Graphene and Semiconductor Technology: Smaller, Cheaper, Better
Mobile phones that bend, self-powered nanodevices , new and improved solar cell technology and windows that generate electricity are but a few of the potential products from the union of semiconductors and graphene.
Renewable Energy World.com
Semiconductors grown on graphene at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) may be the most important research breakthrough of 2012 in Norway. At the centre of the research efforts are Professor Helge Weman, Professor Bjørn-Ove Fimland and post-doctoral fellow Dong-Chul Kim. The team is now working on translating the results of their basic research into an initial prototype.
Just One Atom Thick
In the 1960s, researchers envisioned that graphite (pure carbon) could be cut into layers measuring only one atom in thickness – resulting in the material known as graphene.
In the 1990s, researchers managed to create a layer as thin as 100 atoms, but there was no progress after that until 2004, when Russian-born Andre Geim grabbed a tape dispenser from his desk at the University of Manchester, pressed a bit of tape over a thin layer of graphite and peeled it away. When he examined the tape under a microscope, he discovered a layer only one carbon atom thick. Graphene was born!
In 2010, Dr Geim and his colleague, Konstantin Novoselov, were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work in demonstrating the unique properties of graphene.
Ahead of the Pack at NTNU
Six months before Dr Geim and Dr Novoselov arrived in Stockholm to receive their prize, and before graphene had become an item of interest, South Korean post-doctoral fellow Dong Chul Kim at NTNU had suggested to Professors Helge Weman and Bjørn-Ove Fimland at the Department of Electronics and Telecommunications that they should take a closer look at precisely this material. The suggestion came shortly after the NTNU group already had succeeded in growing semiconductor nanowires made of gallium arsenide (GaAs) on silicon substrates. This led Dr Weman to wonder if it would be possible to grow semiconductor nanowires directly on graphene instead.
The collective expertise of Professor Weman, Professor Fimland and Dr Kim proved to be a fruitful combination. The researchers quickly achieved their first breakthrough of growing semiconductors nanowires on a one-atom-thick base in September 2010, and in the summer of 2012 they published their results in the American journal Nano Letters.
These active semiconductors normally grow to be one micron (a millionth of a metre) in thickness.
Will Silicon Become Obsolete?
Graphene is definitely the hottest topic right now among nanomaterial researchers. The pure-carbon material is by far the thinnest and strongest known to exist. It is 200 times stronger than steel, conducts electricity 100 times faster than silicon and is superior to any other material in conducting heat. It is impermeable, yet pliable and transparent at the same time. And inexpensive large-scale production of graphene is now becoming a reality.
At present, electronics and solar cells are using thick silicon substrates. But silicon has clear limitations, including size. Large technology companies are struggling to produce silicon-based electronics that are smaller than those currently on the market. Another challenge with using silicon is that silicon-based electronics generate a great deal of heat. Many people consider graphene to be the prime candidate for replacing silicon.
Large multinational corporations such as IBM and Samsung have poured a lot of effort into research on both semiconductors and graphene. But the real breakthrough in growing semiconductors on graphene actually took place at NTNU in Trondheim.
The findings of these researchers in Trondheim may be used to make electronics and solar cells that are several hundred times thinner than current models. This will make it possible to produce electronics that are both pliable and transparent, in addition to being less expensive and more energy-efficient.
More Efficient Solar Cells and LEDs
It will probably not be long before simple graphene products begin appearing on the market. Some of them will be based on semiconductor technology.
Semiconductors are a main component in almost all modern electronics. Without them, it would not be possible to have computers, smartphones, solar cells, LED lights or devices using lasers, i.e. everything from printers to fibre communications. All these items can be made smaller and better using graphene. Graphene can both supplant the semiconductor substrate and serve as a transparent electrode for a pliable nanowire solar cell.
“Solar cell and LED technology will be the initial areas to see new products using semiconductors grown on graphene,” Dr Weman believes.
Under-priced fossil-fuel energy is the primary contributor to global warming. Sunlight is an alternative source with enormous potential, but solar energy will have to become less expensive and more efficient. Semiconductor nanowires based on graphene may just finally tip the scales in favour of solar energy.
