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Breakthrough Efficient, Paintable Solar Cells 445

An anonymous reader writes "A new solar cell material has been discovered that converts 30% of the sun's energy to electricity." Here's another solar news story. These new cells can harness infrared light which is why they are so much more efficient.
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Breakthrough Efficient, Paintable Solar Cells

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  • How much $$$? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by l810c ( 551591 ) * on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:33PM (#11312712)
    If it's that easy to paint on and is that efficient, why are we talking about geek clothes and not about every home having their southerly facing side painted with this stuff?

    It must be expensive.

    • Re:How much $$$? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by stupidfoo ( 836212 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:35PM (#11312743)
      Because that would make too much sense.

      If it was actually true that they had this paint there would be no need for power plants anymore. Just paint all the houses and buildings and you're all set.
      • After all, the sun does set in most places, at least half of the time.

        I agree that discussions of cost weren't mentioned, and that the big advantage is in its five-fold efficiency gains. If it is less than 5 times as expensive per watt capability, it'll be a tremendous boon for massive solar power generation.

        Solar can only be a part of the green-e solution, due to the pesky Earth rotating in between the sun and the solar cells and mankind's desire to use electricity when the sun is down or behind a cloud
        • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @04:08PM (#11313211) Homepage Journal
          There's this clever thing called power storage. You use your power to reform some hydrogen, and it makes this fascinating device called a battery.

          The battery drives your house power needs over night.
        • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @04:53PM (#11313862) Homepage
          The "5 fold efficiency" gain thing is a bit deceptive. Read the articles carefully: They're comparing a basic organic solar cell with the combination of this organic solar cell with the best (expensive and inflexible) inorganic solar cells to handle the visible spectrum. If you combined this with another plastic cell, you'd end up with a far lower conversion efficiency (although it'd still be a big help).

          There are lots of neat solar tech innovations on the horizon, mind you - however, each one tends to address a single issue, and there are many involved in solar. This one addresses capture of infrared on an organic cell. Some other ones that have good potential are things like using a thin layer of luminescent material over/in the cell to downconvert the light (many luminescent materials absorb UV and release the energy in the visible spectrum).

          I think that, in 5-10 years if tech keeps advancing this way, we should be able to get organic cells that'll approach the efficiency of today's polycrystaline cells. Which is good, because the silicon cells are expensive :P My partner and I have been looking at installing some in the future, and it'd cost 20,000-30,000$ just for the cells to supply our house's energy. And weight is a definite factor - you have to get an inspection to see if they'll weigh too much for your roof, and if they do, you have to pay for reinforcement of the roof before installation.
      • 2002 CNN article [] about "paintable solar cells".

        The advance in here is that these new cells also use infrared. Also, solar cells are only ONE of the possible applications of this new technology (Nanoapex news article []).
    • They were talking about house paint in the article, so I would assume it is in the plan.

      I think that if the stuff is within a reasonable range, I'll definately have my house in So Cal painted with it!


    • Re:How much $$$? (Score:5, Informative)

      by plover ( 150551 ) * on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:38PM (#11312775) Homepage Journal
      Because it was just invented. RTFA, the research was published Sunday.

      Who knows if it will be expensive, cheap, emit toxic byproducts, or even be producable in consumer quantites yet? It's just research, not a factory.

      • by l810c ( 551591 ) *
        I DID RTFA, why in the hell do you think I asked the question?

        Usually articles such as this, regardless of their source, contain some form of economic feasability statement etc.

      • RTFQ.
        The article talks about a use. The grandparent was questioning that this may not be the best use.
        If the author is able to theorize about a use in clothing why not theorize about a truly useful use?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      "every home having their southerly facing
      side painted with this stuff"

      Some of us live in the Southern hemisphere you insensitive clod!

