Recently you might have read about the Solyndra scandal and the negative outlook for the solar industry, you might have read about Peak Oil (“just around the corner” – like always), or maybe you have seen evidence of a potential world-wide economic collapse. These are certainly things to take note of but you should also keep your eye on all the progress going on in the world. For those of you with an optimistic eye, here are some recent headlines that highlight the acceleration of technological progress.
* A couple years ago I mentioned how the next entrepreneurs to become rich would be those inventing products that would produce clean energy or increase energy efficiency. In particular I mentioned that roof shingles or windows that went from white/clear to dark/opaque would be a great invention. The shingles are becoming a reality and now the windows are nearing reality as well. Korean scientists have created a window that can go from nearly clear to nearly opaque in seconds. If such a window could be made at an economically viable price, it would shave a significant percentage off of heating a cooling costs around the world.
* Another area that invention is sorely needed in is battery technology and we are getting a lot of progress here as well. Researchers at Leeds University in England have created a gel based, flexible, lithium ion battery. They claim it has the same performance as current lithium batteries. The question remains, will it cost the same or less? A cheaper long lasting battery is what is needed to make intermittent alternative energy sources like wind and solar to be successful. Storing energy needs to be cheap and a Pittsburgh company has developed a new easy to manufacture and cheap auqeous battery. Will this be the breakthrough that speeds the adoption of alternative energy? LG Chem, the South Korean company that provides batteries for some commercial EVs for sale in the market today, have developed a lithium ion battery that holds 3 times as much energy and charges faster as well.
* In the solar industry, even though the economy is not helping out much right now, innovation continues at a rapid pace. A collaboration of Universities from around the world recently developed the most efficient (6%) colloidal quantum dot solar cells ever produced. These have the potential to be cheaper because they are much easier to manufacture. Besides creating electricity, work is being done to capture more heat from the sun as well and do useful work with it. Scientists from MIT have designed (simulated) a solar heat system using carbon nanotubes and azobenzene that is potentially 10,000 times more capable of storing energy. Researchers in Illinois have recently developed 3 dimensional photonic crystals that should also help to create more efficient solar panels and LEDs. If solar panels were “blacker” and absorbed all the light that strikes them, they would be more efficient and that is where this recent material developed at Purdue University could come into play.
* Even at the smallest of scales, there is a lot of energy to be saved. Here is one such example that has been saving energy (a trillion watt-hours and counting) since 2003 – slowing down transistors. Engineers at the University of San Diego, implemented a technique to slow down transistors that are not being used in electronic devices in order to stop them from “leaking away” electricity.
* In the realm of “inventions” that are making their mark in the real world, how about zero emission housing? A couple of real functional houses were recently constructed in Chicago to prove it can be done at an affordable price.
* Being a big fan of LED lighting for its positive environmental profile, I was happy to see Taiwan finally got smart and changed all of their traffic signals to LEDs.
These stories and a bunch more that I didn’t have time for, have all popped up in the last few weeks. Yes, even during this great recession, progress continues.
Have a nice Thursday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.