Microwave ovens may help produce lower cost solar energy technology

Courtesy: samsungtomorrow

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The same type of microwave oven technology that most people use to heat up leftover food has found an important application in the solar energy industry, providing a new way to make thin-film photovoltaic products with less energy, expense and environmental concerns.

Engineers at Oregon State University have for the first time developed a way to use microwave heating in the synthesis of copper zinc tin sulfide, a promising solar cell compound that is less costly and toxic than some solar energy alternatives.

The findings were published in Physica Status Solidi A, a professional journal.

“All of the elements used in this new compound are benign and inexpensive, and should have good solar cell performance,” said Greg Herman, an associate professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering at OSU.

“Several companies are already moving in this direction as prices continue to rise for some alternative compounds that contain more expensive elements like indium,” he said. “With some improvements in its solar efficiency this new compound should become very commercially attractive.”

These thin-film photovoltaic technologies offer a low cost, high volume approach to manufacturing solar cells. A new approach is to create them as an ink composed of nanoparticles, which could be rolled or sprayed – by approaches such as old-fashioned inkjet printing – to create solar cells.

To further streamline that process, researchers have now succeeded in using microwave heating, instead of conventional heating, to reduce reaction times to minutes or seconds, and allow for great control over the production process. This “one-pot” synthesis is fast, cheap and uses less energy, researchers say, and has been utilized to successfully create nanoparticle inks that were used to fabricate a photovoltaic device.

“This approach should save money, work well and be easier to scale up at commercial levels, compared to traditional synthetic methods,” Herman said. “Microwave technology offers more precise control over heat and energy to achieve the desired reactions.”

Courtesy: www.eurekalert.org


Off-the-Grid Floating Cabin and a Family of Three in a 70-Sq-Ft Space

A $25,000 floating cabin and a 70-square-foot “tiny home cube” in one story can only mean one thing: it‘s Friday and it’s time for your weekly dose of “tiny houses” and/or interesting “off-the-grid” lifestyles.

This week, both are brought to you from Fair Companies, which regularly features the tiny house movement and other alternative living situations.

Let’s start with the off-the-grid, floating 620-square-foot cabin that only cost $25,000. Fair Companies reports that Margy and Wayne Lutz discovered their “dream home” while camping in British Colombia. What they found in the early 2000s was a community that floated — although permanently anchored to shore — on Powell Lake.

The Lutz’s bought their floating home in 2001 and when they retired a few years later, they moved permanently from Los Angeles. Here are a few interesting tidbits about the home, including that they pay $500 per year to lease their “water lot”:

Today, the Lutzs live completely off-the-grid. There’s no water heater (they boil it on the wood stove as a luxury) and no plumbing. They hand-pump water from the lake (for washing dishes, they remove most food first and use only biodegradable soap and the water is returned to the lake).

There’s no trash pickup. They compost nearly everything- kitchen and garden waste, ashes from the wood stove- in their hilltop heap. Even their toilet biodegrades their waste so it’s clean enough to be dumped in the forest- or an ornamental garden- every few months.

For their energy uses, the Lutzs rely on solar, wind, and thermoelectric power. They have 3 main solar panels, each one for a specific function. Two panels (200 watts & 125 watts) feed into the main cabin, charging six 6-volt batteries (wired in serial pairs to produce the requisite 12 volts they need to run most of their cabin. There’s also a 300 watt panel on top of Wayne’s floating “writer’s retreat”, a boat called Gemini (it can be switched to feed the boats’ needs or the cabins’).

Courtesy: www.theblaze.com

Self-Cleaning Solar Panels

English: Solar panels on a roof

English: Solar panels on a roof (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Physics Professor Develops Coating

Over at the University of Houston, they’re cleaning up solar panels. Physics professor Seamus Curran, who directs the University’s Institute for NanoEnergy, has created a nanoparticle coating that, when applied to solar panels, keeps them cleaner, thereby extending their efficiency and drastically cutting down on maintenance costs.

The project has successfully been tested at the Dublin Institute for Technology and will be subjected to field tests by an engineering firm in North Carolina, according to Product Design & Development (PDDnet).