“If semiconductor nanowires grown on graphene are used in solar cells, the same amount of sunlight can be converted to energy using one-tenth the volume of materials used in thin-film solar cells. And that means we’ve cut down on even more material by growing the semiconductors on graphene instead of on a thick semiconductor substrate. New research also shows that graphene has additional unique properties that enhance the efficiency of a solar cell,” Dr Weman explains.
LED light bulbs are superior in terms of energy efficiency, but have been more expensive to produce because of costly semiconductor substrates. Semiconductor nanowires on graphene will make it possible to supply the world with LED lamps that are far cheaper and much more efficient while also being more pliable and weighing less than today’s lamps.
Industrialisation on the Horizon
The work on graphene at NTNU has drawn the attention of many international companies interested in collaborating with the Trondheim-based researchers and their start-up company, CrayoNano. But the potential industrial queries so far have come solely from Asia and the US. Actors in Norway and Europe have yet to express any interest.
“We are pioneers in that we are using graphene for something other than basic research. We may already have our first prototype in place by the end of 2013, but we don’t wish to reveal what it is yet,” Dr Weman says.
“The field we are working with – using graphene as a replacement for silicon and other semiconductor substrates in electronics and solar cells – entails many new opportunities. But the potential is just as great for applications using graphene in areas other than electronics, such as in the medical sector. Graphene can be used in the body without causing any harm,” Dr Weman explains.
“In a world where drinking water is in short supply, employing oxygen-modified graphene filters to purify water is yet another exciting application. It’s a whole new way to turn seawater into fresh water.”
In any case, research and development activities will be needed for many years. Dr Weman likens the current state of graphene research to where silicon was in the early 1960s.
Research Council Funding Paved the Way
The Research Council of Norway has been a key source of funding for the Trondheim-based researchers throughout. Helge Weman makes it clear that funding under the Commercialising R&D Results (FORNY2020) programme and the Funding Scheme for Independent Basic Research Projects (FRIPRO) is what made it possible to achieve the unexpected research breakthrough. The researchers have also benefited significantly from funding allocated under the Research Programme on Nanotechnology and New Materials (NANOMAT) and the Large-Scale Programme Clean Energy for the Future (RENERGI).
The professor points out that NTNU’s strategic initiative on nanotechnology launched in 2005 is a good example of what future-oriented research policy can help to achieve.
Nicholas Keyes, The World Bank
June 12, 2013 |
About 1.2 billion people still lack access to electricity, and 2.8 billion have to rely on wood or other biomass to cook and heat their homes, said a recent report produced by a multi-agency team led by the World Bank.
The Sustainable Energy for All Global Tracking Framework report is also clear about where the energy gap is concentrated: in Sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia. These are countries and regions where children do not have light to study at night, where communities are often insecure after dark, and where businesses lack the reliable power to get off the ground. Changing this picture will require a concerted international effort.
In response, the World Bank Group is launching a global program to help countries achieve universal energy access, as part of its support to the Sustainable Energy for All initiative. The Sustainable Energy for All Technical Assistance Program (S-TAP), with US$15 million in initial funding from the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), will start in five countries in Sub-Saharan Africa: Burundi, Guinea, Liberia, Mozambique and Senegal.
The program will deliver a comprehensive package of support to help countries expand energy access, and build a prospectus of investment-ready projects that will facilitate that expansion. Together, these are expected to catalyze further funding and investment from donors and the private sector that will allow countries to achieve universal access to electricity and safe household energy solutions by the year 2030.
“We cannot end extreme poverty without tackling energy poverty,” said S. Vijay Iyer, Director of the World Bank Group’s Sustainable Energy Department. “The low access rate in these countries is both a cause and result of poverty. Change will require investment, knowledge sharing, and a long-term, collaborative effort with governments and development partners.”
Discussions are underway to expand the program beyond the first five countries to Central America and Asia. The program will also work to support the further development of regional power pools in Sub-Saharan Africa. The program is designed to eventually extend to 20 countries, with an end goal of catalyzing access to electricity and modern cooking fuels for 200 million people by 2030.
The current participating countries are characterized by low rates of energy access. Senegal is working to double rural electrification to 50 percent by 2017, and to minimize power outages. Liberia is rebuilding infrastructure damaged by its recent civil war, but at present less than 2 percent of the population is connected to the grid – one of the lowest rates in the world.