    • I think it's interesting that this guy is talking about having our sweaters charge our cell phones / iPods etc. First of all, who wants to have a large AC adapter plugged into their sleeve? Secondly, why not just make the piece of electronic equipment incorporate the material, so you wouldn't need to plug it into anything? Have any part of the device that's usually exposed be coated with this - you're talking about enormous amounts of "talk time" - imagine, plugging your iPod into the outlet only ONCE a day
      • AC adapter? you know *why* the AC adapter is needed? It's used to convert the AC power to DC power. These things will without a doubt generate DC power, so no adapter...just a small lead to plug in. Now, that may still be too cumbersome for some, but it's not as bad as you're making it out to be. And yes, that's still far more power generated than the average cell phone uses these days, but it is portable, and probably low enough voltage it wouldn't hurt too much when you get it it d
      • Secondly, why not just make the piece of electronic equipment incorporate the material, so you wouldn't need to plug it into anything?
        I don't know about you, but I have a lot more surface area than my phone...
    • I doubt that it is as expensive as a regular solar cell. That involves making a chip, packaging, etc... This is a paintable plastic. And considering that Solar cell chips are (and have been for some time) on the edge of economical, I would guess that this will tip the scale. Hopefully, the research will look hard at energy storage which will make nearly all alternative feasable and nuclear much more useful.
    • That did seem to be the main thrust of the first article didn't it? Personally it would have gotten a lot more of my attention if the focus was on a way for me to save $1000/yr in electricity bills.
  • by inkdesign ( 7389 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:35PM (#11312728)
    .. as I've really been burnt up about the lost energy from my remote controls!

  • Woo (Score:5, Funny)

    by grub ( 11606 ) <> on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:37PM (#11312764) Homepage Journal

    So if I spray that on my tinfoil hat and run a couple of leads to my laptop I could have unlimited power!
    • Re:Woo (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:48PM (#11312942)
      So if I spray that on my tinfoil hat and run a couple of leads to my laptop I could have unlimited power!

      But is it worth the risks? If I undrstood the article correctly you'd have to go outside...
    • Re:Woo (Score:3, Funny)

      by Cheerio Boy ( 82178 )
      So if I spray that on my tinfoil hat and run a couple of leads to my laptop I could have unlimited power!

      Nope. The spray is a quantum tracking dye that allows them to focus their mind control rays more closely on people like you comrade!

      Please stay calm while a Homeland Security team comes to your aid to show you the greatness of Amerika!
    • Re:Woo (Score:3, Funny)

      by budgenator ( 254554 )
      I'd just like to watch you strip the insulation and solder the wires coming out of a 1 nM solar cell!
  • wow! (Score:2, Funny)

    If this pans out this could change the energy economy in this country. Not to mention the benefit third world countries could get from it. Imagine your grafitti powering your laptop.
    • Re:wow! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Manchot ( 847225 )
      You know what'll happen though, don't you? The FDA will claim that this stuff it hazardous to your health, and that oil is much safer to use for energy purposes. They will then bar the importation of the technology from Canada.

      Seriously, though, Big Oil will try to squash this like a bug, and the U.S. government will follow suit.
  • We are the Borg (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Wearable solar panels... Resistance is Futile.
  • How much energy? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DaveInAustin ( 549058 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:40PM (#11312794) Homepage
    One key thing that isn't answered in the article (or almost any other articles about "alternative energy sources). How does energy does it take to make this material compare with home much energy it can produce?
    • Re:How much energy? (Score:4, Informative)

      by ThosLives ( 686517 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:55PM (#11313042) Journal
      This is irrelevant for something like a solar cell. A solar cell might take lots of energy to produce, but as long as there is the correct incident radiation and the device works, it will produce energy. For instance, say, it takes 10 MJ to produce one of these capable of produce one watt. The 10 MJ will be made up in 10 million seconds, which is not quite 4 months. (1e7 seconds / 86.4e4 seconds/day = 115 days and some change.) My guess is that's on the right order of magnitude.

      Note that this material doesn't "produce" energy at all - it just converts it from the sun (which is the thing sending all the energy our way in the first place). This is different than, say, hydrogen, which is an energy storage medium; you have to put energy into hydrogen to store it, then you get a little less out. With these, you simply build the device, then use (solar) radiation to create a current.

