With our planet in a desperate need of new eco-friendly energygenerating systems, researchers over the globe have been working hard to develop systems that can power the world of the future in a sustainable fashion. The year 2010 saw some great breakthroughs in the field ofrenewable energy technology, which when fully developed, could helpcreate a better world. Here we have compiled a list of 10 suchbreakthroughs that are bound to have a significant impact in the future.
• IBM’s solar cell created from “earth abundant” materials
Researchers at IBM created an inexpensive solar cell from materials that are dirt cheap and easily available. The layer that absorbs sunlight and converts it intoelectricity is made with copper, tin, zinc, sulfur and selenium. Thebest part of the solar cell is that it still manages to hit anefficiency of 9.6 percent, which is much higher than earlier attempts to make solar panels using similar materials.
• MIT’s Concentrated Solar Funnel
A group of researchers at MIT devised a way to collect solar energy 100 times more concentrated than atraditional photovoltaic cell. The system could drastically alter howsolar energy is collected in the near future as there will no longer be a need to build massive solar arrays to generate large amounts of power.The research work conducted has determined that carbon nanotubes will be the primary instrument used in capturing and focusing light energy,allowing for not just smaller, but more powerful solar arrays.
• Wake Forest University’s Light Pipes
Researchers at the Wake Forest University in North Carolina made a breakthrough by developing organic solar cells with a layer of optical fiberbristles that doubles the performance of the cells in tests. Theprototype solar cell has been developed by David Carroll, who is thechief scientist at a spin-off company called FiberCell. The problem with standard flat panels is that some sunlight is lost through reflection.To reduce this effect, the research team took a dramatic approach bystamping optical fibers onto a polymer substrate that forms thefoundation of the cell. These fibers, dubbed the “Light Pipes,” aresurrounded by thin organic solar cells applied using a dip-coatingprocess, and a light absorbing dye or polymer is also sprayed onto thesurface. Light can enter the tip of a fiber at any angle. Photons thenbounce around inside the fiber until they are absorbed by thesurrounding organic cell.
• Louisiana Tech University’s CNF-PZT Cantilever
Created by a research team at Louisiana Tech University, the CNF-PZT Cantilever is abreakthrough energy harvesting device, which utilizes waste heat energyfrom electronic gadgets to power them. The device features the use of acarbon nanotube on a cantilever base of piezoelectric materials. Thecarbon nanotube film absorbs heat and forces the piezoelectriccantilever to bend, which then generates an electric current in thematerial. The device is so small that thousands of small CNF-PZTCantilever devices can be designed into devices, allowing them toharvest their own wasted energy.
• New Energy Technologies’ see-through glass SolarWindow
New Energy Technologies developed a working prototype of the world’s first glass window capable ofgenerating electricity. Until now, solar panels have remained opaque,with the prospect of creating a see-through glass window capable ofgenerating electricity limited by the use of metals and other expensiveprocesses, which block visibility and prevent light from passing through glass surfaces. The technology has been made possible by making use ofthe world’s smallest working organic solar cells, developed by Dr.Xiaomei Jiang at the University of South Florida. Unlike conventionalsolar systems, New Energy’s solar cells generate electricity from bothnatural and artificial light sources, outperforming today’s commercialsolar and thin-film technologies by as much as 10-fold.
• Purdue University’s system to harvest heat from car’s exhaust
Researchers at Purdue University created a system that harvests heat from a car’s exhaust in order to generateelectricity and reduce the vehicle’s fuel consumption. The systemconverts waste heat into electricity, which is then fed into thevehicle’s onboard batteries to reduce engine load and fuel consumption.
• Innowattech’s Piezoelectric IPEG PAD
Innowattech recently created piezoelectric generators that can be used as normalrail pads, but generate renewable energy whenever trains pass on them.The company tested the technology by replacing 32 railway pads with newIPEG PADs, where the pads were able to generate enough renewableelectricity to determine the number of wheels, weight of each wheel andthe wheel’s position. In addition the speed of the train and wheeldiameter could also be calculated. The company states that areas ofrailway track that get between 10 and 20 ten-car trains an hour can beused to produce up to 120KWh of renewable electricity per hour, whichcan be used by the railways or transferred to the grid.
• Sony’s Flower Power
Sony recently demonstrated new DSSC’s for energy generating windows, which help beautify your home as well. The beautifully designed solar panels make use of screenprinting to generate custom designs according to the consumer’spreferences. The panels can be developed in any color that the userspecifies.
• Plant mimicking machine produces fuels using solar energy
A team of researchers in the US and Switzerland have created a machine that like plants uses solar energy to produce fuels, which can later be used in different ways. The machine makes use of the sun’s rays and ametal oxide called ceria to break down carbon dioxide or water in fuelsthat can be stored and transported. Unlike solar panels, which work only during the day, this new machine is designed to store energy for lateruse.
• CSIRO’s Brayton Cycle Project
Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, developed a technology that requires only sunlight and air to generateelectricity. The system is ideal for areas that face acute watershortages. The solar Brayton Cycle project replaces use of concentratedsun rays to heat water into high-pressure steam to drive a turbine withsolar energy to create a solar thermal field. The technology focuses the sun’s rays projected onto a field of mirrors knows as heliostats onto a 30-meter (98 ft) high solar tower to heat compressed air, whichsubsequently expands to through a 200kW turbine to generate electricity.