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back to article US lab births flexy, stingy solar cells

A team of US research scientists have made a startling breakthrough in solar-cell development, creating flexible wire-based cell substrates that use just one per cent of the silicon needed for brittle and comparatively heavy conventional cells. Solar cells made from this material would not only be less expensive than current …

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Paris Hilton

Darwin to Adelaide Solar Car Race Event 2011

Would make for an interesting ultra light weight exterior construction material for the annual Darwin to Adelaide Solar Car Race in 2011 and an excellent competition advantage at the same time .

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Coat

Missing a trick...

Wonder if it's lightweight enough to make a sail with? =)

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Go

Finally

Finally, a material suitable to use as a paint replacement for the complete car bodywork. The way it is going we may actually have usable mass market electric vehicles in 10 years or so.

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@Finally

Er, not really. At 60 deg north we'll be charitable and say the incident solar radiation gives you 400W/m2. Ill charitably say your car might have 6 m2 of your new paint, so youll get 2.4 KW of useable power in ideal conditions with 100% efficiency.

Even a 1.3 suzuki swift turfs out 68KW, and youre going to need a lot more than that if you want to store some in batteries for driving at night, or in a tunnel.

Im afraid you wont ever really see a useable solar powered vehicle anywhere out side of the large deserts, and the ones there wont be v ery good.

With the quoted efficiency, your 6m2 car will currently have about 400W available power on a very sunny day in July in scotland. This might power a half decent stereo.

Im not a naysayer petrolhead, Im just pointing out that the sun doesnt burn bright enough.

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Coat

Excuse me?

"Very sunny day... in scotland"?

Why yes, that is my coat, the big warm down jacket, thanks...

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Futureshock is coming

Well, you can have a solar powered vehicle, you'll just have to settle for much lower speeds. Pedalling it will help too. My electric bike has a 250W motor in the wheel, so 2.4kW would be plenty. The notion that we all need to charge round in a ton of steel at 70mph really is quite absurd. The human race is about to get bitchslapped by reality very soon in the shape of peak oil.

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Bronze badge
Go

Power Management

You may need 70kW peak power, but your car spends most of its time stuck in traffic jams and idling. I'm sure 2.4kW in continually to a battery pack will give you a reasonable commuter car. If you can avoid the traffic wardens and leave it in a sunny car park, you'll have enough charge to get you home.

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Stop

Car parks

So now we will get charged extra to park on the top floor of multi-storey car parks?

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Happy

Futureshock is going, going, gone!

The notion that we all need to charge round in a ton of steel at 70mph really is quite absurd

That's not the point mate. We don't NEED to charge about in a tone of steel at 70mph

We WANT to charge about in a ton of steel at 70mph. Preferably with a fit girlfriend at our side :)

/coat

Mines the one with the "Hummer" keys in the pocket

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: Futureshock is going, going, gone!

Berk.

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FAIL

Re: Futureshock is going, going, gone!

.... Him or me?

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Him or me?

Well, put it this way, whose post did she reply to?

Somehow I don't think Sarah is asking for a ride in your hummer anytime soon.

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Silver badge

10 year syndrome

In the late 70's when silicon was new and expensive, and electricity hand crafted by miners but still very cheap a solar panel (or windmill) took 10 years to pay for itself. You could by 4000 transistors for $100!

Now I can get 20,000,000,000 transistors for $100 (from pc world!), silicon is still made from sand and cheap as chips, and a electricity is so expensive the miners (if they were still here) could be carried to work by bankers and still make it cheaper, I find that a solar panel (or windmill) will take 10 years to pay for itself.

Every step forwards for green technology is nullified by business interests.

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Stop

Cost of silicon

The cost of silicon, particularly semiconductor silicon has nothing to do with the cost of sand. The cost is almost completely processing (the same way you can't buy a car for the same cost of iron oxide dug out of the ground!)

The cost of transistors has gone down mainly because they are made more efficiently now and tend to use a hell of a lot less processed semiconductor grade silicon per transistor (think 16 square microns in 1975 for 4000 series CMOS to 0.001024 square microns today). If you wanted, you could buy a solar panel using 15625 times less area now for a lot less money, but you won't get much out of it :)

The fact that the cost of electricity has gone up in the last 30 years, is also reflected in the cost of the processed semiconductor grade silicon. The cost of solar power will not reduce significantly until it doesn't require huge quantities of specially processed silicon.

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Silver badge

aye

but money has to come from somewhere. Im sure you dont want to research for 10 years gratis, then mine refine and manufacture for gratis.

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Thumb Up

Sanyo did 23% on single crystal silicon in 2008

However no idea if they got to production and if so what prices.

Mfg of single crystal silicon has *always* been the long pole in the tent. It's *highly* energy intensive and requires *tight* (but in fact not as tight) controll of impuriites. Up till quite recently most of this was the leftovers from the chip industry.

Thumbs up *if* this is cost competitve with thin film types.

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Still waiting

When you can make steel with it, green power will sweep the world.

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Smelting

I see smelting as something that very well could take advantage of "green" power. Unlike just about everything else that is a power hog, smelting doesn't require that power to be stable. It merely requires that power to be cheap. (You don't have to smelt all day. If there is a tonne of cheap wind or solar available for 8 hours a day, you smelt then, and power down when the expensive base load is all that's available.)

