereby turning them into generators of electricity."

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361 comments

Off. The. Grid. (4, Funny)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626315)

The power companies are gonna be pissed.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (5, Insightful)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626365)

No, what will really piss them off is everyone using the grid as a giant storage cell.
-nB

Re:Off. The. Grid. (4, Insightful)

Romancer (19668) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626445)

Hell yeah!

Imagine the checks they will have to pay out now that people can set up their roof as a money farm for 1/10 the cost!

That was the big problem with getting people to install solar. The initial cost was too much. We'll still have to pay for the breaker box upgrade so we can feed power back to the electric company, but at least it won't take 20 years to pay off the solar collectors now.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (0)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626737)

Imagine the checks they will have to pay out now that people can set up their roof as a money farm for 1/10 the cost!

      Sorry for playing the cynic, but cost has nothing to do with it. The memory in your computer is made of sand, and I'm sure a 2GB chip doesn't contain much more sand than a 16KB one. Human greed will kick in surely enough, and you'll be able to save just enough to end up paying exactly what you are paying now, because of "installation" difficulties, and "materials research" and whatever they want to invent to keep the money out of YOUR pocket.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (5, Insightful)

nasch (598556) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627137)

Yes, human greed will kick in - ie market forces. I don't know how you can say cost has nothing to do with it, because if you reduce the time that solar panels take to pay for themselves from (let's say) 15 years to 9 months (if this is both 1/10 the cost and works better on cloudy days) it's quite obvious that more people will buy them. I also don't know who this "they" is that will keep money out of our pockets. Barring patents, there will be competition in this market (and even if there are patents they'll expire). If company A can convert your roof to solar power for $X, and Company B can do it for $X/10, guess how much business Company A is going to get? "They" don't get to decide what the market price for the product is, the market does that. And if production costs drop by a factor of 10, that cannot help but affect the consumer price unless it's a monopoly market.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (4, Insightful)

empaler (130732) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627231)

Are you suggesting that greed kept the memory companies from giving us 2 gig blocks when we were playing with Commodores?
Those BASTARDS!

Seriously though, it takes a lot more effort to get higher grade products. Better grade is needed for better density, quality, and reliability.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626819)

Imagine the checks they will have to pay out now that people can set up their roof as a money farm for 1/10 the cost!

They'll be crying all the way to the bank. It will most likely get up like used books at a campus bookstore: buy at 25% list, sell at 75% list, bookstore pockets the difference.

The utility companies would be making more profit than ever, and they wouldn't even have to bother building as many power plants or buying as much fuel.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (1)

nasch (598556) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627191)

For a while - perhaps even a long while. But if this really takes off, and all new construction uses this technology, and a lot of existing structures are retrofitted, the power companies are going to see their market shrink drastically. Who do they sell all this power to when half the buildings in their market are putting power back into the grid, and half of the rest are power neutral? Presumably they'll then push for legislation to prop up their obsolete business model.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (1)

Nullav (1053766) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627411)

You're forgetting that there are quite a few people living in apartments (and thus can't install solar panels).

(Warning: Pipe dream ahead.) Also, who says that the power companies can't augment their current source with these new, cheaper solar cells? If it's cheaper and more efficient, they could either lower costs and maintain profits by burning less fuel or they can keep the same price and make more to help balance out the number of people switching, again by burning less fuel.

Although, it would still take eons to catch on at that level. After all, we don't see that many wind farms either.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (2, Insightful)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627477)

I'd wager that given the large up-front costs, it will be a long, long time before each household and business has enough on-site energy storage like flywheels or batteries to cover even short rainy spells. Until that time, the utilities will have plenty of opportunity to buy electricity low and sell it high.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (1)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626821)

Imagine the checks they will have to pay out now that people can set up their roof as a money farm for 1/10 the cost!
It'll be a bit of a hit, I'm sure, but I'm also sure they'll survive somehow. Imagine the savings they can make by not building another $X00,000,000 power plant and complying with all the environmental regulations and such. You're building the power plant for them! And then they can claim that they're producing more "green" energy, to boot, and perhaps sell it at a higher rate to interested customers...

Re:Off. The. Grid. (3, Interesting)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627061)

1/10 of the cost? Great. Less than 1/2 the efficiency? Uh-oh.

In the long run, we're better off with the high-efficiency Si cells.

Also, we don't have a good idea of the durability of these cells. I'm a bit concerned because of the organic nature; how stable are they? What kind of reduction in efficiency will we see over, say, 20 years?

Re:Off. The. Grid. (5, Insightful)

AshtangiMan (684031) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627467)

I don't think you've thought it through . . . if you look at the cost vs. efficiency the paint still comes ahead, even with the efficiency hit. You just bump the area requirements by 2, so you only get a 1/5 cost advantage, so you pay 20% of the equivalent silicon system. Still pretty good. To be sure the efficiency of both is what will change, and as they do this calculation will need to be redone. If you start running into area restrictions (ie the roof area no longer provides enough power) then this might also tip the scales back to the silicon.

