Yvonne Carts-Powell

Solar without silicon

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2010 at 11:06 am


I went to the opening Of MIT’s new Solar Frontier Center, and saw a lot of different projects designed to gather solar energy. The “ooh-ah” demonstration showed organic photovoltaic cells printed on a paper substrate, as well as a lot of really expensive equipment (including a titanium sapphire laser to die for — did I mention that I’m a laser geek?). But the underlying theme of most of the research projects was articulated by the CEO of Eni (a major funder of the Center), who said his company wants to use solar energy, but that silicon photovoltaics are not efficient enough. A variety of polymers, and combinations of organic and inorganic materials, and nano engineered materials are being researched as a new basis for gathering solar energy.

This makes a lot of sense, since silicon is well developed for microelectronics, but is an energy intensive substance to use for applications that require broad areas. It is also brittle. It is also heavy. Although organic photovoltaic cells on paper may not last long, they can be made (we hope) inexpensively, without using a lot of energy, and without creating toxic trash when they are no longer useful.

Plus, I like the idea of being able to fold up a solar array, stick it in an envelope, and mail it to myself.

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