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Amazing New Energy
|From the text of a very interesting
email recently sent to our site founder.
1) Flexible Batteries That Never Need to Be Recharged - Technology Review,
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
European researchers have built prototypes that combine plastic solar
cells with ultrathin, flexible batteries. But don't throw away your
battery recharger just yet. By Tyler Hamilton Mobiles phones, remote
controls, and other gadgets are generally
convenient--that is, until their batteries go dead. For many consumers,
having to routinely recharge or replace batteries remains the weakest
"It's the first time that a device combining energy creation and storage shows [such] tremendous properties," says Gilles Dennler, a coauthor of the paper and a researcher at solar startup Konarka Technologies, based in Lowell, MA. Prior to joining Konarka, Dennler was a professor at the Linz Institute for Organic Solar Cells at Johannes Kepler University, in Austria. "The potential for this type of product is large, given [that] there is a growing demand for portable self-rechargeable power supplies."
Prototypes of the solar battery weigh as little as two grams and are less than one millimeter thick. "The device is meant to ensure that the battery is always charged with optimum voltage, independently of the light intensity seen by the solar cell," according to the paper. Dennler says that a single cell delivers about 0.6 volts. By shaping a module with strips connected in series, "one can add on voltages to fit the requirements of the device."
The organic solar cell used in the prototype is the same technology being developed by Konarka. (See "Solar-Cell Rollout.") It's based on a mix of electrically conducting polymers and fullerenes. The cells can be cut or produced in special shapes and can be printed on a roll-to-roll machine at low temperature, offering the potential of low-cost, high-volume production.
To preserve the life of the cells, which are vulnerable to photodegradation
after only a few hours of air exposure, the researchers encapsulated
inside a flexible gas barrier. This extended their life for about 3,000
hours. Project coordinator Denis Fichou, head of the Laboratory of Organic
Dennler says that the maturity of the battery and the imminent commercial
release of Konarka-style organic solar cells mean that the kind of
solar-battery device designed in the project could be available as early
as next year, although achieving higher performance would be an ongoing
The paper's coauthor Toby Meyer, cofounder of Swiss-based Solaronix, says that the prototypes worked well enough under low-light conditions, such as indoor window light, to be considered as a power source for some mobile phones. Artificial light, on the other hand, may impose limitations. "Office light is probably too weak to generate enough power for the given solar-cell surface available on the phone," he says.
Watches, toys, RFID tags, smart cards, remote controls, and a variety of sensors are among the more likely applications, although the opportunity in the area of digital cameras, PDAs, and mobile phones will likely continue to drive research. "The feasibility of a polymer solar battery has been proven," the paper concludes.
Rights to the technology are held by Konarka, though the solar company says it has no plans itself to commercial the battery.
2) An Amazing Conference on Energy - David Houle, April 4, 2007, Evolution
The name of the conference was Energy Challenges: The next Thousand Years. The goal was to consider all potential sources and technologies for energy production over three time frames: the near term (rest of this century), the medium term (next few centuries), and the longer term (thousand-year future), as well as the challenges facing humans on the planet in developing and implementing self-sufficient strategies for energy. This framework was shaped by the mission of the Foundation for the Future, which is to continue to look toward the long term future of humanity, under the umbrella Humanity Three Thousand.
This structure led to two clear results. First some incredibly interesting
discussions of long term energy solutions, some that are available to
develop, and some that are almost beyond the minds of even physicists
to fully comprehend. I will take a look at some of these solutions in
The main headline of the conference then was that, simply put, a room full of some of the greatest experts on energy in the world are concerned that if the major issues surrounding energy are not dealt with in the next few decades, cataclysms of various types are almost guaranteed to occur. As far as I am concerned, based on the evidence passionately presented at the conference, the discussion on global warming is over. In fact, several times global warming was described as the canary in the mine in the sense that it is the advance warning of much greater underlying problems.
To emphasis this point, some random quotes from the conference, all from distinguished and well respected scientists.
The alarmism was to the point that major actions, across the board must be taken and very soon. It doesn't have to end badly for us all. There are solutions, there is developing technology, there are possible breakthroughs of historic proportions, there are ways to greatly alter energy creation, storage and usage, but we must start to implement and develop them immediately.
I was greatly honored to observe and participate in the discussion that
occurred over these three days. The brilliance of the people in
the room was staggering. The ideas presented and discussed could be transformative
for humanity. I will try to do my best in the posts
ahead to present some of them in an understandable way. The good news
is that some of the best minds in the world are working intently on the
energy problems. The bad news is that the work that needs to be done
and the changes that need to occur are massive, and we have just begun
Solar cell technology developed by the Massey University Nanomaterials Research Centre will enable New Zealanders to generate electricity from sunlight at a 10th of the cost of current silicon-based photo-electric solar cells. Dr Wayne Campbell and researchers in the centre have developed a range of coloured dyes for use in dye-sensitised solar cells.