But, I've been hearing about doped polymer based PV cells for a while (along with this 1/10th the cost and 1/2 the efficiency) and they are still not something that I've seen actually working, not to mention actually deployable for a residential application. Interesting idea, hopefully becomes something.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627225)

Imagine the checks they will have to pay out now that people can set up their roof as a money farm for 1/10 the cost!
If the supply of electricity increases, the price will drop and the amount they have to pay out will drop. We may find some of the more expensive to run power stations being mothballed.

 

Re:Off. The. Grid. (2, Insightful)

BobPaul (710574) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626541)

Power grids do not work that way!
Goodnight!

Re:Off. The. Grid. (1)

DriveDog (822962) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626683)

When a significant percentage of "customers" are producing power, they may still receive credit for what they feed into the grid, but the power company will charge separately for electricity and grid usage. I suspect some already do, but I don't know. Part of the service they'll provide will be energy storage (electrolyze water, pump water back behind a dam, etc). People in population-dense areas will pay the company for energy they stored, while people with extra space may decide to store their own.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (2, Interesting)

gorgonite (79857) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627421)

This is common practice in germany. The grid operators even have to pay more for power they are fed than for power they feed to their customers. No grid operator has gone bankrupt because of this so far. The reason, obviously, is that the electricity customers have to pay the bill.

On the other hand, this system has made the renewable energy a huge success in germany, For example, wind energy, which is subidized through the same system, has produced in January approximately 7000GWh of energy.

Photovoltaics is still in it's infancy, but there is hope that the success of wind energy will be repeated. One necessary condition here is that the corresponding large-scale industrial processes are well understood. This, in turn, requires large installations.

Once we are on the happy side of the learning curve the subsidies will go away. Usually they have a yearly decay factor built in.

Similiar systems are found elsewhere, for example Boeing as well as Airbus get subsidies. Boeing through military contracts, Airbus directly.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18626377)

Actually, even with solar panels and a wind generator, it is still very hard to completely detach from the grid. I visited a friend who had a modern home, with a $100,000 battery room (house batts are large and in charge...and expensive.)

They had a backup 6kW diesel generator that would kick in anytime they used a microwave. Their home computer couldn't really be used for any extended period of time either. The power companies provide us with ridiculously large amounts of capacity, and those of us on the grid take it for granted.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (4, Interesting)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626655)

$100,000 in batteries, and they couldn't use a microwave? Something's wrong there. When you can spend $1k on an inverter, and get a LARGE pure-sine unit that will handle a microwave without sweating, and another $1k will buy you enough batteries to run that for an hour straight, it's hard to believe that a $100,000 setup couldn't do it.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (1)

JesseMcDonald (536341) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626987)

$100,000 in batteries, and they couldn't use a microwave? Something's wrong there. When you can spend $1k on an inverter, and get a LARGE pure-sine unit that will handle a microwave without sweating, and another $1k will buy you enough batteries to run that for an hour straight, it's hard to believe that a $100,000 setup couldn't do it.

I think the point was that their solar/wind generators couldn't produce enough power on a continuous basis to keep their equipment running, not that the storage system was insufficient. The batteries are there to handle peak usage and cloudy / non-windy days; to really work the generator(s) have to be capable of meeting the average power draw of the household. If the average preferred power draw is 5kW and the generator can only produce an average of 3kW, for example, then you'd only be able to run things 60% of the desired time (or at 60% capacity) over the long term. That sound's like the GP's situation.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (2)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627039)

The solar can't produce on a continuous basis. The wind can't. But that's what the batteries are for. He's making it sound like a $100,000 system can't even handle a microwave, but a LOT of people do it with far less expensive systems.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (4, Interesting)

BobPaul (710574) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626407)

They have the 10 years this will take to come to market to adapt. Remember, this is just an announcement that a university has done research, not that anyone even intends ends to develop it.

Nah (1)

aztec rain god (827341) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627367)

Chevron or Duke Energy will just buy the patent and shelve it.

IT ALSO DOES NOT WORK (2, Informative)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627469)

Hmmm...according to his published papers [aip.org] this news brief is all wrong. these things get 0.14% conversion efficiency in nearly full sun. Bah.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (1)

quixote9 (999874) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626459)

They'll be REALLY pissed when the meter runs backward, while we're still on the grid, and THET have to pay US. I can't wait.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (1, Interesting)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626611)

They'll be REALLY pissed when the meter runs backward, while we're still on the grid, and THET have to pay US. I can't wait.

      Not at all. If this stuff actually works, who do you think will end up owning it and selling it to you (for a small monthly fee)? The energy companies certainly have the cash to buy this stuff, lock it up, and send us to patent hell for even thinking about cutting them out of the deal.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (2)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626829)

The power co-op where I live will most certainly cut you a check if you are feeding power back onto the grid.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (1)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626725)

No, they'll be perfectly happy. Every kilowatt-hour of energy that you pump back in is one that they're charging someone else for receiving... and only paying you a very small portion of what they charged them. If I recall, if they sell it to someone else for 10 cents, you'll get 1 or 2 cents.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (1)

FMota91 (1050752) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626493)

This can only bring good.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (1)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626781)

Or, they could deem night-time hours as "peak hours", and charge you more for electricity then instead of during the day. :-)

steve

Re:Off. The. Grid. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18626975)

there are no funny comments on green topics anymore.
this one is not funny either.

