Graphene Layer Lets Solar Panels Generate Energy From Raindrops


Researchers in China have developed Graphene solar panels that can generate energy from raindrops. The solar panels with a respectable 6.53 percent solar-to-electric conversion efficiency allows generation of power during periods of clouds and rain.

The team of researchers from the Ocean University of China in Qingdao and Yunnan Normal University in Kunming have devised the method using a highly efficient dye-sensitized solar cell, coated with a thin film of graphene, on a transparent backing of indium tin oxide and plastic.

The technology works on the fact that rainwater isn’t pure: the droplets contain positively-charged salt ions of sodium, calcium and ammonia. When raindrops sits on top of a layer of graphene, it creates a ‘pseudocapacitor’, and the potential energy difference between the two layers is strong enough to generate an electric current.

Graphene, known as wonder material is extracted from graphite, the material used in pencils. Back in 2013, one micrometer-sized flake of graphene costed more than $1,000, which made graphene one of the most expensive materials on Earth. However, prices are now down approximately $0.10 per gram.

However, the new ‘all-weather’ solar cell is still on a proof-of-concept stage. The primary challenge for the researchers is the relatively low concentrations of salt ions in rainwater compared to the salt solutions prepared in the lab, making it difficult for the panel to produce large quantities of electricity.

These newly designed solar panels could provide a boost to solar cell technology which currently only works when there is ample sunlight. In regions where climate is dominated by clouds and rain, an all-weather solar panel could provide a clean form of energy that is not possible with existing technology.



Scientists Use Solar Power to Produce Hydrogen from Biomass

By: Anmar Frangoul

RapidEye | iStock | Getty Images

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have developed a technique that uses solar power to produce clean hydrogen from biomass.

In a news release on Tuesday the university said that up until now lignocellulose – the main component of plant biomass – had only been converted into hydrogen via a gasification process that uses high temperatures to “decompose it fully.”

The university said that the new technique involved the addition of catalytic nanoparticles to alkaline water containing biomass.

The solution is put in front of a lab based light mimicking solar light, and was described as being “ideal” for absorbing the light and turning the biomass into gaseous hydrogen.

“There’s a lot of chemical energy stored in raw biomass, but it’s unrefined, so you can’t expect it to work in complicated machinery, such as a car engine,” David Wakerley, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, said in a statement.

“Our system is able to convert the long, messy structures that make up biomass into hydrogen gas, which is much more useful,” Wakerley added.

“We have specifically designed a combination of catalyst and solution that allows this transformation to occur using sunlight as a source of energy. With this in place we can simply add organic matter to the system and then, provided it’s a sunny day, produce hydrogen fuel.”

Different types of biomass, including wood and leaves, were used, and did not need to be processed prior to the experiments, the university said.

“Our sunlight-powered technology is exciting as it enables the production of clean hydrogen from unprocessed biomass under ambient conditions,” Erwin Reisner, head of the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Sustainable SynGas Chemistry, where the technology was developed, said.

“We see it as a new and viable alternative to high temperature gasification and other renewable means of hydrogen production,” Reisner added, before going on to say that a range of potential commercial options were being explored.



Solar for Farms on the Horizon

By: James Risdon

Capitalizing on low cost, rebate programs, company hopeful for panels to catch on

The cost of solar panels has fallen by roughly 70 per cent in the past five years. (123RF)

Big solar-power systems for farms could be a reality in Nova Scotia as early as next year, says a spokeswoman for a Kentville-based company.

“They would be anywhere from 50-100 kilowatts . . . for large farms,” said Amanda Brulé, the marketing director for Nova Solar Capital, in an interview.

“We’d be looking at that later this year or early next year.”

With the cost of solar panels falling by roughly 70 per cent in the past five years, Nova Solar Capital is hoping to seduce Bluenosers with the promise of cheap, environmentally-friendly energy.

Its main tool for offering that cheap solar energy is a Community Economic Development Investment Fund that allows homeowners to use tax credits and energy savings to pay off their solar energy systems.

Here’s how it works.

A nine-kilowatt system used to heat a standard home, and ordered and installed through Nova Solar Capital, would cost about $33,000, including the 3.5-per-cent financing costs over 11 years.

Under the Nova Solar Capital’s current CEDIF offering, homeowners can invest in this investment vehicle, typically by moving a portion of their registered retirement savings portfolio over to the CEDIF, and get tax credits.

With a recommended investment of $30,000 in that CEDIF, staggered tax credits over a 10-year period would add up to $19,500 going back to the investor.

That means that if a homeowner with a sufficiently-large income invests $30,000 into the Nova Solar Capital CEDIF and has a standard home solar system installed by the company, it could wind up costing only $10,500, explained Brulé.

And energy savings from the solar system during the term of the lease would more than make up the remaining costs, resulting in a system that would pay for itself, claims Nova Solar Capital.