“The scale of the challenge for these countries is daunting, but experience shows that it can be done,” said Rohit Khanna, Manager of the World Bank’s ESMAP, which will implement the program. “Take Rwanda, which was able to triple household energy access in only three years. Or Vietnam, where a generation ago fewer than 15 percent of rural homes had access to electricity. Today, over 95 percent do.”
S-TAP will focus on developing a detailed action plan and an investment prospectus for each country. The investment prospectus will determine the policy and financing support needed for each country to meet its targets, and will include pre-feasibility studies for specific investment opportunities. These opportunities are expected to cover both expanding electricity access and solutions for cleaner household cooking and heating.
Other activities include a stock-taking of current energy access programs, capacity development, and policy and regulatory advice focused on two areas:
- improving the power sector investment climate by helping countries develop more credible and predictable regulations, and adopt global procurement standards;
- improving the governance and financial viability of power companies, through better accountability, autonomy and cost recovery.
Taken together, this support is expected to lay out a clear roadmap for each country to achieve universal energy access by 2030.
This article was originally published on World Bank and was republished with permission.
We have previously talked about community solar projects as an alternative to individually owned solar power systems. The Boulder Cowdery Meadows Solar Array in South Boulder County, Colorado is the first community solar project in Boulder, and it is now generating solar power for subscribers. According to Chris Meehan of SolarReviews.com, this is not Colorado’s first community solar installation, and several more are already underway.
“Clean Energy Collective is already working on its next community solar gardens in and outside of Colorado,
Sweeny says, though the next few to reach completion will be in Colorado. “The next one completed should be for
the City of Aurora. That’s a 500 kilowatt array as well.” He adds that the company also just broke ground on a
400 kilowatt community solar garden at the Lowry redevelopment project in Denver. Two additional 500 kilowatt
projects will also be completed in Summit County near Breckenridge.”
For the full article about Boulder’s first community solar garden, visit SolarReviews.com.
Various news sources have recently reported that solar power is becoming increasingly more important to the world’s energy supply, as demand for solar power increases, and prices continue to fall. In 2012, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu asserted that Hawaii had already reached energy parity, with the price of solar reaching 26 cents per kWh. Countries like Brazil, Italy, and Australia were also predicted to reach parity within the year.
“As solar comes into parity with other energy sources, the arguments against it– particularly that it’s more expensive–
fade away, and power producers, utilities, businesses and homeowners the world over are starting
to see it as a more serious alternative to fossil fuel and other means of electricity generation.”
This is great news for the solar industry, and solar power enthusiasts, because as prices fall, there is less of a reliance on incentives in order to make the installation of solar power systems affordable. In fact, the oil company Dutch Royal Shell projected that solar power could be the dominant electricity source for the world by the 2060′s, crediting public pressure for increased solar electricity production.
To read more about solar power reaching parity with other energy sources, read Chris Meehan’s article on Solar Reviews.
At Solar Energy World, when we analyze property for a solar array, we take into account several factors, including energy usage, and available roof space or land for maximum sun exposure. Indeed, exposure to sunlight is the most important factor when it comes to generating solar power, simply because without sunlight, solar panels cannot work.
Deserts are a desirable location for large scale solar installations because of their sunny climates, and the amount of space available. According to the DESERTEC website, more solar energy hits the deserts of the world within six hours than is consumed around the world in one year.
The European Union is poised to take advantage of the immense amounts of solar radiation in the Sahara. Covering an estimated 6,500 square miles of the Sahara with solar panels and wind turbines, the EU will begin importing electricity by 2015. It may sound like a lot of space, but considering the vast size of the Sahara, it would take only one percent of the surface area covered in solar panels to provide enough electricity for the entire world.
Another development in the world of solar power is the concept of using the ocean and other bodies of water for solar power. The oceans make up the majority of the earth’s surface, and, similar to deserts, they are exposed to a lot of sunlight. There are no trees, or buildings to worry about on the high seas, after all!
