Thursday, January 13, 2005


A leap in solar technology

I first caught this story yesterday at al-Jazeera of all places, and since then only the Canadian Press and New Zealand's Stuff seem to have picked it up.

A team from the University of Toronto has announced the development of a sprayable material for solar cells that captures a broader range of the solar spectrum and is especially sensitive to infrared. While the media are focussing on such cute ideas as clothing that doubles as a power source, this is why we should all be excited—

Professor Peter Peumans of Stanford University, who has reviewed the U of T team’s research, also acknowledges the groundbreaking nature of the work. "Our calculations show that, with further improvements in efficiency, combining infrared and visible photovoltaics could allow up to 30 per cent of the sun’s radiant energy to be harnessed, compared to six per cent in today’s best plastic solar cells.”

A fivefold increase in the ability of flexible materials to capture solar energy is breathtaking. Thirty-percent efficiency is about the best that even the most outré solar technology can muster.

The fact that the cell is efficient in the infrared, which is just radiant heat, means that it can function wherever there is heat radiation. And what are our cities if not giant heat collectors that then radiate into the wee morning hours?

In fact, our own bodies are radiators, which made me the think of the movie "The Matrix." Donning our photovoltaic clothing could turn us into the batteries the movie envisioned.

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