Re:Off. The. Grid. (1)

soft_guy (534437) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627303)

A lot of utilities are publicly owned, not for profit. Maybe this will help convince people that they need to revert to that model.

ARGH! (3, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626433)

FTFA: "Within two to three years we will have developed a prototype for real applications. "The technology could be sold off already, but it would be a shame to get rid of it now." God DAMN it. I want a product now.

Whinging aside, I found this interesting: "They are also more environmentally friendly because they are made from titanium dioxide - an abundant and non-toxic, white mineral available from New Zealand's black sand." Very funny sentence. But anyway, titanium is one of the most common metallic elements on Earth. The problems with it are that most of it is oxidized, and until recently there has not been a worthwhile electrolytic process for its refinement (I don't know if this is catching on or not.)

I still think it's just stupid not to work on a first-generation product now, and at the same time, work on making the stuff more efficient. We need this tech and we need it TODAY.

Re:ARGH! (2, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626689)

We need this tech and we need it TODAY.
Where I'm sitting, "TODAY" ends in under 8 hours. Assuming you're pointing to the environmentalism angle, I guess the world is doomed?

On a less snarky note, it's advances like these which give credibility to the philosophy of gradualism in embracing environmentally-friendly technologies. Yes, Al Gore, there is a Global Warming, but it's not going to kill us today, and it's not going to kill us tomorrow, and it may start to make things uncomfortable in the coming decades but we're going to be a lot better equipped to deal with it then. A slow-and-steady approach to making the world more environmentally friendly will combat climate change a lot better than the radical agenda you will so often find advocated.

Carbon dioxide both accumulates and dissipates in the atmosphere very slowly. Because the stock of greenhouse gases already present in the atmosphere dwarfs any one year's emissions, and because any one year's emissions can be changed only slightly, stabilizing greenhouse gases is like turning an aircraft carrier, only much slower. Annual emissions might be stabilized toward midcentury, and atmospheric concentrations at some point after that; but sharp turns are impossible and short-term effects minuscule.
-- a fun article from Reason Magazine [reason.com] , which concludes...

In a blog post last year (at gristmill.org), an environmentalist named David Roberts made the point with startling candor. "In an ideal, abstract policy debate, sure, I'd say we should boost our attention to adaptation [to increased worldwide temperature]," he wrote. "But in the current political situation, I don't want to provide any ammunition for the moral cretins who are squirming frantically to avoid policies that might impact their corporate donors."

This is like denigrating HIV treatment and blocking condom distribution in order to discourage promiscuity. And it is every bit as callous and irresponsible. Where climate change is concerned, the truth -- and this truth really is inconvenient, or at least sad -- is that too many activists and politicians mistake panic for virtue. /blockquote]

Re:ARGH! (4, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627001)

Assuming you're pointing to the environmentalism angle, I guess the world is doomed?

Not the world, just day-to-day life as we know it.

On a less snarky note, it's advances like these which give credibility to the philosophy of gradualism in embracing environmentally-friendly technologies. Yes, Al Gore, there is a Global Warming, but it's not going to kill us today, and it's not going to kill us tomorrow, and it may start to make things uncomfortable in the coming decades but we're going to be a lot better equipped to deal with it then.

Here's the problem with that: even if we started cutting back our CO2 output (disregarding all of the other pollution we put out that's causing us problems now) by 1% cumulative per year it would still be a long time before we stopped putting out more CO2 than the system can ordinarily handle. But the system is already overstressed, and as you point out the total amount of CO2 will dissipate only slowly. Even if we stopped emitting CO2 today, aside from that which is absolutely necessary, there would still be too much CO2 for quite some time to come.

Besides global warming, there are other excellent reasons to reduce CO2 output (and that of other undesirable emissions.) Probably the most serious issue at the moment is the acidification of the oceans. We've already been killing off oceanic algae with pollution, like oil spills. Now we're not only threatening algae, which definitely prefers a certain Ph range, but coral reefs have been hurting badly and the acidification of the ocean due to CO2 gas exchange is implicated. Oceanic algae produces the vast majority of the oxygen that we need to survive. CO2 is also toxic and even small increments in the percentage of the atmosphere it makes up causes health problems including dizziness, nausea, and general malaise. Although we can survive exposure to environments which are over the usual amount, it's not good for us - or probably any other mammal.

The point is that we really needed this technology decades ago, and we're already late on getting started using it. Putting sequestered CO2 into the atmosphere is simply a Bad Idea(tm). Anything we can do to reduce that NOW means that we're going to be in less trouble later. Since we can't immediately stop all CO2 use and we can't go back in time, the problem will get worse before it gets better.

A slow-and-steady approach to making the world more environmentally friendly will combat climate change a lot better than the radical agenda you will so often find advocated.

