From: Integrity Research Institute <iri2@comcast.net>

Sent: Friday, October 26, 2012 6:16 PM

To: Valone, Thomas

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FUTURE ENERGY eNEWS

                                              October 2012toc

   

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In This Issue

1. Making Fuel from Water and Sunlight

2. Cold Fusion Gets A Little more Real

3. Capturing CO2 to Fertilize Crops

4. Boom of Gas and Oil at Renewables Expense

5. Doubling the Power of Solar Panels

 

 

Dear Subscriber, 

  As we move into the Fall, IRI is happy to promote the International Breakthrough Energy Conference in HiIversum Holland, November 8-11, 2012. A world class program which will cover breakthrough technologies and their world-changing implications journeying into the past, present and future of our energy landscape with over 18 speakers, including myself,  two conference rooms and a 3 day program, this event is designed to focus on the full scope of Breakthrough Energy Technologies. Also the upcoming Power MEMs conference to be held December 2-5, 2012 in Atlanta GA. I attended the conference a few years ago and energy harvestingis a major theme of many of the papers and more trade magazines are reporting it as a method to get "Free Power from Thermal, Kinetic & Solar Energy"(Electronic Design, 6/10/10). The PowerMEMs papers from 2011 are online in PDF format so you can download a few that may be of interest.

  Please note we are also kicking off our Fall Fundraising Drive for IRI. If you can help us meet our goals for example, by becoming a Member of IRI this month, your membership will be extended for two extra months throughout 2013 and you will receive a FREE gift of your choice as well as a special December mailing for this and next year. We are all-volunteer and so 100% of your tax deductible donations go toward Integrity Research Institute programs and not half toward "administrative costs" as with most other nonprofit organizations. Only $10,000 will fund the current programs we are researching. A picture of our IRI Laboratory today, is online showing several electrical projects visible, with our main IRI Office across the hall, both dedicated to researching scientific integrity in energy, propulsion and bioenergetics.

  Our first story demonstrates a new future energy strategy to accelerate development of a product when the research has convinced investors that the process has merit. With Caltech and Lawrence Berkeley Lab collaborating, a high production R&D incubator or innovation hub promises to finally solve the artificial photosynthesis problem by testing a wide range of possible catalysts.

  The second story is hot off the press...an October 18 Forbes article summarizing the latest Defkalion documents on cold fusion experiments that report a Coefficient of Performance (COP) of about 3 which implies three times the energy output than went in. This was done under controlled conditions and we can add that one of our IRI Advisory Board members was actually present during the experiments. This was published at the same time that Popular Science did an article on the Rossi experiments, which is linked in the Related Article section. Cold fusion experiments may be said to be heating up.

  Talking about CO2, which is a hot topic as well since it has been directly correlated to temperature and sea level, as well as the increasing strength of hurricanes and tornadoes, our third story is a major breakthrough for the future. Credit is due to GE for coming up with the world's first greenhouse project that captures CO2 for fertilization using 8 MW natural gas engine power generation and to USEA for hosting an October 2nd forum on this topic. Environmentalists hope that this will be a blueprint for the future power plants where even the CO2 can be sold to a customer.

  On the other side of the coin, there is a resurgence in fossil fuel production as reviewed in our fourth comprehensive story from Time magazine. Though we can acknowledge that having the U.S. as a new exporter of refined petroleum contributes to the GNP, the story also cites the dangerous process of fracking which is being investigated by the EPA. Note that the article states natural gas emits half as much CO2 as an equivalent amount of coal, which is an important consideration. It also is a valuable article by covering nuclear and renewables in a balanced way, as well as hinting at new technologies with unconstrained supplies of energy that could revolutionize the world. This last "wild card" was even mentioned as a possible threat to the oil industry by one of the panelists at the latest USEA Energy Supply Forum which I attended. We at IRI are in touch with more than one such wild cards and will keep you posted.

  Our last story is a tribute to nanotechnology for doubling the power of solar cells just by the structure of nanowires developed by Bandgap Engineering, by increasing the amount of sunlight being absorbed. Other new materials are also covered in the article related to improved photovoltaics.

 

Onward and Upward!

   

Thomas Valone, PhD
Editor

1) Making Fuel from Water and Sunlight  

Kevin Bullis

Artificial Photosynthesis Effort takes Root. A $122 million innovation hub could speed the development of devices for making fuel from water and sunlight.  