“You’ll start saving after about nine years because of the energy rates,” said Brulé.

With these solar energy systems guaranteed to last about another 15 years beyond that break-even point, Nova Solar Capital is essentially selling Nova Scotians on the promise of more than a decade of free energy while hanging onto their retirement savings in the CEDIF — all while collecting dividends.

The brainchild of Dr. Andrew Bagley, the company has until May 8 to raise a minimum of $1.4 million to make a go of its CEDIF. Failing that, Nova Solar Capital would have to return all funds to any investors.

“We need 45 people to go with us,” said Dr. Bagley in an interview.

So far, 180 people have expressed interest in Nova Solar Capital’s offering.

These are prospects.

Neither Dr. Bagley nor Brulé would divulge earlier this week how many people have so far actually invested in the Nova Solar Capital CEDIF.

“We’re very happy with our progress,” said Brulé.

“We’ve got a number of investors who have put their money forward.”

The company’s hopes of offering much bigger solar-energy systems to the agricultural sector in Nova Scotia are contingent on the CEDIF being able to close this first offering.



SolSol’s Baseball Hat can Charge Your Phone Using Solar Power

And dad caps are coming soon.

By: Edgar Alvarez

Solar technology is still far from becoming ordinary, but we’re seeing more and more of it make its way to consumer products. And now that includes hats. SolSol, a startup from Los Angeles, made a baseball cap that has a small solar panel built into its brim. You can use it to charge your smartphone, tablet or any other device that needs to be plugged in via USB. It looks kind of odd to have a cable hanging down from your head, but the hat could come in handy if your gadget’s battery is running low and there are no other outlets nearby.

I tried it on at SXSW and it felt like any other baseball cap I own, although the brim did feel a bit on the heavy side due to the embedded solar panels. SolSol says it’s tech, which is patented, can charge a device at about 200mAh per hour. The company is already working on improving that rate, along with making more types of hats, including those dad caps everyone in Hollywood loves so much. SolSol’s baseball cap is up for grabs now for $56, in case you’re interested in rocking one the next time you hit the streets.



New Research Could Turn Water Into the Fuel of Tomorrow

By: Dom Galeon


Over the past decades, fossil fuels have become the backbone of the world’s industries. They have also been the number one cause of man-made climate change. Fortunately, things are beginning to change, as fossil fuels are on the decline thanks to the rise of renewable energy sources.

An alternative energy source with great potential is solar power. One variant of solar energy is solar fuel, which is produced by using sunlight to convert water or carbon dioxide into combustible chemicals. Because of the relative abundance of solar fuel components, it’s considered a desirable goal for clean-energy research. However, these reactions, such as producing hydrogen by splitting water, aren’t possible by using just sunlight. Materials to efficiently facilitate the process are necessary.

Scientists have been working on creating practical solar fuels by developing low-cost and efficient materials to serve as photoanodes. Photoanodes are similar to the anodes in a battery and activate the production of solar fuel by aiding the flow of Electrons during the process. Scientists from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have successfully doubled the number of potential photoanodes in just two years.

Now, researchers led by Caltech’s John Gregoire and Berkeley Lab’s Jeffrey Neaton have developed a new, faster method to identify new materials to use as photoanodes, and they’ve found 12 promising candidates. They published their research in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Neaton, director for the Molecular Foundry at Berkeley Lab, said that the study advanced this field of research by not only providing an improved method to look for photoanodes, but also by giving researchers insight into the new photoanodes.

“What is particularly significant about this study, which combines experiment and theory, is that in addition to identifying several new compounds for solar fuel applications, we were also able to learn something new about the underlying electronic structure of the materials themselves,” Neaton said in a Caltech press release.

To discover these new photoanodes, the team combined computational and experimental approaches. A Materials Project database was mined for potentially useful compounds. Hundreds of theoretical calculations were performed using computational resources at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), together with software and expertise from the Molecular Foundry. Once the best candidates for photoanode activity were identified, it was time to test those materials in the laboratory.

Image credit: Caltech

The materials were simultaneously tested for anode activity under different conditions using high-throughput experimentation. This was the first time these kinds of experiments had been run this way, according to Gregoire.

“The key advance made by the team was to combine the best capabilities enabled by theory and supercomputers with novel high throughput experiments to generate scientific knowledge at an unprecedented rate,” Gregoire said in the press release.

They found that compounds with vanadium, oxygen, and a third element had highly tunable electronic structure that made them uniquely favorable for water oxidation.

“Importantly, we were able to explain the origin of their tunability, and identify several promising vanadate photoanode compounds,” Neaton said in the press release.

This research has provided us with more ways to make use of water — one of the world’s most abundant resource — as an energy source. As advancements like this allow us to develop renewable energy cheaply and more efficiently, governments, investors, and individuals alike will have more reasons to leave fossil fuels in the past.