Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Solar energy


Recent advances in nanophotonic light trapping open up the new gateway to enhance the absorption of solar energy beyond the so called Yablonovitch Limit. It addresses the urgent needs in developing low cost thin-film solar photovoltaic technologies. However, current design strategy mainly relies on the parametric approach that is subject to the predefined topological design concepts based on physical intuition. Incapable of dealing with the topological variation severely constrains the design of optimal light trapping structure. Inspired by natural evolution process, here we report a design framework driven by topology optimization based on genetic algorithms to achieve a highly efficient light trapping structure. It has been demonstrated that the optimal light trapping structures obtained in this study exhibit more than 3-fold increase over the Yablonovitch Limit with the broadband absorption efficiency of 48.1%, beyond the reach of intuitive designs.

Concepts: Evolution, Energy, Topology, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Design, Solar energy, Solar thermal energy


Decisions determining the use of land for energy are of exigent concern as land scarcity, the need for ecosystem services, and demands for energy generation have concomitantly increased globally. Utility-scale solar energy (USSE) [i.e., ≥1 megawatt (MW)] development requires large quantities of space and land; however, studies quantifying the effect of USSE on land cover change and protected areas are limited. We assessed siting impacts of >160 USSE installations by technology type [photovoltaic (PV) vs. concentrating solar power (CSP)], area (in square kilometers), and capacity (in MW) within the global solar hot spot of the state of California (United States). Additionally, we used the Carnegie Energy and Environmental Compatibility model, a multiple criteria model, to quantify each installation according to environmental and technical compatibility. Last, we evaluated installations according to their proximity to protected areas, including inventoried roadless areas, endangered and threatened species habitat, and federally protected areas. We found the plurality of USSE (6,995 MW) in California is sited in shrublands and scrublands, comprising 375 km(2) of land cover change. Twenty-eight percent of USSE installations are located in croplands and pastures, comprising 155 km(2) of change. Less than 15% of USSE installations are sited in “Compatible” areas. The majority of “Incompatible” USSE power plants are sited far from existing transmission infrastructure, and all USSE installations average at most 7 and 5 km from protected areas, for PV and CSP, respectively. Where energy, food, and conservation goals intersect, environmental compatibility can be achieved when resource opportunities, constraints, and trade-offs are integrated into siting decisions.

Concepts: Sun, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Solar energy, Solar power, Nuclear power, Solar thermal energy, Concentrating solar power


Solar energy storage is an emerging technology which can promote the solar energy as the primary source of electricity. Recent development of laser scribed graphene electrodes exhibiting a high electrical conductivity have enabled a green technology platform for supercapacitor-based energy storage, resulting in cost-effective, environment-friendly features, and consequent readiness for on-chip integration. Due to the limitation of the ion-accessible active porous surface area, the energy densities of these supercapacitors are restricted below ~3 × 10(-3) Whcm(-3). In this paper, we demonstrate a new design of biomimetic laser scribed graphene electrodes for solar energy storage, which embraces the structure of Fern leaves characterized by the geometric family of space filling curves of fractals. This new conceptual design removes the limit of the conventional planar supercapacitors by significantly increasing the ratio of active surface area to volume of the new electrodes and reducing the electrolyte ionic path. The attained energy density is thus significantly increased to ~10(-1) Whcm(-3)- more than 30 times higher than that achievable by the planar electrodes with ~95% coulombic efficiency of the solar energy storage. The energy storages with these novel electrodes open the prospects of efficient self-powered and solar-powered wearable, flexible and portable applications.

Concepts: Density, Volume, Sun, Electrochemistry, Integral, Solar energy, Energy density, Energy storage


Power supply represents a critical challenge in the development of body-integrated electronic technologies. Although recent research establishes an impressive variety of options in energy storage (batteries and supercapacitors) and generation (triboelectric, piezoelectric, thermoelectric, and photovoltaic devices), the modest electrical performance and/or the absence of soft, biocompatible mechanical properties limit their practical use. The results presented here form the basis of soft, skin-compatible means for efficient photovoltaic generation and high-capacity storage of electrical power using dual-junction, compound semiconductor solar cells and chip-scale, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, respectively. Miniaturized components, deformable interconnects, optimized array layouts, and dual-composition elastomer substrates, superstrates, and encapsulation layers represent key features. Systematic studies of the materials and mechanics identify optimized designs, including unusual configurations that exploit a folded, multilayer construct to improve the functional density without adversely affecting the soft, stretchable characteristics. System-level examples exploit such technologies in fully wireless sensors for precision skin thermography, with capabilities in continuous data logging and local processing, validated through demonstrations on volunteer subjects in various realistic scenarios.

Concepts: Electricity, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Rechargeable battery, Capacitor, Lithium-ion battery, Solar energy, Nickel-cadmium battery


Young sunflower plants track the Sun from east to west during the day and then reorient during the night to face east in anticipation of dawn. In contrast, mature plants cease movement with their flower heads facing east. We show that circadian regulation of directional growth pathways accounts for both phenomena and leads to increased vegetative biomass and enhanced pollinator visits to flowers. Solar tracking movements are driven by antiphasic patterns of elongation on the east and west sides of the stem. Genes implicated in control of phototropic growth, but not clock genes, are differentially expressed on the opposite sides of solar tracking stems. Thus, interactions between environmental response pathways and the internal circadian oscillator coordinate physiological processes with predictable changes in the environment to influence growth and reproduction.

