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Power Science Technology

Not Transparent Aluminum, But Conductive Plastic 96

michaelmalak writes "Scientists at the US Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory have fabricated transparent, thin films capable of absorbing light and generating electric charge over a relatively large area. The material, described in the journal Chemistry of Materials (subscription required), could be used to develop transparent solar panels or even windows that absorb solar energy to generate electricity. The material consists of a semiconducting polymer doped with carbon-rich fullerenes."
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Not Transparent Aluminum, But Conductive Plastic

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  • tinted glass? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @12:00PM (#34147492)

    I assume they'd act like tinted windows since they'd be absorbing some of the light.

    car windows which gradually charge the battery perhaps?

  • Apocalypse averted (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @12:03PM (#34147504)

    Now when we run out of indium-tin oxide(or the chinese just stop selling it to us), we can still make LCDs, OLEDs, and EL wire.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @01:01PM (#34147744) Homepage

    Again, we have some minor bit of progress in materials science being touted as a big breakthrough. They haven't fabricated anything but a hexagonal membrane, which has been done before. They're not even able to make a small prototype device. From that, it's a huge jump to "Imagine a house with windows made of this kind of material, which, combined with a solar roof, would cut its electricity costs significantly. This is pretty exciting.". There are lots of other solar cell technologies which are much further along and still don't yield useful products. Nanosolar [], a hype-based solar panel company, comes to mind. The enthusiasm for thin-film solar has decreased since ordinary solar cells became cheaper, and thin-film cells got stuck at half the efficiency of regular ones. This is turning into a manufacturing problem, not a technology one. "We grow every year with double revenue and almost double capacity. At end of the year, we will have 1.8 gigawatts of capacity and will have grown from 4,000 employees at the beginning of this year to more than 11,000." - Fang Pen, JA Solar, Shanghai.

    Conductive plastic isn't a big deal. Conductive plastics [] are commercially available. The foam in which ICs are packed is conductive.

    This is Los Alamos and Brookhaven, the old atomic labs, struggling to avoid more downsizing.

  • Transparent panels (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 06, 2010 @01:31PM (#34147912)

    Have existed for years already. Low power and expensive, but they have existed. Paint on PV exists as well, a company in the UK was going to incorporate it into sheet metal for buildings, the siding and the roof.

    Except a lot of this stuff disappears after it is announced, you never hear of it again. Once or twice, a coincidence, now that it has been twenty years and change I have been following solar breakthroughs, and noticed that hardly any of these breakthroughs, dozens and dozens, actually make it to retail, I am calling large scale conspiracy and market manipulation.

  • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @01:45PM (#34147976)

    your efficiency per square foot may be crap, but your square footage can be huge. That's assuming, of course, this stuff ends up being cheap. The manufacturing process should be ultra cheap, but I don't know about producing the solution. It should be a lot cheaper than traditional panels, but will it be cheap enough to make it worth it? That's the question.

    That's exactly right. The promise of organic photo-voltaics is that they will be so much cheaper to produce that the lower efficiency won't matter. But one of the harsh realities is that a photo-voltaic setup has certain fixed base costs (think of how much it costs to physically install each 1 m^2 panel, and tie it into a house's electricity system). Thus, according to industry partners, there is actually an efficiently level below which a solar material is not worth using even if it were completely free to produce. So, for organic solar cells to become commercially viable, they need to improve efficiency, even while reducing costs. Of course we're now reaching levels where it is indeed viable to use organic photo-voltaics, see for example Konarka's flexible solar panel [] that is built into a bag, so that it charges your cellphone; but there is a threshold of efficiency necessary to offset fixed installation costs.

  • by belthize ( 990217 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @02:03PM (#34148066)

    You can't have a manufacturing business until you figure out the technical details. There's a reason Dow invests 1.2B a year in R&D. Ten years from now I suspect there'll be an article on some new conductive something or other and somebody will point out what a waste that is because you can already buy windows for Andersen Windows that act as transparent solar panels.

    Last year there were numerous scoffing posts at the announcement that Dow would be rolling out shingles next year. []

    Places like LANL aren't set up to invent and patent products (though they have), they do pure research and post their findings so companies like Dow, GE and 3M can further advance the findings as real products. It is extremely risky to do pure research, there is little or no guarantee that areas of inquiry will lead to anything let alone a cost effective product. A centralized system for pure research backed by the combined economic force of an entire nation and then distributed to focused companies to implement promising lines is about as efficient as it gets (efficient there is a relative term, it doesn' t mean it is in itself efficient, just more efficient than alternatives).

    Lastly all conductive polymers aren't created equal, simply making a conductive plastic is not a one size fits all regime. Some of the best work in polymeric photovoltaics is being done at LANL which, oddly enough, is the point of the article.

  • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @02:04PM (#34148076)

    Here are some improved article headlines:

    Not Transparent Steel, But Conductive Plastic

    Not Non-Conductive Plastic, But Conductive Plastic

    Not Green Eggs And Ham, But Conductive Plastic

  • Re:Time to market (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 06, 2010 @02:41PM (#34148276)

    That may be true, but I know for a fact that a lot of entrenched industry on the old money energy side hates the idea of solar and has gone way out of their way to make it not happen, because it threatens their business model. Solar can break the perpetual check to them, because eventually it can be paid off. You can NEVER pay off your local utility monopoly, and that's the way they like it. And speaking of hybrids, read up on large NiMH batteries and chevron, an oil company and how they bought up the patents, etc and then sat on it, refused to license it, making manufacturers start from scratch an building large ones, helping delay electric vehicles. Toyota had to develop their own, when it already existed!

    Any way, back to solar. I've been into it for decades now, and back in the old days we had to do "guerrilla solar" (and also wind chargers, which are sorta hard to hide) because damn if you could get a "permit" to install it. Local electric company guys would get to the building inspectors (read:bribes) and no matter what, they wouldn't "permit" it, so we had to do it stealthily. This was on purpose, conspiracy, market manipulation stuff. You can google "guerrilla solar" for some stories about how much of a rip it was. Home Power mag has a lot of it in their old back issues.

    I have NO doubt it still goes on with amazing solar breakthroughs, the patents get bought, then poofed away, stuff like that.

  • by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @02:44PM (#34148284) Homepage Journal

    My watch is made with Transparent Aluminum [].

  • Re:tinted glass? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FatdogHaiku ( 978357 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @02:45PM (#34148290)
    Why stop with the windows? Auto bodies normally have a "clear coat" over the pigmented layer, so why not have the entire vehicle surface act as a collector?
  • Re:tinted glass? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 06, 2010 @08:48PM (#34150756)

    Also if the battery is topped off on trickle charge, would it still make enough juice to run the vent blower? Would be nice to have a car that runs the fan and brings in fresh outside air while parked during those hot summer days.

Trap full -- please empty.