While a debate rages about the government's role in funding energy innovation, sparked by high-profile failures of government-backed companies such as Solyndra and A123 Systems, a less controversial federal clean-tech investment strategy has been quietly humming along, garnering bipartisan support. So-called innovation hubs, multidisciplinary research centers meant to emulate the legendary Bell Laboratories by combining scientific research with applied technology, have managed to get continued government funding even as Congress works to cut the overall federal budget.

 

Prototype.  Joint Ctr for AP

Two years after first getting funding, one of the current hubs-a Caltech-based effort focused on using sunlight to make liquid fuels-says it has made substantial progress toward devices that convert sunlight and water into hydrogen and oxygen that could be used to power a car or generate electricity on demand. Eventually, the researchers hope to combine the hydrogen with carbon from carbon dioxide to make liquid fuels similar to gasoline or diesel. 

 

Researchers have been pursuing what's known as artificial photosynthesis for decades. Progress has been slow, and making the process economical on a large scale remains a seemingly distant goal. The new innovation hub, which is meant to receive $122 million over five years, plans to hurry this research along by bringing together a large number of experts in different areas, including catalysis, optics, and membrane technology.

 

To speed up materials discovery, researchers at the Caltech hub, who collaborate with researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and more than 20 other research centers, have developed an ink-jet printing process that can churn out millions of slightly different variations on promising catalysts. Each sample is as small as a pixel on a screen. They're also developing equipment that can quickly test the activity of each catalyst. "It will dramatically accelerate the rate of electrocatalyst and photocatalyst discovery from a few candidates a year to a few every few milliseconds, producing thousands to millions per day," says Nate Lewis, hub director at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis.

 

At the same time, the hub has installed advanced 3-D printers that can make prototype devices to house the light-absorbing materials and catalysts, feed water to them, and separate and collect hydrogen and oxygen. So far, researchers have built two such prototypes that can produce fuel from sunlight-though not yet economically. The plan is to have at least four or five different versions of the devices, each with different strengths and weaknesses. The researchers want multiple versions because they can't predict where the next materials advance will be.

 

The idea of developing new energy technologies at innovation hubs is far different from the approach of helping companies scale up manufacturing through grants or loan guarantees, as the U.S. Department of Energy did in the case of A123 and Solyndra. It is also far different from funding research projects in the ARPA-E program, whose goal is to take a specific advance in a lab or a company, such as the discovery of a promising new material, and demonstrate its potential within three years-for example, by building a working battery using that material.

 

The innovation hubs pull together researchers from many different groups to focus on making breakthroughs on long-standing problems. They work on many different levels, doing everything from discovering new materials and carefully studying how they work to designing and building devices that could use those materials. While ARPA-E grants individual projects a few million dollars, each hub is meant to receive more than a hundred million dollars over five years in recognition of the larger scale of the problems they address. So far, five innovation hubs have been funded, but funding for their five-year term isn't guaranteed. The money has to be allocated every year, and the budget for next year hasn't been passed. Though the relevant House and Senate committees support continued funding for all five, Congress is facing increasing pressure to find places to cut spending

 

back to table of contents 

 

 

2) Cold Fusion Gets A Little More Real   

By  Mark Gibbs, Contributor. Forbes October 20, 2012

http://www.forbes.com/sites/markgibbs/2012/10/20/cold-fusion-gets-a-little-more-real/

  

The question "is cold fusion real?" has been around since 1989 when Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, two of the world's leading electrochemists, rather prematurely announced that they had achieved this phenomena in a test tube in their lab.

Cold fusion, otherwise called Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR), is, theoretically, the fusing together (rather than a chemical reaction) of elements at "normal" temperatures such that they release more energy than is required to fuse them.

 

This is an idea that is incredibly appealing because if it could be achieved it would provide mankind with, again in theory, incredibly cheap energy. In practice, there could be drawbacks such as pollution and radiation but until cold fusion is actually demonstrated and developed, no one knows.

Hot fusion, on the other hand, is the process by which elements would be fused together at temperatures and pressures only found naturally in stars.

 

While hot fusion, yet again theoretically, would create more energy than it would to induce fusion the conditions required are so extreme that rather than a simple test tube it requires machines the size of houses and enormous supporting facilities that bring the whole project up to factory scale (see the National Ignition Facility). Hot fusion is also guaranteed to have radioactive waste products.

 

Unfortunately it turned out that the Fleischmann and Pons experiment was not reliably reproducible. In the academic fracas that followed, both men's reputations were ruined and the field was quickly relegated to the domain of "fringe" science along with perpetual motion, telekinesis, and anti-gravity.