    • by hey ( 83763 )
      Why doesn't anybody ask that question about conventional energy sources.
  • by razmaspaz ( 568034 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:40PM (#11312799)
    converts 30% of the sun's energy to electricity.

    We are gonna need all that electricity because if the sun is 30% smaller than it was before this thing our heating bills are gonna go way up!
    • This isn't actually as dumb as it first sounds - if you're wearing something that takes 30% of the infra red energy away then you are not going to get anywhere near as much radiated heat hitting you and you are going to be colder. Similarly if your house is painted in this stuff, not as much of the sun's energy is going to go into your house, and more is going to go into the paint.
  • Looks like new work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lonesome Squash ( 676652 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:40PM (#11312801)
    Interesting. Sargent has lots of papers [] about electroluminescence, and even photoconductivity [] using these quantum dots. But this looks like new work. The earliest reference I see is from September.

    I always am skeptical when I see articles about new exciting energy sources in the popular press, but this looks exciting. I wonder what the material's physical properties are -- how it stands up to wear, radiation, etc., and especially, how much it costs to make and apply.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:41PM (#11312805)
    Does this recharging unit make my ass look big?
  • by PornMaster ( 749461 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:41PM (#11312807) Homepage
    I spend most of my daylight hours during the week under fluourescent lighting with no natural light (underwhelming cubeworld). Fluourescents don't give off much IR, right?

    While I can see that it could be wonderful for some things, I think I'm better off plugging my phone into the wall to charge.
    • since most photoelectrics work off the same principle (photon moves electron to a higher energy state, and so forth) fluourescents would probably work fine. The difference with IR is that their wavelength is much lower - thus the energy is lower, and absorption is that much more difficult (long, detailed explanation omitted)
  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:41PM (#11312822)
    Well, so much for this entire thread []. Can't believe we wasted all that typing.
  • by tallbill ( 819601 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:41PM (#11312823)
    OK, I am being silly, what the thing should read of instead of
    Converts 30% of the Sun's Energy to Electricity

    Perhaps what they mean is
    Converts 30% of the incident light energy to electricity

    After all, the Sun is realeasing a lot of energy, most of which will never hit the Earth.

    • Perhaps amend your amendment to read:

      Converts 30% of the incident solar light energy to electricity

      I'd imagine that the sun's spectrum is reasonably unique among other spectra on Earth, and that the new material reacts differently to different wavelengths, so that while it converts 30% of the solar spectrum that hits it, the incident energy from, say, an incandescent bulb might be converted at a different efficiency, as its spectrum would differ from that of the sun.

    • Yes, that is what they meant. We all got it without you belaboring the point.

      ObSheesh: Sheesh.

    • Perhaps what they mean is what they say... did you even RTFA? It works with the IR radiation. Which isn't traditionally classified as 'light'
      Of course, this is /.
      Why would you read the article?
  • No way... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The film has the ability to be sprayed or woven into shirts so that our cuffs or collars could recharge our IPods, Sargent said.
    Hmmm, I assume this means that I have to go outside?
  • ...and I have to say that I'm confused.

    Converting 30% of the sun's energy? That's a LOT of frikken engery!!! I think they mean to say 30% of the energy received from the sun rather than 30% of the sun's energy. The Earth itself doesn't get 30% of the sun's energy.

    That said, BRAVO! We need more efficient solar energy stuff. Painted on or solid doesn't matter to me. If they can make it super dense or layer it in some way, I'll bet they can make some really efficient collector devices. Well anyway...
  • by Daxton ( 848237 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:44PM (#11312877) Homepage
    If you check the original press release [], you'll notice UT says the 30% efficiency might be realized "with further improvements in efficiency". The reporter for CTV missed that little nuance.
  • by markus_baertschi ( 259069 ) < minus cat> on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:45PM (#11312881)

    I'll believe it when I can buy it for a reasonable cost at a store in town.