I cannot disagree strongly enough. If we could actually follow the so-called radical agenda, which I like to call the rational agenda since we all live in the atmosphere and we will all suffer if it becomes less hospitable to human life, then it would be a positive thing. We are quite simply living beyond the means of the Earth to sustain us. The only truth in your statement comes from the fact that the "radical" environmentalists can only push the obstinate defilers of the planet so quickly. But without them asking for a certain level of change, we would be unlikely to have even the positive change we are currently implementing.

Re:ARGH! (1)

DriveDog (822962) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627165)

Au contraire. The sooner the improvements, the lesser the damage. No one with any sense claims we can turn it around in a few years. But global warming wasn't caused by passing some sharp "tipping point." Less CO2 tomorrow means less effect later this century. And exactly because the effect is so long-lived the payback will occur for many years. Payback for either our sins or our virtues TODAY.

Re:ARGH! (1)

x1n933k (966581) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627211)

You're a smoker aren't you? I mean gradually your lungs are covered in tar, but right now everything is okay so why worry? Tomorrow will be similar. You might have a cough but you won't have cancer until the follow day. Even then you'll have until your body shuts down. Why worry right? Tomorrow isn't today.

Okay maybe that is just flaming but your logic is odd. Tomorrow MAY not have the technologies needed to clean up our mess especially if we keep adding to it. Not to mention by installing these technologies sooner than later means you have a way to add to the grid so that can support the massive usage of energy so you don't have a repeat of 2003 when 50 million users lost power.

However knowing about a technology before it is used is also beneficial in saving use time, money, resources, lives etc but if that is what you were getting at your did a terrible job at it. The don't fix it until it's broke mentality is foolish.

[J]

Re:ARGH! (1)

rbanffy (584143) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627517)

Yes, Al Gore, there is a Global Warming, but it's not going to kill us today, and it's not going to kill us tomorrow, and it may start to make things uncomfortable in the coming decades but we're going to be a lot better equipped to deal with it then. A slow-and-steady approach to making the world more environmentally friendly will combat climate change a lot better than the radical agenda you will so often find advocated.

Do you really think he reads Slashdot?!

Re:ARGH! (1)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626779)

I still think it's just stupid not to work on a first-generation product now, and at the same time, work on making the stuff more efficient. We need this tech and we need it TODAY.

Personally, I'm a fan of direct matter-to-energy conversion. That would solve all our energy problems, once and for all. We need that tech and we need it TODAY! Why does someone give me a first-generation product now?

It must be a conspiracy by Evil Big Oil(tm).

Re:ARGH! (1)

DriveDog (822962) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627331)

What?!?!??! And create a shortage of matter? Are you MAD???

Re:ARGH! (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626909)

The problems with it are that most of it is oxidized, and until recently there has not been a worthwhile electrolytic process for its refinement (I don't know if this is catching on or not.)
The porphyrin dye solar cell uses the oxidized titanium -- no need for electrolysis.

I still think it's just stupid not to work on a first-generation product now
Well, that's what they are looking for funding for, prototyping a product.

Re:ARGH! (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627135)

Well, that's what they are looking for funding for, prototyping a product.

one of the articles, I forget which of the two, specifically quotes the new project manager as saying that they will be doing further research into improving efficiency before they attempt to create a product.

Re:ARGH! (1)

UnxMully (805504) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627385)

one of the articles, I forget which of the two, specifically quotes the new project manager as saying that they will be doing further research into improving efficiency before they attempt to create a product.

Seems reasonable to me. If they ship a low efficiency product, the world yawns, scratches it's arse and rolls over and goes back to sleep and the chance to sell the idea goes away.

If they get an efficient and usable product out, we all wake up, eyes wide open and reach for our cheque books.

OK, so it's not quite like that but I'd be happier to go to market with a product that hits the headlines rather than one that could end up a damp squib.

Re:ARGH! (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627497)

Seems reasonable to me. If they ship a low efficiency product, the world yawns, scratches it's arse and rolls over and goes back to sleep and the chance to sell the idea goes away.

Well, the articles are non-news at this point, but they claim that it's cheap now and that it already provides power in low-light conditions, so it's useful stuff now. They don't even need to integrate it into roofing materials, a concept of which I am skeptical anyway since roofs are not all the same size and shingles overlap. They just need to make cells.

If they are not full of shit, then they should be able to bring out a product right now. If they are full of shit, then it shouldn't be in the news but of course it will be.

A little about TiO2 (3, Informative)

Ogemaniac (841129) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626995)

First, Ti in any form is not particulary common, and good ores with an economically valuable Ti percentage are hard to come by (though NZ and AU are were most of it is found). Our current known reserves of good Ti ore are projected to run out by mid-century, but I always buy these projections with a bit of skepticism.