 

While mainstream science was apparently quite happy with this situation and went about spending billions of dollars on "hot" fusion (there are many who claim that cold fusion was systematically marginalized and deprecated by establishment scientists), a few "rogue" researchers continued with cold fusion research and, over the last few years, evidence has piled up that cold fusion may, in fact, be real.

 

I wrote "may ... be real" because until recently the evidence looked promising but hardly conclusive.

I know that there will be a handful of people (the "believers" I wrote about some time ago) who read that statement and cry "lies" but the fact is that no one has yet demonstrated, definitively, that cold fusion or LENR exists in a form that is actually useful.

 

I first wrote about cold fusion in my Backspin column in Network World last year and then again a few days later in my Forbes Technobabble blog when I learned of an Italian Inventor, Andrea Rossi, who claimed to have developed a cold fusion device he called the Energy Catalyzer or E-Cat.

Since then just over a year has passed with Rossi having done a couple of unconvincing demos (the biggest and least convincing was on October 28 last year). I could go on at length about the endless news items about Rossi but the bottom line is that to all intents and purposes the E-Cat is still vaporware ... it's all still "jam tomorrow."

 

As for the rest of the companies that have announced they're developing cold fusion devices only one stands out: Defkalion Green Technologies, a company based in Greece

 

Originally this group was involved with Rossi's company, Leonardo Corporation, but the two parties split over a year ago for reasons that have never been made completely clear. Since then Defkalion has issued a few press releases and a minimal amount of hard information ... until a few days ago.

 

On October 18, Defkalion published two documents: An executive summary and an extensive report of tests of their system in which the names of third parties who witnessed the tests, which were conducted in September in Greece, were redacted.

The reports are very interesting. Here are the conclusions from the summary report (the emphasis is mine):

1. Defkalion was able to demonstrate an excess of energy.

2. They were able to demonstrate that they can fully control the reaction: starting it, stopping it, increasing and decreasing it.

3. They were able to demonstrate that the reaction is dependent on hydrogen gas.

4. The contents of the reactor were removed and weighed to be 59 grams of mass, most of which was a ceramic encasement. Therefore, the reaction appears to produce more energy than a chemical reaction from a known amount with an equivalent mass; implying a nuclear reaction is involved. 

5. There were error bands associated with all data obtained which have not yet been completely established. These will need to be addressed in a detailed analysis of this data.

6. It is my opinion that Defkalion is sincerely attempting to accurately measure and demonstrate the performance of their technology with confidence that they can achieve a COP >1 for a long enough period to exclude any possibility of a chemical reaction.

It is that last point that's the biggie ... and another sentence in the report stood out:

Upon a preliminary look at the data, the reactor was operating well in excess of a COP of 3.

 This is potentially huge! An independent witness asserting that the system may be outputting three times the input energy! The question was, who was the independent witness?

The reports were published as PDFs and as I know a thing or two about the format I checked to see if the documents had been properly redacted. The executive summary, it turned out, was not properly formatted so it was simple to bypass the redaction and discover that the executive summary was written by Michael A. Nelson, a NASA employee of some thirty years standing.

 

I contacted Mr. Nelson and found out that he was not attending the tests as a representative of NASA but rather on behalf of the New Energy Foundation . The Foundation paid Mr. Nelson's expenses to travel to and from the event which he attended out of scientific interest although Mr. Nelson told me "It really never mattered to me if my expenses were covered or not. I was willing to pay out of my own pocket for the chance to get an up close look at what they have."

 

Mr. Nelson simply wants to know if there's anything real about cold fusion and he's operating as an impartial expert to try to establish what is real about the topic. That's it. He's not trying to critique or disprove anything, he's simply doing what real scientists do; investigating things that are interesting.

 

Now, before you jump to the conclusion that his comments completely validate cold fusion, please re-read them very carefully ... what he's saying is that the results look promising but further study needs to be done.

 

The reason further study is needed is simple: Determining whether more energy is produced than is input is not a trivial matter and requires a significant amount of equipment and preparation which the Defkalion tests didn't adequately cover. That's not to say there was anything wrong with the tests, simply that the test environment wasn't a comprehensive as would be required to produce incontrovertible evidence.

Even so, the Defkalion tests were, as far as any cold fusion experiment performed to date has gone, the best so far and they were witnessed by someone who is, for want of a better description, a serious scientist.

