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United Kingdom Science Technology News

'Moth Eye' Graphene Breakthrough Could Create Indoor Solar Cells (newsweek.com) 63

A scientific breakthrough with the "wonder material" graphene has opened up the possibility of indoor solar cells that capture energy from indirect sunlight, as well as ambient energy from household devices. Researchers from the University of Surrey in the U.K. studied the eyes of moths to create sheets of graphene that they claim is the most light-absorbent material ever created. "We realized that the moth's eye works in a particular way that traps electromagnetic waves very efficiently," Professor Ravi Silva, head of the Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey, tells Newsweek. "As a result of our studies, we've been able to mimic the surface of a moth's eye and create an amazingly thin, efficient, light-absorbent material made of graphene."
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'Moth Eye' Graphene Breakthrough Could Create Indoor Solar Cells

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  • and we used to have solar powered calculators that worked indoors with normal office lighting

    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      Those calculators only need a few milliwatts of power to operate, so can be quite inefficient and still get the job done. Indoor solar cells would have to be pretty efficient to be worth the cost of installation.

      • I'd be surprised if it were even one milliwatt.

      • by fgouget ( 925644 )

        Those calculators only need a few milliwatts of power to operate, so can be quite inefficient and still get the job done. Indoor solar cells would have to be pretty efficient to be worth the cost of installation.

        But then they mention using this graphene breakthrough "to power smart sensors and IoT devices without the need for batteries or wired connectivity". Why would sensors and IoT devices use more power than a calculator of old?

        • by msauve ( 701917 )
          "Why would sensors and IoT devices use more power than a calculator of old?"

          Because they need enough power to transmit a radio signal.
        • by gmack ( 197796 )

          Those calculators only need a few milliwatts of power to operate, so can be quite inefficient and still get the job done. Indoor solar cells would have to be pretty efficient to be worth the cost of installation.

          But then they mention using this graphene breakthrough "to power smart sensors and IoT devices without the need for batteries or wired connectivity". Why would sensors and IoT devices use more power than a calculator of old?

          Mostly because the calculator of old never had to communicate with the outside world.

          • Mostly because the calculator of old never had to communicate with the outside world.

            So, how did the user (1) get numbers and operations into the calculator, and (2) get the answers out?

            I think you'll find that these devices did communicate with the outside world, though they used techniques to do it which were lower-power (and also probably lower data rate) than, for an example, WiFi.

            Just as a "for instance," using an IR photodiode and IR LED would give you 2-way comms at speeds from a few Hz to some hun

      • by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Sunday February 28, 2016 @11:41AM (#51603037)

        There are hundreds of miles of limestone caves in Kentucky. We can line the walls of those caverns with these cells and produce more power than Niagara Falls. Kentucky can be the Saudi Arabia of green electric power. Electricity too cheap to meter ... Wazzat? They need SOME light? ... DRAT. ... Cancel the IPO.

    • by fred soksabay ( 3457337 ) on Sunday February 28, 2016 @08:48AM (#51602657)
      the curtains could be the solar cell. perhaps or make the curtain a set of window blinds which can be a bit more rigid
    • So good luck with the whole solar cell idea. You can tinker with it to get some semiconductiong properties but youre working against it's intrinsic nature. Maybe it can be done, it's just more uphill than direct bandgap materials.

  • Show me a product (Score:4, Interesting)

    by justcauseisjustthat ( 1150803 ) on Sunday February 28, 2016 @02:57AM (#51602183)
    I really do love having access to science by press release/news article, but we see hundreds if not thousands of them with no followup.
    It's almost like hey, I did this, where's my grant.. Two years later we only hear the chirp of crickets.

    Yes, I realize that science moves, yes, I realize that somethings don't pan out. But it seems like almost all don't work out?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Your problem is with our society, and the way we treat ideas as property, not science. We still haven't learned from the ancient greek epics about sharing ideas. If universities, governments, and even corporations decided to actually share their research, then maybe someone out of the 7 billion of us would figure out a way to make it into a product that we can all benefit from.

      • Let's see. I can work 6000 hours to develop a better photocell, to which I will have no rights and will benefit me to the extent of perhaps $5 over the course of my life. Or I can open another can of beer. Choices, choices.

        Those who oppose property rights do not understand the concept of incentive.

        • by cas2000 ( 148703 )

          those who do not understand the concept that publicly funded research at universities should belong to the public are propertarian nutcases.

          the researcher was paid a wage and a research grant to do this work. If it was a business paying their wage and paying for the research, you'd be arguing that the business owns their research....but it's the public, via the govt, that funded the research so the public should own it.

          BTW, property is not the only incentive or motivation available to human beings. amonst

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      You won't get that here unless some actual journalist decides to write a "where are they now?" kind of article about all the "amazing breakthrough!!11" technologies, because Slashdot doesn't practice actual journalism, it's just an aggregator of news elsewhere, usually senselessly linked to another aggregator which may or may not link to some actual article.

      I agree that it would be fascinating to have an actual journalist cull a dozen or so of the "amazing breakthrough" stories, focusing on those that seeme

      • There are some examples of startling success. First in my mind is the high temperature superconductors that started hitting the news in 1986, and the dam broke in 1987. Superconductors have found use in a power plant (Detroit Edison), MRI, and physics research.
    • What you are asking for is news for consumers. Consumer Reports might be for you. Nerds are interested in what is in the offing. But articles like "wheels turn, assisting in transportation" probably aren't going to get posted here.
    • Slashdot is not for you. . .
  • frizzy pots (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Sunday February 28, 2016 @03:01AM (#51602193) Homepage Journal

    Unless Elon Musk is making them with a 3D printer I'm not interested.

  • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Sunday February 28, 2016 @03:06AM (#51602203)

    Light colored walls play a crucial role diffusing light into other parts of the room. Having these panels on the walls would darken them, requiring more electric lights, and making the room seem smaller.

    Anyway, thumbs up on the basic research on moth eyes.

    • On the flip side, it sounds like it'd make a great coating for window blinds or drapes.
      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        A different press release a while back said that scientists has made flexible PV cells which would great for blinds and drapes, and another said they'd invented transparent PV for... windows.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I shall call it Mothra(TM)

  • by l0n3s0m3phr34k ( 2613107 ) on Sunday February 28, 2016 @04:09AM (#51602309)
    Against "regular" solar panels? If it's that much more efficient, I would think having them outdoors would be more useful than indoors. TFA shows them as very flexible too, so one might even just be able to slap them on top of already existing solar panels, or even underneath them...to take advantage of the preexisting power storage systems.
    • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Sunday February 28, 2016 @04:37AM (#51602345)

      How does it stack up against "regular" solar panels?

      It doesn't. This is simply the air - material interface that has been shown to be particularly lossless. While that is necessary for higher efficiency solar panels, it's not sufficient. It still needs the panels themselves. The developers still need to make these things cheaply enough. The lifetime of these devices needs to be long enough.

      There is a great deal of work that needs to be done before there is anything usable, let alone commercially viable. Let's come back in 5 years and see what progress has been made.

      • Reminds me of "fusion power plants will be available in 10 years". But in reading the actual abstract [sciencemag.org], it seems that this is a black body absorption surface on top of a " thermal picture synthesizing device" and is a complete replacement not just a lossless interface. The diagram (F1A) [sciencemag.org] shows connectors down to what I assume is the actual electron flow system that would feed into the rest of the "panel" which would collect the electrons into a usable electricity stream.
  • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 ) on Sunday February 28, 2016 @06:05AM (#51602433) Journal

    This isn't the first time us Brits have come up with solar for cloudy days. See:
    British scientists develop solar panels which work better on a cloudy day [March 2014] [telegraph.co.uk]
    Both articles lack details about the efficiency in diffused light conditions.

    Researchers from the University of Surrey in the U.K. studied the eyes of moths to create sheets of graphene that they claim is the most light-absorbent material ever created.

    I doubt this very much, the best solar collectors will collect 46% of light, but of course they don't come cheap, current cheap cells are the ones collecting up to 15 to 22% of light.

    Cell Efficiency Chart (jpg) [nrel.gov]If the researchers had created solar collectors with more than 46% efficiency then they would say what the efficiency is and have it verified and it would be big news.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Overcast skies mean that your static and flat solar panel is illuminated by the entire sky, rather than the directed bright gaze of the clear sky sun that illuminated the area at a slant, therefore inefficiently.

      Overcast days have a higher morn and eve level of production and much lower peak, but since we have significant off-peak domestic use, and domestic solar isn't tracking and tilting, home solar is BETTER in cloudy areas further north than it is in clear skies further north (and similarly reversed for

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Abstract from http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/2/e1501238

      The ability to engineer a thin two-dimensional surface for light trapping across an ultra-broad spectral range is central for an increasing number of applications including energy, optoelectronics, and spectroscopy. Although broadband light trapping has been obtained in tall structures of carbon nanotubes with millimeter-tall dimensions, obtaining such broadband light–trapping behavior from nanometer-scale absorbers remains elusive. We r

      • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

        You should get an account to post, it'll be seen by more people.

        What you said is a bit technical for me, it sounds expensive, what the world needs is cheap easy to fit solar. If it can get a high proportion of diffused light then that's good but it still needs to be cheap / manufacturable.

        It sounds like this is not for rooftop solar?

    • And it isn't the first time it is stupid. ( Actually, this is Venture-Vulture(tm) fodder - they want your money)

      Watts per square meter of radiation matters.

      We have "moth eyes" (sounds so green?) -- yet nothing useful.

      Something like - how many watts- with and with out - would tell you that indoor solar collectors are not going to power anything much.

      The problem is not the acceptance of the surface - it is the intermittent source ( missing storage technology ). Pulling the drapes open makes a magnitude mo

    • Collection of light and conversion to electricity are not the same. A good black paint captures 97% of visible light, and turns none of it into electricity.
  • Graphene! (Score:5, Funny)

    by ickleberry ( 864871 ) <web@pineapple.vg> on Sunday February 28, 2016 @06:12AM (#51602443) Homepage
    When you see the word Graphene mentioned you can be sure it's perpetually another 10 years from production. When you see any mention of improved solar panels you can be sure its perpetually another 10 years from production.

    We'll have had 99 years of Linux on the Desktop by the time you can buy these
    • by Z80a ( 971949 )

      It's a huge pile of "and now all we have to do is to wait for mass production of cheap graphene!".
      Of course, if this someday actually does happen, there will be quite a boon on technology.. that will get largely unreported by everything because everyone will be too busy looking for the newest rebootmake of another 80's movie and celebrity gossips, and people will just get into the future without actually noticing it.

  • Supposing normal artificial lighting, say a 10W LED bulb, the theoretical maximum at 100% efficiency one could gather is ... 10W. At which point the room would be pitch black, as a side effect.
    Something makes me think solar cells aren't really a good idea to install indoors, graphene or not.

    • I urge you to quickly patent your idea of covering a light source (not just a "bulb" -- keep it as broad as possible) with PV material. Remember, you can patent any notion that's not a perpetual motion machine -- stupid or not ... and it's FIRST TO FILE BABY ...

  • Is there a single real product out there yet that uses graphene in any substantial capacity that I can buy right now? Searched Amazon and other than raw graphene powder and rubberized sheets only found a couple of tennis rackets that have "graphene" in the title, but might or might not contain actual graphene in them (product descriptions don't mention it).

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