    For years we have every couple of months there a new revolutionary way to convert solar rays to electricity. Unfortunately none has managed to work in the real world except the good old silicon solar cells.


  • So is that a 30% quantum efficiency, i.e. 30 percent of photons absorbed are converted to an electron? or does it truly represent a 30% convertion of watts? I kinda doubt since you will not get anymore electrons (Amps) than you have photon (fluence) and the decrease in energy (Volts) from the visible to the infrared is more than 30% (unless by infra red they mean 1000 nm). Rememeber Watss = Volts Amps.
    • 30% of nothing. They figure it could in theory get 30% efficiency, just as soon as *INSERT BREAKTHROUGH IN CHEMICAL OR PHYSICAL SCIENCE HERE* happens.

      This sounds just like every other moon-man technology of the future. Hydrogen will revolutionize our economy! (Just as soon as we figure out how to collect and store it) A space elevator will mean cheap orbital trips, space tourism, extraplanetary mining, a trip to mars- all we need to do is invent the material we need to build it out of.


      They put me
  • destroys it and sweeps the remaining dust under the rug. Five times more effective - that sure sounds pretty dangerous to them.

    Watch for PR campaigns explaining to the layman just how dangerous this plastic is, why it shouldn't be used and researched and just how much better the good ol' oil is.
  • Painted shirts? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by strider_starslayer ( 730294 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:47PM (#11312921)
    I notice his primary theoretical application was painting shirts so that you can charge your Ipod. What about buildings damnit!

    With a nearly 5x increase in power efficency, and the ability to simply paint it on this material strikes me as being ideal for partially powering houses. You paint your roof every summer (Or if the paint is particularly durable every 5 years) and get a grid tie in possibly paying nothing during particiarly sunny monthes.

    Of course I supose it ultimately comes down to how expensive this stuff is. When I last looked into solar grid tie ins, it would have cost about 30,000 (cdn.) to get only a few kilowatts of output- the panels were insured for 25 years; and it would have taken 20 for them to pay for themselves, and that dosen't count the concept of any of them breaking in heavy hail, or snow buildup. Not a great investment.

    If this paint is durable enough to be put on clothes, and cheap enough to have that done as well, I think that painting the roofs of houses should be the primary applicatino, not keeping all your portable gadgets charged...
  • Neither article makes any mention of how expensive this new film is to produce. Granted, it is still in the development stages, but nanoparticles can be very costly to manufacture, mostly because the controls involved in producing such precise chemistry (in this case nano-rods 8 carbon atoms long) usually prohibit large-sale batch making techniques. Unless/until these particles can be mass produced cheaply, it will likely be just as cost-prohibitive as current solar panel tech.

    I would love to be able to b

  • by starseeker ( 141897 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:50PM (#11312954) Homepage
    Slashdot does this every once in a while - announce some tremendous new solar energy technology. Folks, it's not easy to get 30%. And even if you do, you haven't won the war. The best, most expensive cells can make those ranges, but they are not something you can put on the assembly line.

    I did some research into Cu(In,Ga)(S,Se) thin film solar cells, which have long been a promising material for this type of application. I don't claim to know all about the various options out there (there are a lot of them) but I feel I can safely say there just aren't any magic bullets to this problem. Let me give you some idea of what has to happen.

    a) You need a cell with a high enough efficiency to make the power it can produce worth the hassle of installing it. This is hard and the focus of most solar cell research.

    b) Even if you GET that cell, you have to be able to make a LOT of them. Cheaply. Very cheaplly if you want to compete with grid power.

    c) These materials have to stand up to long term punishment, intense thermal cycling over the course of day and night temperature shifts for twenty years, etc.

    d) You have to install the supporting systems - either connect it to grid, get a large energy storage array (i.e. batteries) or both. If you want a battery based local storage system that gets expensive, all by itself.

    e) You need to build the industrial support required to make large scale deployment both possible and cost effective. Si, the current dominant material, has a lot going for it because a lot got learned over the course of decades of semiconductor technology. Those tools are somewhat applicable to Si. If you want to use something totally different (i.e. a thin film) you have to make all the gear more or less from the ground up. That's a big initial capital investment for a dubious return.