The synthetic dyes are made from simple organic compounds closely related to those found in nature. The green dye Dr Campbell (pictured) is synthetic chlorophyll derived from the light-harvesting pigment plants use for photosynthesis.
Other dyes being tested in the cells are based on haemoglobin, the compound that give blood its colour.
Dr Campbell says that unlike the silicon-based solar cells currently on the market, the 10x10cm green demonstration cells generate enough electricity to run a small fan in low-light conditions making them ideal for cloudy climates. The dyes can also be incorporated into tinted windows that trap to generate electricity.
He says the green solar cells are more environmentally friendly than silicon-based cells as they are made from titanium dioxide a plentiful, renewable and non-toxic white mineral obtained from New Zealand's black sand. Titanium dioxide is already used in consumer products such as toothpaste, white paints and cosmetics.
The refining of pure silicon, although a very abundant mineral, is energy-hungry and very expensive. And whereas silicon cells need direct sunlight to operate efficiently, these cells will work efficiently in low diffuse light conditions, Dr Campbell says. The expected cost is one 10th of the price of a silicon-based solar panel, making them more attractive and accessible to home-owners.
The Centre's new director, Professor Ashton Partridge, says they now have the most efficient porphyrin dye in the world and aim to optimise and improve the cell construction and performance before developing the cells commercially.
The next step is to take these dyes and incorporate them into roofing materials or wall panels. We have had many expressions of interest from New Zealand companies, Professor Partridge says. He says the ultimate aim of using nanotechnology to develop a better solar cell is to convert as much sunlight to electricity as possible. The energy that reaches earth from sunlight in one hour is more than that used by all human activities in one year.
The solar cells are the product of more than 10 years research funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.
Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.
4) More Efficient Solar Cells - Kevin Bullis, Technology Review, March
The effort uses a type of material called a photonic crystal that makes it possible to "do things with light that have never been done before," says John Joannopoulos, a professor of physics at MIT who heads the lab where the new designs for solar applications were developed. Photonic crystals, which can be engineered to reflect and diffract all the photons in specific wavelengths of light, have long been attractive for optical communications, in which the materials can be used to direct and sort light-borne data. Now new manufacturing processes could make the photonic crystals practical for much-larger-scale applications such as photovoltaics.
StarSolar's approach addresses a long-standing challenge in photovoltaics.
Silicon, the active material that is used in most solar cells today,
do double duty. It both absorbs incoming light and converts it into electricity.
Solar cells could be cheaper if they used less silicon. If the
MIT researchers developed sophisticated computer simulations to understand
how thin layers of photonic crystal could be engineered to
capture and recycle the photons that slip through thin layers of silicon.
Silicon easily absorbs blue light, but not red and infrared light. The
Today's solar cells already reflect some of the light that passes through
the silicon. But the photonic crystal has distinct advantages.
Conventional solar cells are backed with a sheet of aluminum. The photonic
crystal reflects more light than the aluminum does, especially once the
As a result, the photonic crystal can increase the efficiency of solar cells by up to 37 percent, says Peter Bermel, CTO and a cofounder of StarSolar. This makes it possible to use many times less silicon, he says, cutting costs enough to compete with electricity from the grid in many markets. The savings would be especially large now, since a current shortage in refined silicon is keeping solar-cell prices high and slowing the growth of solar-cell production.
The company plans to work with existing solar-cell makers, applying
its photonic crystals with a machine added to the solar-cell makers'
assembly lines, Bermel says. But StarSolar needs to choose a large-scale
manufacturing technique that will allow it to produce the photon crystals
Shawn-Yu Lin, professor of physics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has developed a method for manufacturing eight-inch disks of photonic crystal--a measurement considerably larger than what can be done with conventional techniques. The method, which employs optical lithography similar to that used in the semiconductor industry, works best for a type of solar cell that concentrates light onto a small chunk of expensive semiconductor material. Such a device would require a relatively small amount of photonic crystal compared with conventional solar cells. Lin says the technique could be applied for more-conventional solar panels, although it would be expensive.
Another potentially less-expensive method, called interference lithography,
creates orderly patterns in the photonic-crystal materials. The method
fast and uses machines that are far less expensive than those used for
conventional optical lithography. It also requires fewer steps than Lin's
existing process, so he says it could be far cheaper. Such methods have
been developed by Henry Smith, professor of electrical engineering at
was not involved with the StarSolar-related work. Smith says his interference-lithography
method could be used to build templates for
Another promising technique is self-assembly, in which the chemical and physical properties of material building blocks are engineered so that they arrange themselves in orderly patterns on a surface. For example, Chekesha Liddell, professor of materials science and engineering at Cornell University, has engineered building blocks in the shape of peanuts and the caps of mushrooms that line up in rows because of the way they fit together and the tug of short-range forces between them. She says this could be useful for assembling photonic crystals for solar cells.