That being said, the amount of Ti used in such a panel is trivial, because the layer's thicknesses are measured in nanometers and microns. Your golf clubs have as much Ti as a football field of such panels. Refining of TiO2 to Ti metal is expensive and energy intensive, and I presume it is necessary in order to make these panels, even though the panels actually use TiO2. The process is probably Ti02 ore -> Ti -> TiCl4 -> TiO2 nanostructures. This is because the TiO2 in the panels needs to be extremely pure, and TiCl4, being a gas, can be distilled. It is then mixed with water under controlled conditions to release HCl and produce the nano-particles/structures necessary for the panels.

This article seems mostly hype to me. TiO2 nanostructures along with various dies are heavily researched around the world, with thousands of published articles. Since the article has no data, I presume all that happened was that these guys beat the previous efficiency record by a whee bit. The problem with these types of cells is that the efficiency still sucks...around 5% vs 20% for a standard silicon-based cell, and 40% for top of the line multi-junction cells (which are enormously expensive and are currently used for things like satellites or the Mars rovers). In a typical silicon cell, the silicon is about half the cost of the final package (not including the inverters, installation and all that jazz, however). Therefore, even if these TiO2 and dies cost ten times less, that won't even reduce the cost by 50%...and then you need several times the acreage to collect the energy you need.

For now, and for at least another decade in the future, silicon is king. Unfortunately, it is very expensive and there is a serious demand crunch right now, driving prices even higher (though many silicon manufacturers are heavily ramping production to solve this).

Re:A little about TiO2 (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627093)

First, Ti in any form is not particulary common, and good ores with an economically valuable Ti percentage are hard to come by (though NZ and AU are were most of it is found). Our current known reserves of good Ti ore are projected to run out by mid-century, but I always buy these projections with a bit of skepticism.

I read up and I was mistaken - it's the fourth most common metal on Earth and makes up 0.63% of the mass of the Earth (according to wikipedia.) That's still quite a bit of the stuff.

Ti is still quite common, however. It's found in small quantities nearly everywhere.

Re:A little about TiO2 (1)

Ogemaniac (841129) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627381)

Silicon, oxygen, and iron are common. Everything else is rare, though some things tend to accumulate and thereby make it realitively easy to extract them. Unfortunately, Ti is not one of them.

Did you know that a typical drop of sea water has 50,000,000,000 gold atoms? Good luck finding them.

In any case, Ti ore supply is not critical to this application - efficiency is.

What's the efficiency? (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627111)

Last I heard, dye based TiO2 cells were on the order of about 5% efficient. Still, at 1/10th the price it's still cheap.
 

Cutting To The Chase (5, Informative)

w33t (978574) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626441)

This is a very interesting collision of physical and organic chemistry. Discoveries like this are why I (and I'm sure many others) find myself (themselves) becoming a() bigger and bigger advocate(s) of solar power every day. There is so much power streaming out of the sun. really, every single power source on the planet (save perhaps nuclear) derives from a solar process. Our beloved/lamented fossil fuels wouldn't exist without the creatures that created those fossils -- creatures who ate plants, ate something that ate plants or were actually plants themselves: plants use the sun.

Even hydroelectric power owes its existence to the sun. Perhaps in very ancient times evaporation didn't require a star close by due to the young, heated surface of the planet. But today's surface temperatures just won't cut it without our friendly star.

Wind power...well, I'm not really saying anything new here. Everyone feel free to cringe at the thought of the inefficiency of grain ethanol!

Basically, if you are an advocate of nuclear power as clean power, well then you should probably turn your fandom towards the biggest nuclear power plant in the solar system...of course, I've personally got no problem with some breeder and a couple dozen pebble-bed reactors - just saying ;)

So what if we are just consuming its leftovers, with a giant picnic like that we ants can be assured of a bountiful feast of crumbs :)

Which brings me to my point which I had forgotten.

These researchers have taken a hint from nature's own, good-old photosynthesis. So to me, it seems as though we have cut the hydrocarbon out of the solar-food-chain. Rather than waiting a couple million years for plants to convert sunlight into food for themselves and other creatures, die off and then turn into black, sweet, sweet crude; we simply cut out the middle-men/middle-dinosaurs and make direct use of the sun's bounty.

Solar-power is the most elegant power source yet discovered. Now to harness it cleanly.

Re:Cutting To The Chase (1)

physicsboy500 (645835) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626575)

small correction:

Basically, if you are an advocate of nuclear power as clean power, well then you should probably turn your fandom towards the biggest nuclear power plant in the solar system...of course, I've personally got no problem with some breeder and a couple dozen pebble-bed reactors - just saying ;)

The sun is technically fusion power, not fission like nuclear is.

Re:Cutting To The Chase (1)

nasch (598556) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627327)

The sun is technically fusion power, not fission like nuclear is.
Fusion is also nuclear power.

More mistakes to make (3, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626795)

The mistakes that we have made WRT to energy is that we went to just several forms of energy. We have oil for transportation and coal for electricity (save a few countries, the majority is coal). Other than France, NO country is truly dependent on Nukes (America is 2'nd largest user at only 19%). In addition, NONE are dependent on alternative (though Greenland is heading towards geo-thermal in a big way).

