Science Can Double The Solar Dividend

Science can double the solar dividendv

The sun’s light can produce far more energy with new technology. Image: Marty Finney on Unsplash

Researchers have found three new ways to double the solar dividend, making the sun work harder and deliver more to the renewable economy.

A new, translucent material made of little more than silica and air can double the solar dividend, collecting solar heat and raising temperatures to 200°C, delivering new ways to heat homes or power industrial processes.

And other researchers in the same US city believe they may be on track to deliver much more electricity from solar cells. They have found a way to make a single photon of light dislodge not one electron but two.

A third team in Saudi Arabia has now shown that their solar arrays can not only generate electric power: they can also turn sea water into fresh drinking water at the same time.

All three technologies are at the laboratory stage. All three are a long way from commercial exploitation on any scale. But all three are also demonstrations of the extraordinary ingenuity and imagination at work in the world’s laboratories as scientists look for new ways to tackle the energy challenge of a zero carbon world, and deliver more power without raising planetary temperatures to hazardous levels.

Researchers have been working on ways to turn carbon dioxide back into fuel, to warm and light homes with transparent wood, to generate power from footsteps and to harvest electrical energy from evaporation.

Solar spurt

All three of the latest twists exploit sunlight in different ways, and use new materials to step up levels of efficiency.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano that they have developed an insulating material that is 95% translucent.

An aerogel is a foam made with silica and held together not with water but with air. These remarkable fabrics have been around for decades – the US space agency Nasa has been experimenting with them – and although these improbable structures have incomparable insulating properties, they have until now had limited transparency.

The researchers have developed a version so lightweight and so clear that it is all but invisible. Light gets through and generates heat – but the heat cannot escape, and builds up in a passive solar collector system made of dark, light-absorbing material. A test device on the roof of the MIT buildings during a freezing Massachusetts winter managed to raise temperatures of 220°C.

Rulebreaker

Other scientists at the same institution report in the journal Nature that their new fully operational solar cell seems to break one of the rules of physics: until now, any conventional silicon-based solar cell has been limited by simple arithmetic. It takes one photon of light to dislodge one electron and set up a current.

Because of this, the maximum theoretical efficiency of a solar cell is 29.1%. But a specialist team at MIT have been experimenting with a new class of materials called excitons, fabrics that exist in an excited state, and permit packets of energy to propagate, combine or divide.

And in the latest experiments, the exitonic material coating, only 10 billionths of a metre in thickness, of a silicon cell absorbs a photon of light, to form an exciton which then divides into two more.

The research breakthrough sounds simple, but has kept the MIT scientists busy for years before they found a way to transfer the extra energy into the silicon solar cell, and set two electrons in movement from one packet of sunlight.

“This strategy … has the potential to transform an electricity-generating plant from otherwise a water consumer to a fresh water producer”

So, in theory, the new turbocharged surface could take the maximum efficiency of a solar cell to beyond 35%. In practice, commercial application could be years away.

But a team from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia has coupled photovoltaic cells with advanced membrane technology to solve two problems at once.

Power generation is a water-greedy process: in Europe and the US half of all water use is in the service of energy production. Desalination – the act of distilling fresh water from brine – is a power-hungry operation. In Arab nations, more than 15% of total national electricity is consumed by the fresh water industry.

The Saudi-based team report in Nature Communications that they have managed to combine two solar-driven technologies in one operation.

Exploiting the heat

They designed a three-stage membrane distillation unit mounted on the back of a photovoltaic panel so that the heat normally dissipated by the panel is used to evaporate water. The device has all the efficiency of a commercial solar cell, but makes clean water at a higher rate than most existing devices. The trick is to exploit the heat normally wasted in photovoltaic power generation to drive an energy-demanding way of boosting fresh water supply.

By 2025, the researchers say, the world will be generating 969 Gigawatts from photovoltaic cells spread across 4 billion square metres of land. They assume there will be 200 days each year with suitable levels of sunlight. They make what they call a conservative assumption that their new arrays could deliver fresh water from brackish, waste or sea water at the rate of 5 kilograms per square metre per day.