Of course, there are a few obvious obstacles to placing solar panels on the ocean, namely finding somewhere to put them in the first place. According to this article, several companies are planning to build floating solar islands of steel and plastic, that will be set to drift on placid bodies of water.
Another risk to floating solar arrays? Hurricanes and tropical storms could pose a threat. Included in the design for these solar islands is the ability for the entire floating structure to submerge, in order to avoid storm force winds.
Referenced in this article:
“Europe Will Be Powered by Solar Panels in 5 Years“, ImpactLab
“This Island Paradise is for One thing Only, Solar Power“, FastCoExist
On the evening of Thursday, September 27th, Solar Energy World and SunPower hosted Solar Energy World’s first Solar Stars Soiree at Turf Valley Country Club in Ellicott City, Maryland. Over 100 attendees listened to presentations about solar power by some of the most influential women involved in solar and green energy, and enjoyed an evening of awards, prizes, and hors d’oeuvres to celebrate the power of women in solar energy.
The Soiree included an informative question and answer session, where attendees learned valuable information about the benefits of solar power. Featured speakers included Laureen Peck, Vice President of Marketing for Solar Energy World and moderator for the event, Ann Elsen, founder of Elsen Energy, Susan Greene, President of American Solar Energy Society, Stelli Munnis of SunPower Corporation, as well as Summer Reed and Sara Callaghan, also of Solar Energy World. Topics included financial incentives, SRECs, and the factors that caused the women of the panel to become involved in solar energy.
Homeowners listened to presentations about solar energy, the financial and environmental benefits, and the process of installing a solar power system in a home or business. In addition, Candice Stankus, a homeowner and Solar Energy World customer spoke about her experience with the company, and with solar power in general. Summer and Sara of Solar Energy World discussed SRECs, incentives, and net-metering, and attendees participated in a question and answer session with the members of the discussion panel.
Several prominent and influential attendees received the Solar Energy World 2012 POW! Award (Power of Women)
About the POW! Award Winners
POW! Award winner, Kim Parson is President of Maryland-based Automotive Collision Technologies, one of Baltimore Business Journal’s 50 Largest Woman-Owned Businesses. She is devoted to running her business with integrity when it comes to customers, and the environment.
POW! Award winner, Ann Elsen was a contributing speaker at the Solar Stars Soiree and is the founder of Elsen Energy and the Executive Director of the Howard County Green Business Association, and, as a member of several other green organizations, is a consultant to the local government on energy issues.
POW! Award-winner, Stephanie L. Dunn-Hunt is President of Dunn & Associates Public Relations, another company listed in the BBJ 50 Largest Woman-Owned Businesses. She is the sole creator of the Baltimore African-American Home & Garden Show, and has been featured in Baltimore Smart CEO Magazine.
POW! Award-winner, Lisa Ambrose is founder, President, and CEO of Tithe Corp., also a BBJ Largest Woman-Owned Business. Tithe Corp. is a green, internationally recognized, and 100% woman owned and operated business specializing in innovative HVAC solutions.
Thank you to all of our speakers and guests who attended this event that celebrated the influence of women in green technology and renewable energy! To view even more photos from the event, please visit our Solar Stars Soiree album.
By Samantha J. Majka
At Solar Energy World, we focus on bettering the planet. Usually, and most obviously, this is through the installation of solar power systems. In addition, under the umbrella of creating a better, greener planet, falls community outreach. This year, for Earth Day, Solar Energy World partnered with two Maryland schools for events that focused on educating students about the facts and benefits of solar power.
Solar Energy World representatives visited Eagle Cove School in Pasadena on Tuesday April 24th, and St. Joseph School in Cockeysville on April 25th. Students participated in a presentation by Jose Cespedes, Solar Analyst, and then competed in a race with solar powered race cars that they had built themselves.
The presentations consisted of an educational speech, a small experiment, and a question and answer session. Students also passed around mini versions of the solar panels that Solar Energy World installs on homes and buildings. We were particularly impressed with the excellent questions posed by student participants!
The second half of the events was especially exciting, as students and teachers moved outside for the solar car race. A week before the event, Solar Energy World provided solar powered race car kits to both schools, and teams of students assembled and decorated their cars. The winning teams from both schools received a prize of a pizza party provided by Solar Energy World.