 

So, it appears that cold fusion, in the sense that the phenomena is a real and viable basis for energy generation, looks like a much better bet than it did a week ago. Now it's up to the other players in the nascent cold fusion market - particularly Rossi's Leonardo Corporation - to show more clearly what they've got.

My hat is off to Defkalion and Mr. Nelson for giving all of us who sincerely want to see cold fusion become a reality a little more hope.

My thanks to Sterling Allan of Pure Energy Systems for his help.

  

 

RELATED ARTICLE 

 

Can Andrea Rossi's Infinite-Energy Black Box Power The World--Or Just Scam It?

 

http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-10/andrea-rossis-black-box

 back to table of contents 

 

 

 

3) Helping Climate Change by Capturing CO2 to Fertilize Crops   

United States Energy Association, 10/2/12, www.usea.org

 

GE and Houweling's Tomatoes CHP Project With Carbon Dioxide Fertilization 

 

  

  

 

GE and its customer Houweling's Tomatoes, a leading North American greenhouse grower, recently unveiled the first combined heat and power (CHP) greenhouse project in America that captures carbon dioxide (CO2) for use in plant fertilization. Using two of GE's 4.36-megawatt (MW), ecomagination-qualified Jenbacher J624 two-staged turbocharged natural gas engines and a GE-designed CO2 fertilization system, the plant provides heat, power and CO2 to Houweling's 125-acre tomato greenhouse in Camarillo, California.

 

The first greenhouse CHP project in the U.S.also gives an added boost to California's goal to generate 6,500 MW of new CHP generation in the state by 2020. The project represents the launch of GE's J624 two-staged turbocharged gas engines for the 60 Hz segment and the first of these engines sold in the U.S. Introduced by GE in 2007, the J624 is the world's first 24-cylinder gas engine for commercial power generation and can be used in various applications. It also is the first gas engine featuring double turbocharging, which makes it even more efficient. Read the full press release here.

 

Travis Dauwalter, Business Development Leader, GE Gas Engines, will present an overview of the CHP with carbon capture project. As the CHP and Biogas business development leader for GE's Gas Engines, Travis Dauwalter drives growth in North America through focused engagement with end-users, industry stakeholders, and policy makers. Travis received his MBA from Pennsylvania State Universityand his BSc in Aeronautical Engineering from the United States Air Force Academy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4) Boom of Gas and Oil at Renewables Expense  

Fareed Zakaria Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, Time,

 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2127202,00.html#ixzz2AAAxEKbo 

  

 In their second debate, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney began with a spirited discussion on energy, during which they both agreed on the goal of making America more energy independent. This has been part of presidential rhetoric since Richard Nixon declared energy independence his Administration's aim. As it happens, regardless of who is elected President, a tidal shift is taking place in energy that will matter far more to America's energy future than anything either candidate plans or imagines.

   Over the past decade, America has experienced a technological revolution--not, as expected, in renewable energy but rather in the extraction of oil and gas. As a result, domestic supplies of new sources of energy--shale gas, oil from shale, tight sands and the deepwater, natural-gas liquids--are booming. The impact is larger than anyone expected.

  

In 2011, for the first time since 1949, the U.S.became a net exporter of refined petroleum products. Several studies this year have projected that by the end of this decade, the U.S.will surpass both Russia and Saudi Arabia and become the world's largest producer of oil and liquid natural gas.

  

Much of this opportunity comes from America's newfound ability to draw oil and gas from geological formations that just a few years ago geologists deemed impenetrable. The consequences of this breakthrough, both economic and geopolitical, are difficult to assess, but they range from a manufacturing renaissance in the U.S.to a decline of the geopolitical clout of Russia and the Middle East. Both would obviously be welcome news.

  

Romney has accused the Obama Administration of throwing obstacles in the way of this boom. But so far they do not seem to have had much effect in slowing things down.

 

Of course, there are many on the left who believe that the Obama Administration has gone soft on the oil and gas boom and wish he had instituted more regulations. Fracking--the procedure by which shale oil and gas are extracted from deep rock formations stretching from the Appalachians nearly to the Rockies--remains controversial and arouses great passion. The Oscar-nominated documentary GasLand suggests that unlocked gas could burst out of people's taps, allegedly because of fracking. These charges are important, but they need more thorough investigation. Gas could end up in water pipes for a variety of reasons unrelated to fracking.