With such approaches available, Bermel says that StarSolar hopes to
have a prototype solar cell within a year and a pilot manufacturing
line operating in 2008.
5) Zero Point Energy: The Fuel of the Future is an Instant Classic -
Thomas Valone, Integrity Research Institute, April, 2007
Why are there no books on the market that explain the history, basic
science, recent discoveries, and the usefulness of zero point energy
for electricity and propulsive force? Especially now that we recognize
the need for a new, clean, renewable energy source, Zero Point Energy,
What is zero point energy you say? It is the lowest state of energy in the universe but still enough to keep helium a liquid, even at microdegrees of absolute zero. It also gives rise to the mysterious Casimir force, also called van der Waals forces, that keeps geckos stuck to any surface. Most importantly, it also causes nonthermal noise in lots of electronic circuits which this author claims can be rectified by special diodes that have no bias voltage to surmount. Zero point energy is also becoming the leading candidate for dark energy (see story #6 about Dr. Christian Beck).
The book is full of pictures, like all of the famous scientists responsible
for the history of zero point energy, inventions that use zero point
effects and magic tricks. It also has a good collection of reference
articles in the Appendix to prove how exciting the emerging field really
Amazon.com and other major book distributors will be listing the book
soon. In the meantime, the publisher, Integrity Research Institute,
has online ordering available. Review copies for those with organizational
affiliations are available. Email
DARK energy is so befuddling that it's causing some physicists to do their science backwards.
"Usually you propose your theory and then work out an experiment
to test it," says Christian Beck of Queen Mary, University of London.
few years ago, however, he and his colleague Michael Mackey of McGill
University in Montreal, Canada, proposed a table-top experiment to
Dark energy is the mysterious force that many physicists think is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. In 2004, Beck and Mackey claimed that the quantum fluctuations of empty space could be the source of dark energy and suggested a test for this idea. This involved measuring the varying current induced by quantum fluctuations in a device called a Josephson junction - a very thin insulator sandwiched between two superconducting layers. Beck reasoned that if quantum fluctuations and dark energy are related, the current in the Josephson junction would die off beyond a certain frequency (New Scientist, 10 July 2004, p 11). But they hadn't worked out what exactly caused the cut-off.
Now the duo say they know, and last week Beck presented the theory at a conference on unsolved problems for the standard model of cosmology held at Imperial College London. Quantum mechanics says that the vacuum of space is seething with virtual photons that are popping in and out of existence. Beck and Mackey suggest that when these virtual photons have a frequency below a certain threshold, they are able to interact gravitationally, contributing to dark energy. Their theory is inspired by superconducting materials. "Below a critical temperature, electrons in the material act in a fundamentally different way, and it starts superconducting," says Beck. "So why shouldn't virtual photons also change character below a certain frequency?"
If so, virtual photons should behave differently below a frequency of
around 2 terahertz, causing any currents in the Josephson junction to
taper off above this frequency. Physicist Paul Warburton at University
College London is building such a dark energy detector and could have
results next year. Some evidence that dark energy works like this may
already have been found. In 2006, Martin Tajmar at the Austrian
Research Centers facility in Seibersdorf and his colleagues noticed bizarre
behaviour in a spinning niobium ring. At room temperature,
niobium does not superconduct, and accelerometers around the ring measured
that it was spinning at a constant rate. But once the
"We measured an acceleration even though the ring's motion hadn't changed at all," says Clovis de Matos, who works at the European Space Agency in Paris and established the theory behind the experiment. He thinks the results could be explained if gravity got a boost inside the superconductor. "Beck and Mackey's gravitationally activated photon would have that effect," he says. The controversial experiment seemed to fall foul of Einstein's equivalence principle, which states that all objects should accelerate under gravity at the same rate. It implied that "if you have two elevators, one made of normal matter and one made of superconducting matter, and accelerate them by the same amount, objects inside will feel different accelerations", de Matos says. Astronomers may have seen a similar violation of the principle (see "Two-speed gravity").
The odd acceleration detected in the niobium ring also suggests that energy isn't conserved in the superconductor - another major violation of known physics. Dark energy could solve that problem, however. "We did the sums and found out that energy wasn't conserved, but perhaps that was just because we were missing dark energy," de Matos says.
The team studied 25 galaxies in the cluster using gravitational lensing
- the shift in the apparent position of a light source caused by gravity
bending the light. When they analysed the positions of galaxies using
conventional models, things just didn't add up. "It only makes sense
This is the first astronomical observation to suggest that Einstein's principle of equivalence is violated, says Bertolami( http://www.arxiv.org/astro-ph/0703462). "If dark energy interacts with dark matter in some way, it could be affecting its motion."
© 2004 Moveon New Zealand Limited.