Please visit Solar Energy World on Facebook to see more pictures and video of the races. A special thank you goes out to the staff of Eagle Cove School and St. Joseph School for inviting us to participate in their Earth Day celebrations.
By Laureen Peck, Vice President of Marketing, Solar Energy World
Let’s say you have decided you want to reduce your dependency on your utilities company, have pledged to spend less on your home’s energy costs and are committed to decreasing your carbon footprint. You don’t need to be convinced that getting more of your energy from renewable sources is a responsible way for you to help end your country’s dependence on foreign oil. You also hold the fervent belief that leaving a healthier, greener world for future generations is the right thing to do. You have reviewed various clean energy options and are leaning towards solar.
The problem is that when you do a Google search, although you can see there are several solar energy companies listed for your area, they all look the same and appear to offer similar savings, financial and environmental benefits. So, how can you narrow down your choice to the solar installation company most likely to answer your very specific needs? Here are a few tips that could help save you some time;
1. Be wary of automated processes. Some solar energy panel installation companies provide a calculator or “typical” costs on their website so a homeowner can estimate their energy savings, rebates and tax credits and then sometimes “order” a solar system online. The problem with this automated approach is that in order to get a truly accurate estimate, a home solar energy expert really needs to have a conversation with the homeowner(s) and ideally come to the actual installation site so they can make sure all the elements of your home’s energy usage, roof and/or yard layout, family budget, financial goals, and your home’s current energy efficiency rating are all factored into the recommended solution. There is no question that a knowledgeable human being is more accountable and helpful than a computer can possibly be. Also, it can take time for a company to update their website, so sometimes the information shown is no longer accurate as incentives and rebates change.
Although going online to gather information is a good idea, going online to get a solar installation estimate and/or order an installation package is like going online to get a comprehensive medical checkup. A good doctor does not make a diagnosis or prescribe medications to her patients based on educated guesses. A solar installation company cannot give a homeowner a customized energy solution based on guesswork either. To make certain you are getting the best solution for your needs, it is smart to schedule a free in-home analysis with a solar energy expert, preferably from a company that also provides home energy audits and is experienced making homes more energy efficient overall.
2. Trees matter – but there are other options. It’s a myth that solar energy won’t work in colder, greyer climates. Remember when your mother told you to wear sunscreen lotion, even on the cloudy days? Mom knew that UV rays still get through the clouds. The fact is that solar works in all types of climates. If that were not true, Germany, a country certainly not known for sunny weather, would not be one of the world’s top photovoltaics (PV) installers in the world. Shade is a different matter, however. If your roof is shaded, you might need to cut down a few trees, or trim them. If you don’t want to do that, but have a good amount of property and your zoning allows it, you can still use the sun to power your home by having solar panels installed on mounts. To see an example of what pole mounted solar panels can look like, click here.
3. Good customer service is proactive, not reactive. Once you have narrowed down your selection to a specific solar energy company, make sure that company will take care of you before, during and after installation.
Prior to making a commitment, find out how much of the leg work you will have to do for yourself once you agree to buy. Will you have to be the one dealing with the utilities company or filling out all the forms for energy rebates and solar energy credits? Or will your installation company do that for you? The more the solar installation company does for you, the better. The company you choose should be the experts on all of the processes and have the most recent information about money saving options that you may not be aware of. They should also be experienced managing the bureaucracy involved with utilities so you won’t have that headache to worry about.
Also prior to installation, find out if the installers are subcontractors or actual company employees. There is nothing worse than having untrained, or barely trained installers on the job. Make sure the installers work directly for the solar installation company and are accountable to that company for their performance. Keep in mind that solar installation companies, in particular larger ones that are part of national chains, hire subcontractors most of the time so if you decide to go that way there is no assurance you will be getting the most qualified workers installing your system.
Make sure the company you hire will take care of you once you buy or lease from them. The whole point of using solar panels to power your home is that there is hardly ever a need for repairs or major services. However, there are rare times when the system goes down. In this case, it will be a lot less stressful for you if you are working with a company that not only allows you to monitor your system yourself online, but also continually monitors your system for you. What this means is that you should expect that your solar installation company will be on top of any problem that might occur and will be on their way to have it fixed before you even know there was a problem. If you bought your panels from a large solar installation retailer, it’s unlikely you will get that type of proactive service.
