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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2013-01-31 12:00:00
  • Article ID: 598683

Solar Power: Is It Time for the Big Push?

James Cohen

cohen@kavlifoundation.org

There are great expectations for solar power, especially in the coming years, when the International Energy Agency projects solar to grow faster than any other renewable power. But what does science need to do to more fully respond to the opportunities ahead?

Recently, three researchers discussed this with fellow scientist Harry A. Atwater, Jr., director of the DOE Energy Frontier Research Center on Light-Material Interactions in Solar Energy Conversion, as well as member of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute (KNI) at the California Institute of Technology. To really give solar power a push, the scientists raised advancing how new materials are created, developed and brought to industry.

“We need to engage with manufacturers and end-users of the technology as soon as possible, rather than spend years doing lab demonstrations before anyone talks with industry,” said Michael Wasielewski, director of the Argonne-Northwestern Solar Energy Research Center and professor at Northwestern University. “We need to take advantage of manufacturers' expertise in how things are really done. On our part, we need to let them know about promising materials sooner, so they start to think about commercialization pathways earlier in the process.”

It was also pointed out that barriers in the laboratory needed breaking. “I work more on the physics side, but there is a separation between what I do and the chemistry needed to make this work,” said Albert Polman, director of the Dutch Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter's Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. “To make things happen faster, we need to have the disciplines talk to one another more than in the past.”

Another challenge is making new technology more affordable. Nathan Lewis is principal investigator of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Innovation Hub in Fuels from Sunlight at the California Institute of Technology, where he is also a member of KNI. Said Lewis, “[W]e need to really scale up manufacturing to make this technology cheap. Right now, making solar cells is like making other highly engineered technologies, such as silicon chips. What we need are technologies that let us churn it out inexpensively, like newspaper or bubble wrap.”

Scaling up means bridging a financial gulf, noted Atwater. “[T]o commercialize solar technologies, we must get past the valley of death – that big gap between demonstrating a technology and finding someone to invest $100 million for large-scale manufacturing,” he said.

For the complete discussion, visit: http://www.kavlifoundation.org/science-spotlights/caltech-solar-power-big-push

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Imaging Technology Reveals Copper Is Key to Meeting Future Food and Energy Needs

For the first time, Cornell University researchers are using imaging capabilities at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) to explore how copper affects plant fertility. The work could provide key insights into how plants can be bred for better performance in marginal soils.

PPPL Researchers Perform First Basic Physics Simulation of the Impact of Recycled Atoms on Plasma Turbulence

Article describes simulation of impact of recycled atoms on plasma turbulence.

"Hindcasting" Study Investigates the Extreme 2013 Colorado Flood

Using a publicly available climate model, Berkeley Lab researchers "hindcast" the conditions that led to the Sept. 9-16, 2013 flooding around Boulder, Colo. and found that climate change attributed to human activity made the storm much more severe than would otherwise have occurred.

Ultrathin Device Harvests Electricity From Human Motion

Imagine slipping into a jacket, shirt or skirt that powers your cell phone, fitness tracker and other personal electronic devices as you walk, wave and even when you are sitting down. A new, ultrathin energy harvesting system developed at Vanderbilt University's Nanomaterials and Energy Devices Laboratory has the potential to do just that.

Energy-Efficient Accelerator Was 50 Years in the Making

With the introduction of CBETA, the Cornell-Brookhaven ERL Test Accelerator, Cornell University and Brookhaven National Laboratory scientists are following up on the concept of energy-recovering particle accelerators first introduced by physicist Maury Tigner at Cornell more than 50 years ago.

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Titan Simulations Show Importance of Close 2-Way Coupling Between Human and Earth Systems

A new integrated climate model developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and other institutions is designed to reduce uncertainties in future climate predictions as it bridges Earth systems with energy and economic models and large-scale human impact data.

Weaving a Fermented Path to Nylons

Microbial enzymes create precursors of nylon while avoiding harsh chemicals and energy-demanding heat.


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Construction of Massive Neutrino Experiment Kicks Off a Mile Underground

A new era in international particle physics research officially began July 21 with a unique groundbreaking held a mile underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota. Dignitaries, scientists and engineers from around the world marked the start of construction of a massive international experiment that could change our understanding of the universe. The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) will house the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which will be built and operated by roughly 1,000 scientists and engineers from 30 countries.