 

The Environmental Protection Agency is doing a comprehensive study of fracking, in part because we need to better understand the ramifications of this promising new extraction method. At this point it seems the greatest harm has come from small fracking operations that don't worry that an environmental problem could damage their brand name or profit margin. This makes it an industry tailor-made for intelligent regulation, because the big companies could well support clear rules that everyone, in a growing number of states, would follow.

  

The environmental impact of the natural-gas boom is already clear--and positive. The U.S.'s greenhouse-gas emissions in 2011 were 9% lower than in 2007. That's a larger drop than in the European Union, with all its focus on renewables. Why? A slow recovery and lagging demand is one answer. But the main reason is that natural gas is replacing coal everywhere as an energy source, and gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal. This point is crucial. The conversation about natural gas cannot be had in isolation from the alternative. If we shut down all fracking and stop using shale gas, we will get all that energy by burning coal, which is the world's dirtiest fossil fuel--and is associated with mining deaths and respiratory illnesses as well.

  

As the oil and gas boom progresses, however, we should not forget that there is ultimately a better future for energy--namely wind, solar and other renewables--that provides unending supply, low price and almost no environmental damage. Most of these approaches continue to be plagued by the problems of cost and energy storage. (Bill Gates has calculated that if you took all the world's batteries, they together would have enough capacity to store 10 minutes of the world's demand for energy.) But they are gradually becoming competitive with fossil fuels.  

 

The best bet for theU.S.is not only to expand oil and gas production but also to increase funding for research and development of new sources of energy. We need more breakthrough technologies and new designs and processes. But the government should also aid these nascent technologies by helping them achieve scale--which comes only from large deployment of these technologies. The U.S.government--the Department of Defense and then NASA--bought almost half of all the computer chips produced by Silicon Valleyin the 1950s until the industry could sufficiently lower its costs to be commercially viable.

 

We need to expect, even welcome, some investment failures. In venture capital, if you have eight failures and two big successes, that's a ratio to be proud of. But in government, one Solyndra means the whole program can die. Wind and solar are relatively small investments and needlessly controversial. The much larger question is nuclear energy. Should the government continue to provide subsidies for nuclear power? The emotional opposition to nuclear power has little to do with the data--many more people die in coal mines every year than have ever died in nuclear plants--but it does shape the political reality. Nuclear-power-plant construction remains stalled. But if Americans want a constant supply of large amounts of energy with zero carbon emissions, nuclear is the only game in town right now.

 

The final piece of the energy puzzle should be the least controversial. Energy efficiency--drastically reducing the vast waste of energy in homes, offices, factories and vehicles--is good for greens and CEOs, for America and the world. Scientist turned activist Amory Lovins argues that the U.S. could grow its economy to 2.6 times its size, get completely off oil, coal and nuclear and use one-third less natural gas--all by 2050.

 

Efficiency means a hundred different things, like lighter (and yet sturdier) cars made from carbon fiber or similarly light and strong materials. It also means rethinking how we build things: if considered as a separate nation, America's buildings alone are the world's third largest users of energy, after the rest of America and China and ahead of every other country! And it means simple modifications like this one in every hotel room in Europe: when you leave the room, taking the key out of the slot turns out the lights. It doesn't require any sacrifice in lifestyle to have the lights off when you're not in the room. McKinsey estimates that the U.S.could save more than $130 billion annually--or $1.2 trillion by 2020--just by maximizing efficiency.

 

Conservation reminds us that we should think about energy not as a problem but as an opportunity. As we search for new sources of economic growth, it's worth recalling how the information revolution of the 1990s restarted America by transforming so many aspects of life and work. Energy could have a similar transcendent effect. New technologies that provide cheaper and unconstrained supplies of energy could revolutionize the world. And the country that pioneers them will be on top.

 

FOR MORE ON THE FUTURE OF ENERGY, TUNE IN TO FAREED ZAKARIA'S NEW CNN SPECIAL, GLOBAL LESSONS: THE GPS ROAD MAP FOR POWERING AMERICA, ON SUNDAY, OCT. 21, AT 8 P.M. AND 11 P.M. E.T AND P.T. (perhaps archived on CNN.COM - TV

 

RELATED ARTICLE

 

Level the playing field for wind power

 

One of the key ways we can continue to grow wind energy in the United States and allow it to compete with fossil fuels and nuclear power is by ensuring developers receive tax incentives for generating energy from this renewable resource. Unfortunately, the federal production tax credit for wind energy is set to expire at the end of 2012-threatening one of the country's fastest growing industries and tens of thousands of American jobs.

