Monday, January 10, 2005

The big event of 2005: nanotech solar energy conversion? | New plastic can better convert solar energy

TORONTO — Researchers at the University of Toronto have invented an infrared-sensitive material that's five times more efficient at turning the sun's power into electrical energy than current methods...

Sargent and other researchers combined specially-designed minute particles called quantum dots, three to four nanometres across, with a polymer to make a plastic that can detect energy in the infrared....

"In fact, there's enough power from the sun hitting the Earth every day to supply all the world's needs for energy 10,000 times over,'' Sargent said in a phone interview Sunday from Boston. He is currently a visiting professor of nanotechnology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Sargent said the new plastic composite is, in layman's terms, a layer of film that "catches'' solar energy. He said the film can be applied to any device, much like paint is coated on a wall.

"We've done the same thing, but not with something that just sit there on the wall the way paint does,'' said the Ottawa native.

"We've done it to make a device which actually harnesses the power in the room in the infrared.''

The film can convert up to 30 per cent of the sun's power into usable, electrical energy. Today's best plastic solar cells capture only about six per cent.

...Sargent's work was published in the online edition of Nature Materials on Sunday and will appear in its February issue.

We'll know this is real if we see a change in oil futures. A 500% efficiency increase in solar energy production is potentially world changing.

If this is real, then the big news event of 2005, the one remembered by history students, will not be about a tsunami. I'll be watching for more detail ...

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