So, now, you suggest that we should move PURELY to 1 form of energy? Hopefully, we will learn our lessons and just say No Thanx. I want to see alternative such as solar brought in in a BIG way, but it make good sense to continue using nukes. In addition, we should continue trying to obtain a fusion power. Somewhere down the road, either fission or fusion could be used for transportation to the planets or better other stars.

Re:Cutting To The Chase (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626797)

every single power source on the planet (save perhaps nuclear) derives from a solar process.

Not to take away from your main point, which I endorse, but tidal power is also (mostly) non-solar, tides being derived mostly from interaction with Lunar gravity (and a little from the Sun's). Actually I guess the actual energy source is the angular momentum of the proto solar system; by tapping tidal energy we slow down the Earth-Moon system just a little bit.

But yes, cheap direct solar-electric is much to be desired.

Re:Cutting To The Chase (1)

w33t (978574) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626977)

Ah, tidal power; completely overlooked that one! What an interesting idea that is, and very elegant itself! After all, it's mechanical.

I suppose maybe we should consider the tapping of the difference in potential between the charge in the upper and lower atmosphere as non-solar too. But I cannot recall if this difference is caused by the earth's own magnetic field or if the charge is the result of solar radiation.

It's probably solar radiation.

Boy, it's tricky to not use the sun, eh?

Re:Cutting To The Chase (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626997)

And importantly: by using tidal power, we help prolong the coming of the disastrous day when the moon escapes earth's orbit.

Re:Cutting To The Chase (1)

w33t (978574) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627117)

And importantly: by using tidal power, we help prolong the coming of the disastrous day when the moon escapes earth's orbit.


Agreed!

Personally, not really looking forward to that.

Goodbye feet (1)

LunaticTippy (872397) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627521)

I thought the moon is ours forever, until the sun goes crazy. According to this [space.com] at that point the moon and earth will be locked facing each other. The moon will be much further away from the earth, and earth's day will be 47 current days long.

Was there some development I missed? I tried goobling for it.

Re:Cutting To The Chase (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18626951)

I read of a study which said that to construct a global solar energy system using current (2000) technologies, it would consume at least 20 percent of the world's known iron resources, take a century to build and cover a half-million square miles. [qmw.ac.uk]

While this does seem to be cheaper, and while I'm all for putting up solar power where it makes sense, when it makes sense, and all that, even with those improvements I wouldn't look to things to change all at once or anything. We're not going to be demolishing all the glass in our buildings to install this technology any time soon.

The best technology usually advocates itself.

Re:Cutting To The Chase (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627523)

The problem is that oil did everything. We have to switch to many sources. No one source can fill all the needs. Calling one source a failure will result in the failure of all alternatives. Solar is great, we should be building it everywhere we can. Wind is great, we should be building it everywhere practical. The same with hydro, geothermal and such. Eventually, 5% of all power coming from each of 20 different kinds of sources, and we've solved the world problem. Looking for one and only one that can provide 100% of the world's energy needs will result in inaction.

Re:Cutting To The Chase (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18627233)

I believe geothermal energy is a result of radioactive decay within the earth's interior. The decaying elements were synthesized by other stars.

Re:Cutting To The Chase (1)

Jherico (39763) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627399)

There is so much power streaming out of the sun. really, every single power source on the planet (save perhaps nuclear) derives from a solar process.
Not quite. There are basically 3 power sources available on earth. There is solar energy, nuclear energy and geothermal energy. Nuclear energy is really just another form of solar energy from other suns since the radioactive elements are created in supernovas. Geothermal energy taps heat generated from both nuclear decay within the earth (back to nuclear energy) and heat from the gravitational collapse of the primordial dust cloud into the planet Earth. Not sure what the ratio is there.

To be precise... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18626449)

Photosynthesis isn't a compound; it's a process.

Re:To be precise... (4, Funny)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626519)

Photosynthesis isn't a compound; it's a process.

      Come on, give the editors credit for using a word larger than 4 syllables and spelling it correctly. You want it to be used in CONTEXT as well? Sheesh, there's no pleasing some people.

Ex-squeeze me? Baking powder? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18626453)

We're not worthy of cheap renewable solar power!

Vividly colored neighborhoods! (1)

LohanChien (1052596) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626483)

So, do you want that Vinyl Siding in Alien Green or Crimson Red?

Soylent Green (1)

us7892 (655683) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626775)

I want it in Soylent Green, please.

Good idea but (2, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626501)

the article was a bit 'light' on the details. It would be more enlightening if they had revealed even a ray of technical information. One tenth of the cost? For equal power output?

Re:Good idea but (1)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626555)

Whaddaya mean? Newspapers are required by law to print no useful information at all in a scientific/technology article. They get bonuses for printing wrong information.

Re:Good idea but (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626969)

That makes for a very efficient symbiosis with the typical Slashdot reader who doesn't RTFA.

one tenth the cost (1)

nanojath (265940) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627243)

Yeah, it is frankly ridiculous to say something like you will produce power at one tenth the cost of conventional solar regarding a product that has not even been produced at the pilot scale. Of course, looking a wee bit more closely reveals that this figure comes from a press release by reps of the university, who are, the first article reveals, actively engaged in seeking funding for the next phase. So basically that number could be described as an optimistic projection by biased analysts. If one were feeling extremely charitable, that is.

