Clean Energy Breakthrough Uses Sun to Create Solar Materials
In a recent advance in solar energy, researchers have discovered a way to tap the sun not only as a source of power, but also to directly produce the solar energy materials that make this possible.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
This breakthrough by chemical engineers at Oregon State University could soon reduce the cost of solar energy, speed production processes, use environmentally benign materials and make the sun almost a “one-stop shop” that produces both the materials for solar devices and the eternal energy to power them.
The findings were published in RSC Advances, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, in work supported by the National Science Foundation.
“This approach should work and is very environmentally conscious,” said Chih-Hung Chang, a professor of chemical engineering at Oregon State University, and lead author on the study.
“Several aspects of this system should continue to reduce the cost of solar energy, and when widely used, our carbon footprint,” Chang said. “It could produce solar energy materials anywhere there’s an adequate solar resource, and in this chemical manufacturing process, there would be zero energy impact.”
The work is based on the use of a “continuous flow” microreactor to produce nanoparticle inks that make solar cells by printing. Existing approaches based mostly on batch operations are more time-consuming and costly.
In this process, simulated sunlight is focused on the solar microreactor to rapidly heat it, while allowing precise control of temperature to aid the quality of the finished product. The light in these experiments was produced artificially, but the process could be done with direct sunlight, and at a fraction of the cost of current approaches.
“Our system can synthesize solar energy materials in minutes compared to other processes that might take 30 minutes to two hours,” Chang said. “This gain in operation speed can lower cost.”
In these experiments, the solar materials were made with copper indium diselenide, but to lower material costs it might also be possible to use a compound such as copper zinc tin sulfide, Chang said. And to make the process something that could work 24 hours a day, sunlight might initially be used to create molten salts that could later be used as an energy source for the manufacturing. This could provide more precise control of the processing temperature needed to create the solar energy materials.
State-of-the-art chalcogenide-based, thin film solar cells have already reached a fairly high solar energy conversion efficiency of about 20 percent in the laboratory, researchers said, while costing less than silicon technology. Further improvements in efficiency should be possible, they said.
Another advantage of these thin-film approaches to solar energy is that the solar absorbing layers are, in fact, very thin—about 1-2 microns, instead of the 50-100 microns of more conventional silicon cells. This could ease the incorporation of solar energy into structures, by coating thin films onto windows, roof shingles or other possibilities.
Additional support for this work was provided by the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute and the Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
By James O'Hare
There are 20 million people in the world facing famine in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen. In developed nations, too, people go hungry. Venezuela, for instance, is enduring food insecurity on a national level as a result of economic crisis and political corruption. In the U.S., the land of supposed excess, 12.7 percent of households were food insecure in 2015, meaning they didn't know where their next meal would come from.
Artists are taking the climate crisis into frame and the results are emotional, beautiful and stirring.
So you've seen the best climate change cartoons and shared them with your friends. You've showed your family the infographics on climate change and health, infographics on how the grid works and infographics about clean, renewable energy. You've even forwarded these official National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration graphs that explain the 10 clear indicators of climate change to your colleagues at the office.
As the Trump administration moves full speed ahead on boosting the oil and fossil fuel industry, opposition to increased pipeline construction is cropping up in different communities around the country.
By Simon Evans
Last Saturday, two dead whales washed up on the coast of Suffolk, in eastern England, and a third was spotted floating at sea.
What happened next illustrates how news can spread and evolve into misinformation, when reported by journalists rushing to publish before confirming basic facts or sourcing their own quotes.
By Monica Amarelo and Paul Pestano
Sun safety is a crucial part of any outdoor activity for kids, and sunscreen can help protect children's skin from harmful ultraviolet rays. Kids often get sunburned when they're outside unprotected for longer than expected. Parents need to plan ahead and keep sun protection handy in their cars or bags.
By Joe McCarthy
A lot of people take part in community clean-up efforts—spending a Saturday morning picking up litter in a park, mowing an overgrown field or painting a fence.