Concepts: Environment, Sun, Seed, Flower, Plant stem, Solar energy, Sunflower, Inflorescence


The electrostatic alignment and directed assembly of semiconductor nanowires into macroscopic, centimeter-long yarns is demonstrated. Different morphologies can be produced, including longitudinally segmented/graded yarns or mixed composition fibers. Nanowire yarns display long range photoconductivities and open up exciting opportunities for potential use in future nanowire-based textiles or in solar photovoltaics.

Concepts: Energy, Nanowire, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Solar energy, Photovoltaic module, Photovoltaic array, Waldpolenz Solar Park


Quantum dot nanoscale semiconductor heterostructures (QDHs) are a class of materials potentially useful for integration into solar energy conversion devices. However, realizing the potential of these heterostructured systems requires the ability to identify and synthesize heterostructures with suitably designed materials, controlled size and morphology of each component, and structural control over their shared interface. In this review, we will present the case for the utility and advantages of chemically synthesized QDHs for solar energy conversion, beginning with an overview of various methods of heterostructured material synthesis and a survey of heretofore reported materials systems. The fundamental charge transfer properties of the resulting materials combinations and their basic design principles will be outlined. Finally, we will discuss representative solar photovoltaic and photoelectrochemical devices employing QDHs (including quantum dot sensitized solar cells, or QDSSCs) and examine how QDH synthesis and design impacts their performance.

Concepts: Energy, Sun, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Solar energy, Solar power, Photovoltaic array, Solar thermal energy


Graphene not only possesses interesting electrochemical behavior but also has a remarkable surface area and mechanical strength and is naturally abundant, all advantageous properties for the design of tailored composite materials. Graphene-semiconductor or -metal nanoparticle composites have the potential to function as efficient, multifunctional materials for energy conversion and storage. These next-generation composite systems could possess the capability to integrate conversion and storage of solar energy, detection, and selective destruction of trace environmental contaminants or achieve single-substrate, multistep heterogeneous catalysis. These advanced materials may soon become a reality, based on encouraging results in the key areas of energy conversion and sensing using graphene oxide as a support structure. Through recent advances, chemists can now integrate such processes on a single substrate while using synthetic designs that combine simplicity with a high degree of structural and composition selectivity. This progress represents the beginning of a transformative movement leveraging the advancements of single-purpose chemistry toward the creation of composites designed to address whole-process applications. The promising field of graphene nanocomposites for sensing and energy applications is based on fundamental studies that explain the electronic interactions between semiconductor or metal nanoparticles and graphene. In particular, reduced graphene oxide is a suitable composite substrate because of its two-dimensional structure, outstanding surface area, and electrical conductivity. In this Account, we describe common assembly methods for graphene composite materials and examine key studies that characterize its excited state interactions. We also discuss strategies to develop graphene composites and control electron capture and transport through the 2D carbon network. In addition, we provide a brief overview of advances in sensing, energy conversion, and storage applications that incorporate graphene-based composites. With these results in mind, we can envision a new class of semiconductor- or metal-graphene composites sensibly tailored to address the pressing need for advanced energy conversion and storage devices.

Concepts: Nanoparticle, Sun, Nanomaterials, Composite material, Solar energy, Solar power, Boeing 787, Carbon fiber


Since the 1970s, installed solar photovoltaic capacity has grown tremendously to 230 gigawatt worldwide in 2015, with a growth rate between 1975 and 2015 of 45%. This rapid growth has led to concerns regarding the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of photovoltaics production. We present a review of 40 years of photovoltaics development, analysing the development of energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions associated with photovoltaics production. Here we show strong downward trends of environmental impact of photovoltaics production, following the experience curve law. For every doubling of installed photovoltaic capacity, energy use decreases by 13 and 12% and greenhouse gas footprints by 17 and 24%, for poly- and monocrystalline based photovoltaic systems, respectively. As a result, we show a break-even between the cumulative disadvantages and benefits of photovoltaics, for both energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, occurs between 1997 and 2018, depending on photovoltaic performance and model uncertainties.

Concepts: Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Natural gas, Renewable energy, Solar energy, Photovoltaic module, Greenhouse gas, World energy resources and consumption


It is highly desired to enhance the visible-excited charge separation of nano-sized BiVO4 for efficient solar utilization. Herein, different molar-ratio ZnO/BiVO4 nanocomposites are fabricated by simple wet-chemical processes, after nano-sized BiVO4 and ZnO are respectively synthesized by hydrothermal methods. It is shown by means of atmosphere-controlled steady-state surface photovoltage spectra (SS-SPS) and transient-state surface photovoltage (TS-SPV) responses that the photogenerated charges of resulting nanocomposite display longer lifetime and higher separation than those of BiVO4 alone. This leads to its superior photoactivities for water oxidation to produce O2 and for colorless pollutant degradation under visible irradiation, with about three times enhancement. Interestingly, it is suggested that the prolonged lifetime and promoted separation of photogenerated charges in the nanocomposite is attributed to the unusual spatial transfer of visible-excited high-energy electrons from BiVO4 to ZnO on the basis of the ultra-low-temperature EPR measurements and the photocurrent action spectra. Moreover, it is clearly demonstrated that the photogenerated charge separation of resulting ZnO/BiVO4 nanocomposite could be further enhanced after introducing the silicate bridges so as to improve the visible photoactivity greatly, attributed to the built bridge roles favorable to charge transfer. This work would provide a feasible way to enhance the solar energy utilization of visible-response semiconductor photocatalysts.

Concepts: Electron, Electric charge, Photocatalysis, Fossil fuel, Photocatalytic water splitting, Solar energy, Solar power, Nanocomposite