You could run smelters on the "excess power" generated by wind/solar/tidal, leaving the base load power for the things that need it. It might be one of the only ways to ever use intermittent power sources like wind/solar/tidal. (Tidal might be ideal for smelting, because while it may be intermittent, at least it’s predictable.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Smelting

I think that you'll find 700MW Manapouri hydro power station in the south Island of New Zealand already supplies the bulk of power to the Bluff Aluminium Smelter. It takes advantage of cheap power from Meridian and if the smelter was shut down, you could close one of the thermal NZ power stations. Nice offshore Industry vs energy production vs jobs debate to be had by someone

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@ AC 23:16

I see hydro as good base load power. In my happy world, I'd have smelters and the like run from massive wind/solar farms, and impinging on good base load as little as humanly possible.

As you say: there’s a big debate to be had as regards offshore industry vs energy production vs jobs to be had here. What use is renewable power if it is so thready that you absolutely rely on fossil (or massive amounts of territory-destroying hydro) to smooth out the grid? IMHO, not bloody much. If, however, you can tie specific industries (such as smelters) to the thready renewables plants as “smart grid clients,” (or whatever the modern buzzwords for that idea are,) then renewables are useful everywhere you have such industry.

Don’t have much industry to speak of? Massive wind/solar farms may be a pretty bad idea then. Power generation technologies should be tied as realistically as possible to the types of power consumers that exist on that grid. I constantly read about the UK’s absolute dearth of industry, yet apparently there are huge programs underway to build stupendous wind farms. I have to ask what possible use these wind farms could be, since without industries like smelters that can make use of thready power, you’re going to end up with a lot of very expensive fast-reaction fossil plants to smooth the power out. (The UK simply doesn’t have the necessary free territory to use hydro as the fast-reaction generation.)

There are other examples of what I consider some pretty loopy generation decisions, but it really boils down to “I don’t think someone sat down and thought this all out.” Everything I read in the media, or from government press releases rely on technologies that either don’t exist, (clean coal, high-efficiency photovoltaics, fusion, etc.) or aren’t even close to ubiquitous enough, (consumer smart-grid devices, batteries in electric cars to smooth the grid, etc.)

The debate that needs occur read more like “the kind of society we are aiming for via our economic and tax policies will have a direct impact on the kind of energy production we require, as well as the jobs available. This will inform our educational requirements as well as the kinds of heath care issues we will face, longevity, useful working age of the population, etc.” It’s not just industry, energy and jobs...it is accepting that what modern governments do is tantamount to complete economic and social engineering...and as such the “big picture” needs to be carefully considered. Everything affects everything else... no society can make informed decisions about even the “simple things” like power generation without considering how it fits into the “bigger scheme of things.”

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No, the solar car is no good

You need to plug it into the solar house. Or the solar car park (I assume you can lay this stuff on tarmac). Or get the solar tennis court out of the boot and roll it out next to the car.

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deja vu

Haven't we seen this before? Seems like a very similar concept to sliver cells:

http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Sliver_Solar_Cells

Last I heard they were still trying to work out how to mass produce them cheaply enough.

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Happy

I'd be careful with smelting.

AFAIK smelters, like casting furnaces, are best run 24/7 inside a *thick* layer of thermal insulation. They handle the thermal stress of warming up/colling down *very* badly. if you were looking at smaller charges (vacuum melting arc furnaces) that might be a better fit. The thing you *cannot* have at all is having the power pulled half way through a melt cycle. OTOH were you to have enough storage to finish a cycle before shut down that might be a different story.

BTW Silicon is *not* like most metals. Like water it *expands* on cooling, making casting it a real pig as unless the mould is *very* strong it will crack. Molten Silicon is also highly reactive and capable of dissolving the surface of most materials, nicely contaminating the carefully added (0.1% levels) dopants to get the required conductivity. And of course forget any such casting being single crystal as all those walls will act as crystal growth sites.

I do think there should be *some* applications for intermittently generated green "process" electricity. but I'dm not sure which ones.

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@John Smith 19

Hey John, I stand corrected. I honestly don't have much idea (beyond the basic physics of the work) how modern smelters are run. I picked them because they eat ridiculous amounts of power. The other two examples on the edge of my brain are hydrogen cracking and desalinisation.

The vision I have in my head for smelters runs something like this:

When power is about to become available, (win picks up, daybreak, etc.) the various bits of "smart grid" tech talk to each other, and the plant warms up. Similarly, there is usually some warning before major disturbances in power availability with renewable, (dusk, approaching calm, etc.) allowing the smelter to finish it's melt and not start a new one. Renewables are not so erratic that there isn’t at least a few minutes warning ahead of power availability changes: our existing grids would implode were this the case.

The smelters could run on base load if absolutely necessary, (say to finish a melt, or to keep the various bits at minimum temperature when no "cheap power" is available.) The idea though is that all the real heavy lifting be provided by renewables.

Ideally your smelter could run multiple "plants" as part of the same operation, only spinning them all up if enough cheap/renewable power is available.

If smelters aren’t the best example of this kind of power utilization, then I apologise to you, and all commenttards. I admit to a lack of understanding about smelting specifically, but hope there are some of those major power-gobbling industries out there that can be shoe-horned into this utilization scenario. If there aren’t, then given the huge push by various governments for wind power, we’re pretty boned.

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Is solar concentrated heat any good for smelting?

You know, where you use lots of big mirrors to concentrate sunlight on a target. Which gets hot, fast.

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