Recent research round-up

Photo Credit tk-link

There have been several big announcements on research into Green and renewable energy technologies recently.

MIT announced that they had announced a way to split water into H2 and O2 at room temp and pressure using simple, easy to produce and dispose of catalysts. The thinking on this being that if you have a photovoltaic array on your roof during the day, you can use excess electricity generated to create hydrogen and water. These can be combined subsequently in a fuel cell to create carbon-free electricity (when the sun goes down, for example). This has the potential (no pun) to make the generation of solar energy far more efficient, it is claimed.

Then Technology Review reports on a recent paper in Science from Jacobo Santamaria, of the applied-physics department at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, in Spain, and his colleagues which could help make solid-oxide fuel cells more practical. Previously these fuel-cells required a lot of heat but this new super-lattice material ‘improves ionic conductivity near room temperature by a factor of almost 100 million!

Then the University of Virginia released news of a breakthrough in solar cell design which should lead to increases in photovoltaic array efficiency. From their report:

Solar cells of the future may look totally black to the human eye because they absorb light so efficiently.

While current solar cells reflect about 30 percent of the light energy that reaches their surface, the U.Va. team will use lasers to create tiny nanoscale surface textures that reduce that energy loss to less than 1 percent, over the entire solar spectrum and irrespective of the angle at which sunlight strikes the cell.

While increasing the ultimate efficiency of solar cells, this laser texturing process could also drive down manufacturing costs. Because lasers are already used in the manufacturing of solar cells, the texturing process can be automated, eliminating the need for dangerous chemical treatments currently used to reduce reflectance….

The 30 percent gain in light absorption from the nanospike surface may enable the creation of solar cells that are ultimately 2 percent to 3 percent more efficient than current technology

It is fantastic to see such innovative work taking place in the area of Green and renewable energies. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the current wave of announcements is being helped enormously by the increase in the price of oil.

If the price of oil were to drop below $100 per barrel, the vast majority of these projects and startup companies in the renewables area would bery quickly find their funding drying up. I have said it before, the sooner oil reaches $200 per barrel, the better.