DSC recipe brings good news to solar cell economics

Nov 06, 2011 by Nancy Owano weblog
solar cell

A discovery in how to make solar cells cheap enough to boost the use of solar energy looks promising according to experts. The design represents an inexpensive process making use of an organic, printed dye to absorb sunlight. The study, reported in Science magazine, is seen as a welcome step forward in the search for cheaper, efficient, solutions for solar energy.

Electrochemist Michael Graetzel at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, who back in 1991 had devised a dye-sensitized solar cell (DSC),and his team are credited with sidestepping a roadblock that prevented DSCs from becoming commercially viable.

Researchers and manufacturers were using the rare and expensive metal (ru)in the dyes and could get only low voltages in the cells Graetzel invented back in 1991. Between both issues of lower cell efficiency and higher costs of ruthenium, there was work to be done. Now Graetzel and his colleagues believe they have found sound alternatives to the expensive dyes and mediators limiting voltage.

They chose a zinc-bearing compound similar to chlorophyll to build a newer type of solar cell. For dyes, they use molecules consisting of a group that loses electrons, a group that accepts them, and a unit that has a light-absorbing group similar to that in chlorophyll. DSCs in their current design enable an efficiency of 12.3 percent. They hope to achieve efficiencies of 15 percent. That would render a more realistic alternative to semiconductor-based photovoltaics.

Graetzel says he is working on these and other improvements. He is adapting the dyes to capture more of the red component of sunlight, and testing new cobalt mediators to boost the voltage.

Meanwhile, according to a report in Scientific American, scientific interest continues in the potential of inexpensive thin-film photovoltaic cells made from organic plastics, as a way to boost the production of .

Organic photovoltaics do not require any liquids and they can be made using existing machines. Engineers Vasilis Fthenakis and Annick Anctil of the Brookhaven National Laboratory commented on this approach in an e-mail to the magazine.

A separate report late last month said Belgian research institute Imec will lead a consortium of 17 organizations and companies to develop a commercially-viable organic photovoltaic technology. TheX10D project is funded by the European Commission(EC). The project carries the twin purpose of achieving efficiency of organic while keeping down manufacturing costs.

“By applying new designs and architectures, materials and manufacturing technologies, the X10D project aims at increasing the power conversion efficiency to achieve at least a 12% on cell level (1cm²), and 9% on module level (100 cm²),” according to Imec.

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Isaacsname
5 / 5 (3) Nov 06, 2011
I've been waiting for something like this to show up for a while. I would wager $$ on paints/coatings with DSC's being available in the next 5-10 years. I think eventually we'll figure out how to " coat " buildings, cars, people, roads, etc.

Burnerjack
5 / 5 (1) Nov 06, 2011
While this is GREAT news in general, it poses serious questions whether to purchase now or wait until $/kw drops. Of course, every day delayed is a delay in benefits.
TombSyphon2317
not rated yet Nov 06, 2011
I heard about this at least a year ago. For a news source they sure are behind a lot.
Eric_B
not rated yet Nov 06, 2011
Since physorg was willing to spin-off the medical news, why don't you create a separate news site for hydrogen and solar panels! ;)
Vendicar_Decarian
3 / 5 (2) Nov 06, 2011
There is money efficiency and there is energy efficiency.

As to money efficiency the best way to proceed would be to take the money you would spend on panels and invest it until panels become lower cost.

For energy efficiency you purchase now.

Cave_Man
3 / 5 (2) Nov 07, 2011
I really don't like the idea of everything coated in aging cobalt containing paint isaac.

Why is it that everyone rushes to produce without any thought of the environmental effect this will have once the technology becomes older and needs to be disposed of.

Solar power is great but it's not a magic bullet that we should start shooting at everything without regard for the complete cycle of life. (life of the technology from raw resources to production to distribution to eventual decommissioning, as well as the biological life cycles this might effect)
210
1 / 5 (2) Nov 07, 2011
There is money efficiency and there is energy efficiency.
As to money efficiency the best way to proceed would be to take the money you would spend on panels and invest it until panels become lower cost.
For energy efficiency you purchase now.

HEY! Vendi...is that really you..? You R scaring me! When you R sober you have quite the sharp mind...must have met a nice girl huh? You have my permission to marry!

word-to-ya-muthas
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 07, 2011
Solar power is great but it's not a magic bullet that we should start shooting at everything without regard for the complete cycle of life. (life of the technology from raw resources to production to distribution to eventual decommissioning, as well as the biological life cycles this might effect)

We're not requiring this of anything else (neither of coal, oil, gas nor nuclear) - so why should we require this of solar panels? We have no compunction about using the other sources why the guilty conscience now?

I agree that an ecological technology should be as completely ecological as it can be. However we should really look at the orders of magnitude of pollution that building a solar panel array produces less than building power plant of any other kind - and all the ancillary waste/pollution it does NOT produce during its operation.

It may not be a silver bullet - but compared to anything else it's platinum over the entire lifecycle.
Isaacsname
not rated yet Nov 07, 2011
I don't share the same views caveman.

We are nothing but a collection of filters mounted on a frame, both our bodies and our minds.

By attempting to shield ourselves from our own creations, we are effectively attempting to snuff any chance that we have to physically evolve to deal with the " problems ". It's like sheltering children from the world, they never get the chance to really learn things on their own.

Yes, maybe we are rapidly changing our environment, but I also have faith in the ability of life to evolve to deal with the " problems ".

A chemist sees the world composed of molecules, a physicist sees a world of fields, a mathmatician sees a world of ratios, a painter sees a world of flowers, and a scaredy-cat sees the world dominated by boogymen, etc.

