Aug 9, 2011 2:08 PM
I came across these two articles demonstrating the rapid pace of technical improvement in clean energy. In spite of all the bad news from the debt deal (funding cuts for clean energy research), at least we’ll see returns from previous investments.
A lot of the breakthroughs below come from innovation in academic settings. More and more, it seems like public investment in applied academic research yields high returns.
1. Nano-templated molecules that store energyMIT associate professor Jeffrey Grossman and others successfully created a new molecule called azobenzene using carbon nanotubes to structure the molecules so that they “lock in” stored solar thermal energy indefinitely.2. Print solar cells on anythingAn MIT team led by professor Karen Gleason has discovered a way to print a solar cell on just about anything, using low temperatures and vapor as opposed to liquid solutions that are expensive, require high temperatures and degrade the substrate materials.3. Solar thermal power in a flat panelProfessor Gang Chen was been working on a revolutionary new way to make solar power — micro solar thermal — which could theoretically produce electricity at 8 times the efficiency of the word’s best solar panel. Solar thermal usually requires huge arrays of mirrors that heat up an element to run a steam turbine.4. A virus to improve nano-solar cell efficiencyMIT graduate students recently engineered a virus called M13 (which normally attacks bacteria) that works to precisely space apart carbon nanotubes so they can be used to effectively convert solar energy.5. Transparent solar cell could turn windows into power plantsThe world’s cities are packed with miles and miles of glass. What if all that glass could be used to harness the sun’s rays while maintaining their transparency?
Challenges remain, but the technology has come a long way in recent years, and wind farm operators have learned plenty of tricks, too, like the importance of shutting down the machines in high winds and the best places to put them to begin with.
The turbines have grown larger, and more effective. One model made today by Vestas, a Danish turbine manufacturer, can produce 300 times as much power as a turbine sold 15 years ago, according to Finn Strom Madsen, the president of technology research and development for Vestas.
But experts say that vast improvements in wind technology still lie ahead — which makes sense for an industry that is about 100 years behind, say, that of the automobile.
Read more at NYTimes.