That being said, I don't think optimism, given the information that is there, is completely out of order. The most important factors they claim - photosynthetic-like conversion of sunlight leading to higher efficiency and ability to function in low light, and chemical basis in titanium dioxide, both make sense, are in line with solar research that has been going on for decades, and would unquestionably trend to lower prices and better versatility. But until a commercial product is being produced and some sensible grasp of the scale economies involved can be determined, any cost projections are pie in the sky.

Also: Lifetime! (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627393)

But until a commercial product is being produced and some sensible grasp of the scale economies involved can be determined, any cost projections are pie in the sky.

Also: You need to know how long the technology's panels will last.

At the current interest rates it does you no good to pay only a tenth the cost if it stops working in a thirtieth of the time. Not to mention that having to replace your shingles and siding every couple years because it quit generating adds still more costs - not all of them directly economic.

Numbers please. (3, Insightful)

Ryan C. (159039) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626529)

Gratzel Cells have been around for quite some time. The trick is to get any kind of efficiency out of them. Wake me when I can buy one, I'm getting sick of seeing solar cell venture capitalist hype every two weeks.

Light on detail (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626573)

Okay, I RTFAs, but they're both a little light (sorry!) on detail. What's the efficiency? Are the test cells some kind of thin capsule holding a solution of this stuff or are the dye molecules embedded in something solid? They talk about "1/10 cost of silicon cells" -- is that per generated watt or per unit area or what? (Hopefull the former).

Not again (5, Funny)

slickwillie (34689) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626627)

Is this the official annual "Solar Power Breakthrough" that is never heard from again?

Re:Not again (2, Funny)

crymeph0 (682581) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626867)

No, it's the official hexannual "Solar Power Breakthrough" that is never heard from again.

Here we go again... (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626663)

And just how many articles have there been about new, improved, better than ever before, solar cells? I lose track.

Re:Here we go again... (1)

cyfer2000 (548592) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626931)

Far less than new, improved, better than ever before CPUs.

Re:Here we go again... (1)

belg4mit (152620) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627183)

And what, exactly, would you expect as progress marches on?

This just in! Researchers develop solar cell that's exactly like
what was available before they started with no improvements
whatsoever!

OR

Scientists at Lucent have created solar cells so spectactularly
crappy that their existence has begun to degrade the performance
of existing installations.

longivity (1)

OlRickDawson (648236) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626665)

The article doesn't say anything about how long the cell would last. (unless I missed it). Is that one/tenth the cost for the initial investment? What we would want to know is the total cost per watt, over the life span of the product.

This is huge (1)

AndyAndyAndyAndy (967043) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626697)

More details would have been nice in the article, but this is a huge breakthrough.
The current price of solar cells for households is far too high, even for new houses being built.
When the prices finally come down, we can cut our reliance on dirty combustion generation for power, and basically remove 25% of our greenhouse emissions annually.
If every house in America had these new dyes incorporated into its roof, we would be well off for the future, and might just outlast the running dry of the oil wells.
Just try getting the oil companies to look the other way, though.

Wondering (1)

umbrellasd (876984) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626723)

Can anyone can comment on the likelihood of us ever having this. At some point, with a technology like this, doesn't it seem that we could build energy self-sufficient buildings at very minimal additional cost, and wouldn't the coal and other industries that make a pretty penny off electricity generation for the consumer be very opposed to this?

What's a good analog for this, historically?

Given all the recent developments, it seems like within 10 years we're done with that whole bigass powerplant thing. I can already meet almost all of my energy needs with solar-powered shingles on my roof. This just makes the bar even lower and more no-brainer.

Re:Wondering (1)

CemeteryWall (587346) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626989)

I can already meet almost all of my energy needs with solar-powered shingles on my roof.

Can you give more details?

wasn't there another one a couple years ago (1)

Khashishi (775369) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626733)

There was an article on some PV cell or other at 1/100 the cost. It was supposed to be cheap enough you could cover building walls with it. What ever happened to that one? Searching for a couple year old post with common keywords is pretty futile.

Efficiency? (2, Interesting)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626745)

FTA:

"This is a proof-of-concept cell," said researcher Wayne Campbell, pointing to a desktop demonstration model.
"Within two to three years we will have developed a prototype for real applications.
...

Now the team is seeking extra funding to go commercial.

Ahh.. I see.

I thought that currently porphyrin dye cells had an efficiency of under 6.5%... commercial silicon cells are 14-16%, while multi-junction research lab cells are getting over 40%... (but use some rare/expensive compounds).

What I like is the ability to generate electricity in less-than-ideal light conditions, but the efficiency is a concern.

Re:Efficiency? (1)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626869)

In one of the articles, they claim to have the most efficient porphyrin dye in the world. If that's true, even with just 6.5% - or maybe they're a little above that - most people still have plenty of square footage on their roofs, it's just the cost-per-watt that matters. Well, maybe cost-per-kilowatt-hour, because longevity should be factored in.