C-Voltaics, a startup energy firm, has already licensed the Self-Cleaning Nano Hydrophobic (SCNH107TM) layer. The company will be in charge of marketing the coating as well as a “Storm Cell,” which is a mobile energy generator which uses engineering innovations also thought up by Professor Curran.

As you probably already know, solar panels require a clean surface in order to achieve maximum efficiency in capturing sunlight. But suspended particulate matter tends to play havoc with that. Curran’s innovation repels dust, pollen, and water and thereby maintains an “ideal hydrophobic surface” for a long time.

From PDDnet:

“A dirty solar panel can reduce its power capabilities by up to 30 percent,” Curran said. “The coating essentially makes the panel self-cleaning.”

Curran also points out that the coating can be applied to many other scenarios too, not just solar panels.

As for the Storm Cell, it is quite similar to a diesel generator and is very simply designed. There’s a small square trailer with solar panels on retractable arms and a conversion system. It can produce between 2-5 kilowatts, or enough power to run an air conditioner, some light sources, and a television.

The system is going to be developed and marketed by C-Voltaics and Livingston & Haven, the same company that oversaw a demonstration of Curran’s nano-coating recently.

This isn’t Professor Curran’s first brush with developing solar technologies. He is engaged in research on improving thin-film solar cell efficiency as well as creating plastic systems to utilize solar power.

Courtesy: www.energyandcapital.com

Solar Activated Glow in the Dark Bicycle

‘the kilo’ glow in the dark bike frame by pure fix cycles
images © pure fix cycles

After months of experimentation, american pure fix cycles have designed ‘kilo’, their very first light activated glow in the dark bicycle frame series. the collection features a highly reflective, glow-in-the-dark paint application on either the frame or wheels, for ultimate visibility during-night riding. the paint is solar-activated, so after a long day of biking during the day, the frame lights up, illuminating the streets and environment for added cyclist safety.
The tig-welded high tensile steel bike also incorporates a rear hub that gives riders the option of riding fixed gear or single speed.

Courtesy: www.designboom.com

Caltech Wins Toilet Challenge

Graduate student Clement Cid with the Caltech team’s solar-powered toilet.

Credit: Caltech/Michael Hoffmann

Caltech’s solar-powered toilet has won the Reinventing the Toilet Challenge issued by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Caltech engineer Michael Hoffmann and his colleagues were awarded $100,000 for their design, which they demonstrated at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair, a two-day event held August 14–15 in Seattle.

Last summer, Hoffmann, the James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science at Caltech, and his team were awarded a $400,000 grant to create a toilet that can safely dispose of human waste for just five cents per user per day. The lavatory can’t use a septic system or an outside water source, or produce pollutants.
Graduate student Clement Cid with the Caltech team’s solar-powered toilet.
[Credit: Caltech/Michael Hoffmann]

The challenge is part of a $40 million program initiated by the Gates Foundation to tackle the problems of water, sanitation, and hygiene throughout the developing world. According to the World Health Organization, 2.5 billion people around the globe are without access to sanitary toilets, which results in the spread of deadly diseases. Every year, 1.5 million people—mostly those under the age of five—die from diarrhea.

Hoffmann’s proposal—which won one of the eight grants given—was to build a toilet that uses the sun to power an electrochemical reactor. The reactor breaks down water and human waste into fertilizer and hydrogen, which can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells as energy. The treated water can then be reused to flush the toilet or for irrigation.
[Credit: Caltech/Michael Hoffmann]
The Caltech team in front of the toilet system, which includes a Western-style toilet, a urinal, and a squat toilet.

The team built a prototype inside the solar dome on the roof of Caltech’s Linde + Robinson Laboratory, and after a year of designing and testing, they—along with the other grantees—showed off their creation. The Gates Foundation brought in 50 gallons of fake feces made from soybeans and rice for the demonstrations.

The $60,000 second-place prize went to Loughborough University in the United Kingdom—whose toilet produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water—and the $40,000 third-place award went to the University of Toronto‘s design, which sanitizes feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water. Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and EOOS won $40,000 as a special recognition for their toilet interface design.
Courtesy: caltech.edu