4. Cheapest may not really be cheaper. If you want to get the most out of your solar panels and/or feel it is your patriotic duty to get panels from an American manufacturer, do your research to make certain you are making an informed investment. Not all solar panels are equal. Your panels should be designed to absorb the most solar energy possible and have a guarantee to help increase the value of your home.
Hopefully the tips above will help you with your decision to go solar. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling us at 1-866-856-4580. You can also follow us on the official Solar Energy World Facebook page.
Solar energy continues to nab headlines across the nation this month. From new investments to new technology, solare energy continues to gain attention as the next big energy source.
In Boston, a team at MIT announced a breakthrough, reducing the scale of solar energy. Just like the first computers took up entire rooms but now fit into your pocket, MIT has produced a solar panel the size and weight of a piece of paper.
The new technology “prints” solar energy cells onto an array of surfaces, including paper and fabric. This drastically reduces size and weight of solar panels, essentially creating portable solar energy sources. While not as efficient as traditional solar panels, the technology, which boasts a low manufacturing cost, will allow people to power individual electronic devices. Not to mention the potential uses for them as the technology gets further refined.
On the other end of the scale, Hawaii started constructing its largest solar energy installation to date. Hoping to create one of the largest solar communities in the U.S., military families at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam will soon be powered by solar energy. In addition to creating 55 green jobs, when finished, the four MW installation is expected to produce more than 5.6 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) and power over 2,000 homes.
And here in the DC Metro area, the Washington Redskins are bringing solar to FexEd field. Officials announced plans for a two MW system that is expected to generate enough power to run the stadium on non-game days and off-set some electricity usage during game days. The photovoltaic solar panel system would span over 800 parking spots. While the league hopes the location will help increase solar visibility to its fans, the solar array will also creatively double as a covered parking area.
New Jersey is the most densely populated state resulting in a real effort to preserve the state’s remaining open spaces. This has limited the prospect of a large utility-scale solar energy installations. The state also experienced a period of heavy industrialization in the absence of environmental regulations, and has responded by tightening said regulations significantly.
The big reason why Jersey can use solar energy is that the state’s energy economy makes renewable power easier to sell. New Jersey gets about half of its power from nuclear plants and imports about 30% power from other states. The bulk of New Jersey’s expanding electricity need to be met by coal and natural gas. All of these factors keep New Jersey’s electricity prices in line with nearby states. Renewable’s prices don’t have to come down as far in price to become competitive.
The state also imposed a renewable energy standard that dictates, by 2020, it will receive 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
There were limited energy options for New Jersey. New Jersey generally has flat topography meaning that hydropower isn’t much of an option. Many of the estuaries and rivers that do flow into the ocean in New Jersey have excellent potential as sources of tidal power, but that technology hasn’t yet advanced far enough to allow deployment. Due to the fact that open land is so precious and preserved, New Jersey did not really have many options other than to turn to solar energy, unless it wanted to build a big utility facility. However, in terms of space for solar energy, rooftops are everywhere- enter the photovoltaic solar panel system.
In addition to the political and economic situation of New Jersey the state devised a system based on what are called Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, or SRECs. The utilities can buy SREC bundles and use them to meet their annual quota of renewable power; falling short will net them a fee. An example of this can be seen from 2009 when it was required that Jersey Central Power and Light and Public Service Electric and Gas obtain 20% of their power from solar. The SREC market acts as a cap and trade system with a maximum value for the SRECs.
Unlike SRECs, selling the credits that your system produces, you can save money by saving electricity. As your system produces electricity and sends excess back to the grid, your meter is running backwards or keeping track of electricity sent. When your system is not producing electricity it is pulling electricity from the grid at no charge if you are using what you contributed at an earlier period. Through this process you can save money on your monthly electricity bills while also receiving money from selling your SRECs credits.
These characteristics make renewable so easy to sell in New Jersey that could not be sold anywhere else due to the limited competitiveness of the renewable market. The Maryland solar industry is attempting to model the state’s policies after regulations found in New Jersey.
Post written by: David Zamostny, Solar Energy World Intern