A ‘clear path’ to solar power

A 'clear path' to solar power

Modern society is very much defined by its access to electricity. What if researchers could advance sustainable energy technologies to the point where everyone around the world had access to clean, cheap energy sources? Richard Smalley, 1996 Nobel Prize winning chemist, called it the greatest challenge facing the world in the 21st century and coined the phrase ‘terawatt challenge.’ Researchers at the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) Center, headquartered at Arizona State University, are hoping to meet much of the terawatt challenge with solar technology alone by vastly improving the performance of photovoltaic cells. And they’re looking to make solar cells cheaper and cheaper. QESST is an engineering research center supported by NSF and the Department of Energy. Credit: Science Nation, National Science Foundation

Solar cells integrated into new construction, particularly skyscrapers, are an enticing energy option. However, this effort can be hampered by the cost and architectural considerations sometimes needed to mount traditional photovoltaic (PV) cells.

What if engineers could make it easier with a lightweight, clear and flexible solar cell? Traditional solar panels, such as silicon, soak up much of the sun’s light, including , and convert it to energy. A transparent panel allows visible light to shine through, by making the light we can’t see with our eyes—such as ultraviolet and infrared—do the work.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Michigan State University materials scientist and chemical engineer Richard Lunt and his team are developing transparent solar panels that could be retrofit to cover existing windows instead of replacing them. With the square footage of glass that’s on skyscrapers and other buildings, the tremendous potential for energy and is clear!

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Credit: National Science Foundation

A 'clear path' to solar power

More energy from our sun hits the Earth in one hour than is consumed on the planet in a whole year! But, the burning question is–how can we put all that sunshine to work making usable fuel? California Institute of Technology (Caltech) chemical engineer Sossina Haile and University of Minnesota mechanical engineer Jane Davidson are working to expand the nation’s renewable energy storage capacity. Their mission is to put the heat of the sun to work creating renewable fuels from sources that don’t need to be drilled out of the ground. They’re collecting enough sunlight to create high temperatures and then use that to drive chemical reactions, breaking apart the water molecule or the carbon dioxide molecule to make a fuel like hydrogen. They call it sun-gas. Credit: Science Nation, National Science Foundation

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