In places where water supplies are not a problem, the surplus water could be used to wash dust from the solar arrays, or irrigate crops. Were all of these solar arrays fitted with the new membrane backing, they could also produce 4 billion cubic metres of fresh water a day. That is 10% of the total drinking water swallowed in 2017.

This strategy, say the scientists, has the potential “to transform an electricity-generating plant from otherwise a water consumer to a fresh water producer.” Climate News Network

About the Author

Tim Radford, freelance journalistTim Radford is a freelance journalist. He worked for The Guardian for 32 years, becoming (among other things) letters editor, arts editor, literary editor and science editor. He won the Association of British Science Writers award for science writer of the year four times. He served on the UK committee for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. He has lectured about science and the media in dozens of British and foreign cities. 

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolutionBook by this Author:

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolution
by Tim Radford.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon. (Kindle book)

This Article Originally Appeared On Climate News Network

Related Books

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
9780143130444In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy

by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
1610919564With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

by Naomi Klein
1451697392In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

LATEST VIDEOS

Emergency Medicine For Our Climate Fever
by Kelly Wanser
As we recklessly warm the planet by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, some industrial emissions also…
What Extinction Rebellion climate activists are demanding from governments
by Democracy Now!
More than 700 climate activists were arrested in 60 cities worldwide in a global effort aimed at urging governments to…
Can Nature Repair The Planet From Climate Change?
by The Economist
A closer look at one of the most familiar responses offered to the climate crisis.
How Climate Change Is Threatening Homes In Mumbai
by South China Morning Post
Lowland cities and islands such as the Indian city of Mumbai may face increasingly frequent floods and storms
This is Not A Drill: 700+ Arrested as Extinction Rebellion Fights Climate Crisis With Direct Action
by Democracy Now!
More than 700 people have been arrested in civil disobedience actions as the group Extinction Rebellion kicked off two…
Europe's Most Iconic Mountain Is A Climate Change Warning
by ABC News
ABC News' James Longman reports from Mont Blanc, where a glacier on the Italian side of the mountain is breaking apart…
Something Drastic Has To Happen - Roger Hallam
by Extinction Rebellion
Roger Hallam talks with Stephen Sackur from BBC HardTalk about the need to ACT NOW.
Three Steps to Cut Your Carbon Footprint 60% Today
by TEDx Talks
Not all carbon is created equal. Writer Jackson Carpenter argues that the power to stop climate change rests on…

LATEST ARTICLES

Extreme Heatwaves Pose Spreading Threat
Extreme Heatwaves Pose Spreading Threat
by Tim Radford
Rising temperatures mean that heatwaves will become hotter, more frequent, last longer and will cover much wider areas.
Design For Flooding: How Cities Can Make Room For Water
Design For Flooding: How Cities Can Make Room For Water
by Elisa Palazzo
Science is clearly showing that the world is shifting towards a more unstable climate. Weather events like the flash…
How Unions Can Play A Leading Role In Tackling The Climate Crisis
How Unions Can Play A Leading Role In Tackling The Climate Crisis
by Matt Perry
How did a billionaire win over coal miners in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to become president? Three words: “Trump…
Rice Growing Produces Tonnes Of Excess Straw – Can We Turn It Into Bioenergy?
Rice Growing Produces Tonnes Of Excess Straw – Can We Turn It Into Bioenergy?
by Mirjam Roeder
For every tonne of rice produced, about a tonne of straw is grown. Given 770m tonnes of rice are produced each year,…
How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?
How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?
by Mark New
As someone who has been working on climate change detection and its causes for over 20 years I was both surprised and…
How The U.s. Power Grid Is Evolving To Handle Solar And Wind
How The U.s. Power Grid Is Evolving To Handle Solar And Wind
by Nate Berg
As renewable energy sources move mainstream, electricity generation and distribution systems are getting an extreme…
Emergency Medicine For Our Climate Fever
by Kelly Wanser
As we recklessly warm the planet by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, some industrial emissions also…
Mr. Delay, Mr. Deny And Canada's Precarious Climate Change Future
Mr. Delay, Mr. Deny And Canada's Precarious Climate Change Future
by Mark Winfield
During the recent federal leaders’ debate, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer only distinguished himself on climate…