Not really. (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627341)

I most certainly do not have the square footage available on my roof. I would imagine that most people do not either. I helped install solar panels in third world tropical countries. We used cells with an efficiency of 10% or so, covering a flat cement roof that was 200 X 50 feet generated an average of 8 kilowatt hours. It is enough for lights, and a computer or two, but not enough for the typical western lifestyle ( refrigerator, air conditioning, water heater, Tv).

We need to start look at how we are using our power in addition to how its generated.

Re:Efficiency? (2, Interesting)

AJWM (19027) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627417)

I thought that currently porphyrin dye cells had an efficiency of under 6.5%... commercial silicon cells are 14-16%,

If porphyrin-based cells can be produced (at that efficiency) for less than 1/3 the cost of silicon cells, then they're ahead of the game on cost/watt. Absolute efficiency only matters where you're area-limited. Most houses use less energy than even 6% of the sunlight that falls on their roofs (except perhaps at extreme latitudes).

Longevity? (2, Interesting)

Radon360 (951529) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626801)

(Yeah, it's been mentioned already. The article is light on details.)

What's the longevity of this stuff? Does it fade? What other degradation issues does it face? Silicon-based cells also DO degrage over time,too...at least their output diminishes somewhat. Is the rejuvenation process as easy as slopping on a new coat of paint?

Cool stuff, just curious as to what are the caveats when comparing implementation costs to traditional solar photovoltaics.

will it hold up in real conditions ? (1)

vg30e (779871) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626815)

I hope that this technology works well outside the laboratory. I mean, the real test is to see if a mass produced product that holds up in real climates for long periods of time.

The typical solar electric system price around the Northeast region of the US costs over $10000.00 If a system producing the same power can be bought for 10% of that and lasts over 5 years, It will definately be worth the investment.

A shame (1)

us7892 (655683) | more than 7 years ago | (#18626893)

"Within two to three years we will have developed a prototype for real applications. "The technology could be sold off already, but it would be a shame to get rid of it now."

It would be a shame to let a budding company or two develop the technology into something useful in 2 years.

They're making solar cells out of silicone? (2, Interesting)

epgandalf (105735) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627017)

There's a great typo in the article: "Dr Campbell said that unlike silicone-based solar cells, the dye- based cells are still able to operate in low-light conditions, making them ideal for cloudy climates."
For some reason, the summary didn't contain the typo. I'm disappointed.

Hmm (3, Insightful)

Cedric Tsui (890887) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627065)

Another poster claims a maximum efficiency of 6.5%.

What would be cool is if the waste energy wasn't in heat but just in unabsorbed wavelengths. Then we could cheaply make windows which would be a bit tinted (which we like anyways) and then daisy chain them to produce electricity. Say, in sky scrapers where it's all glass anyways.

It would be very neat if they were cheap enough that it wouldn't really matter where you put it for it to pay for itself.

Re:Hmm (1)

belg4mit (152620) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627097)

"It would be very neat if they were cheap enough that it wouldn't really matter where you put it for it to pay for itself."
One-size-fits-all thinking is a major contributor to the general crappiness of the status quo.

I for one welcome our solar power overlords (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627167)

And wonder if living inside our cracker box apartments and looking out through our solar-film-enabled windows will be like being stuck in one of those advertising-film-wrapped bus lines?

I mean, it looks cool, but what will it be like?

Sure, put solar cells on the non-transparent portions of my car, or my roof or walls, but the actual windows?

Niiice (1)

UPZ (947916) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627199)

New Zealand rocks!

wavelength selection? titanium? (4, Informative)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627205)

Weird article. Lessee.
>Dr Campbell said that unlike silicone-based solar cells, the dye- based cells are still able to operate in low-light conditions

I'm unfamiliar with these silicone-based solar cells: are those the ones you tape on Pam Anderson's breasts?

Titanium/titanium dioxide? All the dyes they talk about are organic: porphyrins are heterocyclic aromatics [wikipedia.org] that complex a metal ion in their centers. Not titanium dioxide, the compound: a metallic ion all by itself. Probably iron or magnesium. Ditto hemoglobin.

With those complaints aside, one of the neat things about using naturally produced chromophores is that, well, they're naturally produced, so we could get them in enormous quantities. Similarly, they can be tuned, so you could have ones that absorb different wavelengths of light, with high efficiency, stacked, to extract more energy out of the sunlight than a single-bandgap cell like most photovoltaics.

But essentially they're trying to replicate the behavior of plants, and rather than messing about with dyes in solution, it seems way more productive (although, clearly, harder) to try and get plant cells to do this for us: harness the ion gradients in their chloroplasts, parasitize their electric potential. Most of the machinery is already there. We just need to get the voltage potential outside the cell.

YUO FAIL IT. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18627275)

that they can hold the wiNd aapeared

Amazing (1)

dlhm (739554) | more than 7 years ago | (#18627437)

It's amazing how they can produce this dye so cheaply when HP and other still charge me $35 for a 7ml tank.
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