Construction Begins on International Mega-Science Experiment to Understand Neutrinos

In a unique groundbreaking ceremony held this afternoon at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota, a group of dignitaries, scientists and engineers from around the world marked the start of construction of a massive international experiment that could change our understanding of the universe. The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) will house the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which will be built and operated by a group of roughly 1,000 scientists and engineers from 30 countries.

Buchanan Named Deputy for Science and Technology at Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Michelle Buchanan, an accomplished scientific leader and researcher, has been appointed Deputy for Science and Technology at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory by new Lab Director Thomas Zacharia.

Neutrino Project to Fuel Particle Physics Research

Over the next decade, 800,000 tons of rock will be excavated from the former Homestake Mine in Lead, South Dakota, to accommodate a particle detector filled with 70,000 tons of liquid argon cooled to -300 degrees Fahrenheit to study neutrinos beamed from Fermilab in Illinois. It's called the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment.

Berkeley Lab to Lead Multimillion-Dollar Geothermal Energy Project

The Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) will lead a new $9 million project aimed at removing technical barriers to commercialization of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS), a clean energy technology with the potential to power 100 million American homes.

PNNL Scientist Ruby Leung Appointed a Battelle Fellow

Ruby Leung of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has been named a Battelle Fellow -- the highest recognition from Battelle for leadership and accomplishment in science. She is one of eight Battelle fellows at PNNL.

Gu and Paranthaman Named ORNL Corporate Fellows

Researchers Baohua Gu and Parans Paranthaman have been named Corporate Fellows of the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

DOE Funds Center for Bioenergy Innovation at ORNL to Accelerate Biofuels, Bioproducts Research

The DOE has announced funding for new research centers to accelerate the development of specialty plants and processes for a new generation of biofuels and bioproducts.

Grant Focuses on 'Hydrogen Sponge' for Use in Fuel-Cell Vehicles

Finding practical hydrogen storage technologies for vehicles powered by fuel cells is the focus of a $682,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, awarded to Mike Chung, professor of materials science and engineering, Penn State.

Engineers Win Energy Department Grants to Help Develop a Reliable, Resilient Power Grid

Two Iowa State electrical engineers have won Energy Department grants to help improve the country's power grid. The projects' goals include addressing the challenges of adding high levels of intermittent power sources to the grid, mainly wind and solar power.


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Quantum Computing Building Blocks

Scientists invented an approach to creating ordered patterns of nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamonds, a promising approach to storing and computing quantum data.

Scientists Program Yeast to Turn Plant Sugars into Biodiesel

Redox metabolism was engineered in Yarrowia lipolytica to increase the availability of reducing molecules needed for lipid production.

Soils Could Release Much More Carbon than Expected as Climate Warms

Deeper soil layers are more sensitive to warming than previously thought.

Weaving a Fermented Path to Nylons

Microbial enzymes create precursors of nylon while avoiding harsh chemicals and energy-demanding heat.

Loosening of Lignocellulose: Switchgrass and Success in Sugar Release

Using a genetically modified line of switchgrass, scientists reduced plant cell wall recalcitrance while increasing sugar release over three generations.

Extending the Life of Lithium-Ion Batteries

Scientists offer new insights into how the source of electrons in batteries fails.

Unraveling the Molecular Complexity of Cellular Machines and Environmental Processes

State-of-the-art mass spectrometer delivers unprecedented capability to scientists.

Speeding Up Catalysts for Energy Storage

Researchers develop the fastest synthetic catalyst for producing hydrogen gas, potentially leading to a new environmentally friendly, affordable fuel.

Watching Neutrons Flow

Like water, neutrons seek their own level, and watching how they flow may teach us about how the chemical elements were made.

FIONA to Take on the Periodic Table's Heavyweights

FIONA (For the Identification Of Nuclide A) is a newly installed device designed to measure the mass numbers of individual atoms of heavy and superheavy elements. FIONA will let researchers learn about the shape and structure of heavy nuclei, guide the search for new elements, and offer better measurements for nuclear fission and related processes.


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