No technology will ever be without it's drawbacks.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 07, 2011
Yes, maybe we are rapidly changing our environment, but I also have faith in the ability of life to evolve to deal with the " problems ".

Life will, certainly - but will _human_ life? We're not interested in the continuation of life but much rather in the continuation of _human_ life. And there is absolutely no guarantee for that.

Species have died out before when they started altering their environments to their disadvantage (e.g. by being too good at foraging and thereby eliminating an entire prey animal population...something we are actualy in the process of doing in the world's oceans.)

So simply saying 'life will cope' is not enough. The restrictions for the possibility that 'human life will cope' are much more stringent.
Isaacsname
not rated yet Nov 07, 2011
Good points, we seem to have been able to circumvent many of the population limiting mechanisms that nature has at hand, but..

Take food consumption, for example. It turns out that by eating less, you live longer. By consuming more resources, it turns out your ride in life is cut short in exchange for gluttony. How's that for a limiter ?

My point there is that our ideas about how nature works are lacking, you know this despite our " modern " sciences.

Isn't the whole point of evolution to build solutions to overcome weaknesses ?

You think all those people drinking their healthy filtered water from plastic jugs know that they could be slowly killing/poisoning themselves ? 99% of people don't know the diff between toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, etc, no clue what an LD50 is.

I guess I don't really have a point, I'm a little high,.. it just seems life is about how slow you will kill yourself. I grew up with hippies, but have seen how reactionaries prevent positive actions.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 07, 2011
My point there is that our ideas about how nature works are lacking, you know this despite our " modern " sciences.

No one claims that science already has all the answers. If anyone did there would be no point in doing science anymore (note that today more scientists are alive than scientists have existed during the entire course of humanity). There's still plenty of stuff to find out.
That we haven't got all the answers doesn't automatically mean that those answers we DO have are wrong, though

Isn't the whole point of evolution to build solutions to overcome weaknesses ?

Nope. I'll give you this excerpt from bash.org. I have never seen a better summary of what evolution is and isn't:
Some people...have the idea that evolution is a fucking system of...
"oh i need flippers, i'd better grow some" type bullshit. :P
It's more like "Oh shit look at that freak over there with the flippers hahaha OH SHIT I AM DROWNING OH GOD SAVE ME FLIPPER BOY".
Isaacsname
not rated yet Nov 07, 2011
Lmao AP, I hear you, I like this one myself.

The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.

Henri Poincaré

I'm certain there will never be a complete model or theory of anything, it's physically impossible. Didn't Godel cover that already :) ?

Especially evolution, because evolution itself evolves, but that's just my uneducated opinion there.

Back to the DSC's though, the fact they work well in low light conditions and diffused light makes them seem to have more pros than cons. As far as " toxic " pollutants and technology, I think we're heading in the direction, slowly, of highly succesful AND beneficial integrations of nature and technology, it just takes generations working towards the goal. Porphyrins are a good candidate for this..
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 07, 2011
Didn't Godel cover that already

Gödel covered mathematical incompleteness. Physics could, theoretically, be complete (though one should not equate 'complete' with 'fully deteministic'). Incompleteness is a result of math dealing with infinities (and possibly infinitely recurive systems). Reality does not seem to come with infinities - so the incompleteness theorem may not apply.

There are other arguments though, which preclude a complete set of physical laws: A law is a sort of 'packing' algorithm (describing a lot of reality with little information). However, such an algorithm must be validated against an outside context. If we find a theory of everything (TOE) - even though it may seem to work under all circumstances - cannot be validated since it has no outside context.

In essence: a TOE found by us may be true, but we could never tell (prove) whether it really is.
Isaacsname
not rated yet Nov 07, 2011
Aren't emperical measurements essentally approximations though ? I was under the impression we'll never be able to make a measurement of anything to 100% accuracy, but only make measurements with a decreasing margin of uncertainty...that no measurement will ever perfectly represent what was measured. Wouldn't we have to figure a way around that in order to have a true TOE ?

Thanks for the responses, BTW, I like talking with you :)
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 07, 2011
Aren't emperical measurements essentally approximations though ?

Depends of what you mean by a measurement. If you only count yes/no measurements then we seemingly get a 100% answer. But most measurements in fundamental physics nowadays measure probabilities (e.g. the OPERA neutrino sensation is the result of such a probabilistic measurement)

While you can never be sure that such measurements are not flukes you can assign them a probability of being repersentative of a trend (via a chosen alpha value in statistics. which means that with 1-alpha you have wrongly interpreted the results).
Arguably yes/no measurements may also be flukes (since they, too, are at some point derived from quantum mechanical events)

A TOE will be evaluated like all other theories: If it works we use it. And occasionally we devise tests to check on it in areas we haven't looked at. That's how physics works. Finding 'truth' isn't part of it (the search for truth is reserved for philosophy...maybe).
Isaacsname
not rated yet Nov 07, 2011
Interesting. You ever read this ?

The Uncertainty of Science; R.Feynman.

http://www.inf.fu...inty.pdf
Feldagast
1 / 5 (1) Nov 07, 2011
Since physorg was willing to spin-off the medical news, why don't you create a separate news site for hydrogen and solar panels! ;)

If they spun it off why are more than half the articles on this site still about health and why doesn't my username and password work for both sites?
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 07, 2011

The Uncertainty of Science

Good link. I have been interested in Feynman for a long time, but I was unaware of this particular piece. Thanks.
Koen
1 / 5 (1) Nov 07, 2011
life span (?), heat sensitivity (?), etc ...
It is not easy to compare solar cell techniques from a pure economical perspective.

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