    f) If you want flexible solar cells, you have a whole new set of problems to handle/test, like how the cell performs while being folded repeatedly in different temperature conditions, creased, beat up generally, etc. And flexible cells are a bit of a specialty market - the military likes the idea, sports folks like it, but for large scale fixed installation use (i.e. where bulk production would happen) flexible isn't all that critical. (Although it is nice when it comes to things like roofs withstanding hail storms, but apparently regular ones don't do so hot there anyway.)

    g) THEN, after you solved the problems of cost effective production, storage, retrofitting of housing, etc. etc. etc. you have to convince people it's worth the trouble to install it. And I remind you this is the land of the SUV, so I wish you luck with any marketing effort that can't say "We're cheaper than grid power!". Grid power is CHEAP. VERY cheap. It's a really really hard target to hit, and the solar cell technology available today just isn't there yet. There are lots of "potential" 30% configurations - all you need to do, in theory, is have a multijunction device with the right bandgaps. But let me tell you, it ain't easy.

    Now, somebody might make a sudden miracle discovery of a cheap 30% cell material. Such things do happen. But I'll want to see a lot of (reproducable) proof, and peer review, before I'll buy it. It's good advertising to claim high performance, but I'll be impressed when someone goes through the nitty gritty and comes out with a viable product.
    • I just hate it when I see an article like this... I get about 5 seconds of renewed hope in a BIG scientific breakthrough before I think to myself: "Alright, let's see someone tear this thing to pieces in the comments". Not that I'm complaining, I usually learn more from these comments than the actual article :)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 10, 2005 @04:26PM (#11313448)

      But first, my background...

      I actually read the journal paper.

      I work on related projects in graduate school, including polymer solar cells, and prior to that worked for a company developing quantum dots for other applications.

      1.) The 30% is the theoretical power conversion maximum for a solar energy conversion with a single layer device; they only got a small fraction of this. You could only get this maximum if you had a material that absorbed every photon in the theoretically correct range, every one of these photons created an electron, and every electron came out of the device -- not an easy task, and 30% is the best you could do. The reason there is a 30% maximum is simple -- the device only puts out a single voltage, corresponding to the point of longest wavelength (lowest energy) that the material absorbs. This voltage is the same for all electrons that are generated from each photon. This means all those blue photons become just like the IR photons -- they give up a bunch of energy.

      2.) The materials would be cheap. Quantum dots are not exotic. They're just little chunks of semiconductor. They are called quantum dots because their size is such that they have what are called quantum size effects. They are made from soap and metal salts. Massive production would be cheap. The polymer would be cheap to mass produce, as well. The problem is sandwiching it between electrodes -- you couldn't just paint it on without this.

      So, basically, this isn't a huge advance... It's the normal stepwise improvement. They took existing technologies that are available, combined them and hyped them up a lot.
    • I feel I can safely say there just aren't any magic bullets to this problem.

      But did you see Underworld? They had bullets that trapped UV radiation. I think if we could develop those, we could kill off all the vampires and solve the world's energy problems. The bullets wouldn't even have to be magic.
    • I love your well reasoned and well thought out comments.. if they are raw and new for this post, I'm even flabergasted.

      I would point out, that -mostly yer right- some elements can find non-standard solutions, near montery there is a lake that is used for hydroelectric generation on a 24 hour clock.. during the day this lake pours downhill generating electricity, and at night it gets pumped back up to the lake above.. in effect, a giant battery- profitable because the utility company pays via a time o