 

 Urge your members of Congress to renew this critical renewable energy tax incentive today
 

 

 

 

5) How to Double The Power of Solar Panels

Kevin Bullis,  Technology Review, October 2012

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/429586/how-to-double-the-power-of-solar-panels/?utm_campaign=newsletters&utm_source=newsletter-weekly-energy&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20121022

 

Bandgap Engineering is developing a new kind of solar cell based on nanowires.

 

 

  

In an attempt to further drop the cost of solar power, Bandgap Engineering, a startup in Woburn, Massachusetts, is developing a nanowire-based solar cell that could eventually generate twice as much power as conventional solar cells.

 

That's a long-term project, but meanwhile the company is about to start selling a simpler version of the technology, using silicon nanowires that can improve the performance and lower the cost of conventional silicon solar cells. Bandgap says its nanowires, which can be built using existing manufacturing tools, boost the power output of solar cells by increasing the amount of light the cells can absorb.

 

Right now most solar-panel manufacturers aren't building new factories because the market for their product is glutted. But if market conditions improve and manufacturers do start building, they'll be able to introduce larger changes to production lines. In that case the Bandgap technology could make it possible to change solar cells more significantly. For example, by increasing light absorption, it could allow manufacturers to use far thinner wafers of silicon, reducing the largest part of a solar cell's cost. It could also enable manufacturers to use copper wires instead of more expensive silver wires to collect charge from the solar panels.

 

These changes could lead to solar panels that convert over 20 percent of the energy in sunlight into electricity (compared with about 15 percent for most solar cells now) yet cost only $1 per watt to produce and install, says Richard Chleboski, Bandgap's CEO. (Solar installations cost a few dollars per watt now, depending on their size and type.) Over the operating lifetime of the system, costs would come to between 6 and 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. That's still higher than the current cost of natural-gas power in the United States, which is about 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. But it's low enough to secure solar power a substantial market in many parts of the world where energy costs can be higher, or in certain niche markets in the United States.

 

Meanwhile, Bandgap is pursuing technology that could someday improve efficiency enough to allow solar power to compete widely with fossil fuels. Double the efficiency of solar cells without greatly increasing manufacturing costs, and you substantially lower the cost per watt of solar panels and halve the cost of installation-currently the biggest expense in solar power-by making it possible to get the same amount of power out of half as many cells.

 

Both the cells Bandgap is about to introduce and the cells it hopes to produce in the long term are based on the idea of minimizing the energy loss that typically occurs when light passes through a solar cell unabsorbed or when certain wavelengths of light are absorbed but don't have enough energy to dislodge electrons to create electricity. (That energy is wasted as heat.) In a conventional solar cell, at least two-thirds of the energy in sunlight is wasted-usually much more.

The company's existing technology makes use of the fact that when light encounters the nanowires, it's refracted in a way that causes it to bounce around in the solar cell rather than simply moving through it or bouncing off it. That increases its chances of being absorbed (see "Black Silicon Solar Cells to Capture More Light").

 

But what Bandgap ultimately wants to do is to change the way light is converted to electricity inside the cell. If the nanowires can be made uniformly enough, and if they can be formed in such a way that their atoms line up along certain planes, the tiny structures could change the electronic properties of silicon. These changes could allow solar cells to generate electricity from low-energy light that normally produces only heat, says Marcie Black, the company's founder and chief technology officer. It does this in part by providing a way to combine energy from more than one photon of low-energy light.

 

The technology could take many years to develop. For one thing, it requires very precise control over the properties of each of millions of nanowires. Also, the techniques needed to make the solar cells might not be cheap or reliable enough to produce them on a large scale. But such solar cells could theoretically convert 60 percent of the energy in sunlight into electricity. That will be hard to achieve in practice, so the company is aiming at a more modest 38 percent efficiency, which is still more than twice that of typical silicon solar cells made now.

 

Researchers are taking several other approaches to producing very high-efficiency solar cells, such as using quantum dots or combining several kinds of materials (see "TR10: Nanocharging Solar" and "New Materials Make Photovoltaics Better"). The nanowire technology could be simpler, however. "In theory, the approach has many potential advantages, but you've got to get it to work," says Andrew Norman, a senior researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. Bandgap hasn't yet built solar cells using the approach it hopes to pursue in the long term, but it's made indirect measurements showing that its nanowires can change the electronic properties of silicon. "This is still in the research phase," Black says. "We're being very honest with investors-there's still a lot of work to do."

 

 

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