Mon, Aug 08 2011 at 3:12 AM EST
Photo: Echo Energies
There was some good news last week. While Washington was busy holding the global markets hostage and placing billions in badly needed R&D funding on the chopping block, a new report
from REN21 (the Renewable Energy Network for the 21st Century) showed that global investments in renewable energy jumped 32 percent to a record $211 billion, this despite a downturn in the economy and massive R&D cuts in clean energy.
It's a little reassuring that progress marches forward, despite our nation's best efforts to stop it. Solar
in particular appears to be growing in leaps and bounds due in large part to a 60 percent drop in price per kW (kilowatt) production in just the past three years. In many regions solar power
is getting competitive with coal power, and its price will continue to drop with the onset of a many new advancements in solar technology.
I've been keeping abreast of the latest solar developments happening at MIT, and over the past few months scientists appear to be having one breakthrough after another. Below I've listed five of the most impressive ó taken together, these could mean nearly infinite solar energy, stored easily and safely at a fraction of the cost of burning coal:
1. Nano-templated molecules that store energy
MIT 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. These molecules have the remarkable ability to convert solar energy and store it at an energy density comparable to lithium ion batteries. As Grossman says, "Youíve got a material that both converts and stores energy. Itís robust, it doesnít degrade, and itís cheap.Ē
2. Print solar cells on anything
An 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. The resulting printed paper cell is also extremely durable and can be folded and unfolded more than 1,000 times with no loss in performance.
Photo by Patrick Gillooly, Courtesy of MIT