      • There are other ideas, and it's one of my favorite areas for thinking about in terms of problem solving. I mention batteries because as of today they are the only really practical solution in the "go out and buy it" sense. My personal favorite idea is a large flywheel (or flywheels) suspended on magnetic/superconductive bearings, and buried in the back yard. As power comes in, the disks are spun up faster and faster. In a vacuum, with magnetic bearings, in theory they should be able to store a lot of po
    • You seem to know alot about the materials end of photovoltaics so let me ask you this. WTF ever happened to the multijunction GaN on sapphire systems that were supposed to achieve full solar [] spectrum conversion? This stuff came out like 3 years ago complete with huge fanfare and gushing mediagasm [] and then....nothing. Haven't heard a peep about it since. Sooo tired of this pattern of science by press release then nothing to show for it...
  • by one9nine ( 526521 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:50PM (#11312964) Journal
    "When you have a material advance which literally materially changes the way that energy is absorbed and transmitted to our devices... somebody out there tinkering away in a bedroom or in a government lab is going to come up with a great idea for a new device that will shock us all," he said in a phone interview.

    I hope he means "shock us all" figurativley.

  • A few things the article seem to miss:
    What is the longevity of this material? Can you spray once and leave it for years, or does it degrade over time?
    How much does this stuff cost? They mention quantum dots, so are we talking about exotic materials which are going to be expensive?
    How do environmental factors affect this stuff? Will it hold up to rain, wind, sun?
    How nasty are the chemicals in making it? The process to make most solar cells involve some nasty chemicals, granted, compared to coal ash a
  • Sargent: "the new plastic composite is, in layman's terms, a layer of film that "catches'' solar energy. "

    VC: looks sceptical
    Sargent: "ummm, with the laser beams, umm, clayven"
    VC: inks the contract

  • It's only a matter of time before people relize how much money they can sav on bills if the put one on top of the house or on the roof of a car. Perhaps it will not make your house or car 100% solar but I'm sure that hybrid houses and cars would be good for the enviroment and our wallets!
  • with those new solar cells that convert heat to electricity, we can finally dispense with the whole bunch of fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, which are all based on the outdated paradigm of...oh wait...
  • Not the same, but .. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jim Hall ( 2985 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @03:58PM (#11313079) Homepage

    I did some research work when I was a physics student, and I took data for a bunch of researchers at the National Renewable Energy Labs [] back in the mid-nineties. My specific project was working with a new CdTe based thin-film material to be used in solar cells. It was so easy to deposit on glass substrates that we referred to it as "painting the glass." This made it very easy to mass produce.

    However, the new material mentioned in TFA is very different from that. The material I worked with only derived energy from visible light - this material works in the IR bands, and I find that even more interesting as it's vastly under-explored. I'm not so sure about his "weaving it into fabrics" idea, but for sure it will help boost traditional solar cell (PV) gain.

  • 30% is very good, but only an additional 6% above what an experimental silicon cell can get.

    Some figures:
    Highest experimental eficiency: 24.7% monocrystalline Si, 19.8% multicrystalline Si
    Typical industrial products: 17-18% mono, 13-15% multi
    Other experimental crystalline materials vary between 10% and 20%

    The maximum theoretical efficiency of a Si cell is in the 29-33% range.

    BTW, these are numbers from 3 or 4 years ago.

  • let's hope we don't have to scorch the sky later! :P
  • A new solar cell material has been discovered that converts 30% of the sun's energy to electricity.

    That is so obviously wrong. I have not RTA but I can't help but point out that it should read "converts 30% of the perceived sunlight into electricity".

    Cuz if you need a sure-fire way to fry Earth that'd be to convert 30% of the sun's energy to electricity down here.
  • Imagine a home with...

    Any article that starts with that phrase, or something like it, will eventually make the point "And you will! Sometime in the amazing year 400 billion!"

    Eh, but who am I to harsh their buzz? At least someone's thinking about it.

  • ""Our calculations show that, with further improvements in efficiency, combining infrared and visible photovoltaics could allow up to 30 per cent of the sun's radiant energy to be harnessed, compared to six per cent in today's best plastic solar cells.""

    Nice. AFAIR, the break-even point for silicon cells was only about 10% - it was not attainable at the time. If it's cheaper to make and install than the standard cells, getting just a 10-12% conversion would put it into the realm of practical as a sourc

  • So you've gotten the Douglas-Martin Solar Reception Screens [], where's the Shipstone Power Storage unit for my damn laptop!

  • by divisionbyzero ( 300681 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @04:18PM (#11313338)
    It sounds like some small scale prototypes of devices that can detect infrared have have been developed but there is no solar cell. My favorite quote from the University press release:

    "Professor Peter Peumans of Stanford University, who has reviewed the U of T team's research, also acknowledges the groundbreaking nature of the work. "Our calculations show that, with further improvements in efficiency, combining infrared and visible photovoltaics could allow up to 30 per cent of the sun's radiant energy to be harnessed, compared to six per cent in today's best plastic solar cells."

    The two key points being "calculations" and "plastic solar cells". In other words the 30% figure is a theoretical one and unlikely realistic. Also, six percent is accurate for plastic solar cells, but more modern multi-material cells are up around 35% or better. In short, this is just PR.
  • by ttfkam ( 37064 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @04:32PM (#11313551) Homepage Journal
    Researchers at the University of Toronto have invented an infrared-sensitive material that's five times more efficient at turning the sun's power into electrical energy than current methods.
    Assuming you don't count the cells that produce more than 6% effeciency (of which there are a few) nor lab samples from Berkeley and a couple other places that are pushing the 50% mark -- albeit with short lifespans.
    It also contains a huge untapped resource -- despite the surge in popularity of solar cells in the 1990s, we still miss half of the sun's power, Sargent said.
    Although we are doing better with efficiency than we were doing in the 80s and early 90s.
    "In fact, there's enough power from the sun hitting the Earth every day to supply all the world's needs for energy 10,000 times over,'' Sargent said in a phone interview Sunday from Boston. He is currently a visiting professor of nanotechnology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
    Yes! Ummm... As long as you are willing to completely cover the Earth's surface with solar cell, this is true. If you take the sunlight for electricity generation, you lose it for other purposes: plant growth, heat, vitamin-D production, natural light, etc. I hate statements like these. They imply that the only reason we can't move to a completely solar economy is lack of investment, when there are larger issues at work.

    The points about clothing and paint were very cool though.
    The film can convert up to 30 per cent of the sun's power into usable, electrical energy. Today's best plastic solar cells capture only about six per cent.
    I'd like to see the source of stats like this. Is this because the newer ones can capture such a wide band as infrared so that the percentages are being adjusted?
    Sargent said the advance would not only wipe away that inefficiency, but also resolve the hassle of recharging our countless gadgets and pave the way to a true wireless world.
    Not truly wireless; you'll still need a cable from your photovoltaic clothing to your cell phone/PDA.
    "We now have our cellphones and our BlackBerries and we're walking around without the need to plug in, in order to get our data,'' he said.
    These things don't have sufficient surface area to be recharged by having their outer skins be photovoltaic. In addition, many people carry them in their pockets or purses rather than on an external belt clip. Therefore you need an external power source (such as your clothing). This means the phone needs to be plugged into your clothing somehow. Not THAT big a deal, but one worth mentioning.
    The film has the ability to be sprayed or woven into shirts so that our cuffs or collars could recharge our IPods, Sargent said.
    How well does it handle being washed in standard washing machines? Dry cleaning everything would be a major pain in the ass. (Assuming that the chemicals used in dry cleaning don't degrade the photovoltaics since the cleaning agents were not made with "quantum dots" in mind.)

    I don't mean to be a naysayer, but the article is extremely vague and doesn't give a link to more information (if it's even available). I'd rather be skeptical now and see how it can be used rather than proudly (and prematurely) announce that this solves all our problems and cooks dinner to boot.
  • Conspiracy! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Monday January 10, 2005 @04:33PM (#11313564) Journal
    So, how long before this new tech disappears forever after being bought out by the power companies? Remember that carburetor that lets gasoline engines burn water? I hear some Detroit auto-maker bought the design and buried it away for good. ;)

    Dan East

Someday somebody has got to decide whether the typewriter is the machine, or the person who operates it.