SciCombinator

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

Concept: Solar thermal energy

185

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

66

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

28

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

25

We report an efficient approach to the synthesis of AgSbS2 nanocrystals (NCs) by colloidal chemistry. The size of the AgSbS2 NCs can be tuned from 5.3 to 58.3 nm with narrow size distributions by selection of appropriate precursors and fine control of the experimental conditions. Over 15 g of high-quality AgSbS2 NCs can be obtained from one single reaction, indicative of the up-scalability of the present synthesis. The resulting NCs display strong absorptions in the visible-to-NIR range and exceptional air stability. The photoelectrochemical measurements indicate that, although the pristine AgSbS2 NC electrodes generate a cathodic photocurrent with a relatively small photocurrent density and poor stability, both of them can be significantly improved subject to CdS surface modification, showing promise in solar energy conversion applications.

Concepts: Energy, Chemical reaction, Sun, Photovoltaics, Energy conversion, Solar energy, Solar power, Solar thermal energy

20

Copper indium gallium diselenide-based technology provides the most efficient solar energy conversion among all thin-film photovoltaic devices. This is possible due to engineered gallium depth gradients and alkali extrinsic doping. Sodium is well known to impede interdiffusion of indium and gallium in polycrystalline Cu(In,Ga)Se2films, thus influencing the gallium depth distribution. Here, however, sodium is shown to have the opposite effect in monocrystalline gallium-free CuInSe2grown on GaAs substrates. Gallium in-diffusion from the substrates is enhanced when sodium is incorporated into the film, leading to Cu(In,Ga)Se2and Cu(In,Ga)3Se5phase formation. These results show that sodium does not decrease per se indium and gallium interdiffusion. Instead, it is suggested that sodium promotes indium and gallium intragrain diffusion, while it hinders intergrain diffusion by segregating at grain boundaries. The deeper understanding of dopant-mediated atomic diffusion mechanisms should lead to more effective chemical and electrical passivation strategies, and more efficient solar cells.

Concepts: Zinc, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Energy conversion, Solar energy, Solar power, Copper indium gallium selenide, Solar thermal energy

10

It is possible to harvest energy from Earth’s thermal infrared emission into outer space. We calculate the thermodynamic limit for the amount of power available, and as a case study, we plot how this limit varies daily and seasonally in a location in Oklahoma. We discuss two possible ways to make such an emissive energy harvester (EEH): A thermal EEH (analogous to solar thermal power generation) and an optoelectronic EEH (analogous to photovoltaic power generation). For the latter, we propose using an infrared-frequency rectifying antenna, and we discuss its operating principles, efficiency limits, system design considerations, and possible technological implementations.

Concepts: Energy, Electromagnetic radiation, Sun, Photovoltaics, Renewable energy, Black body, Solar energy, Solar thermal energy

6

Land-cover change from energy development, including solar energy, presents trade-offs for land used for the production of food and the conservation of ecosystems. Solar energy plays a critical role in contributing to the alternative energy mix to mitigate climate change and meet policy milestones; however, the extent that solar energy development on nonconventional surfaces can mitigate land scarcity is understudied. Here, we evaluate the land sparing potential of solar energy development across four nonconventional land-cover types: the built environment, salt-affected land, contaminated land, and water reservoirs (as floatovoltaics), within the Great Central Valley (CV, CA), a globally significant agricultural region where land for food production, urban development, and conservation collide. Furthermore, we calculate the technical potential (TWh year-1) of these land sparing sites and test the degree to which projected electricity needs for the state of California can be met therein. In total, the CV encompasses 15% of CA, 8415 km2 of which was identified as potentially land-sparing for solar energy development. These areas comprise a capacity-based energy potential of at least 17 348 TWh year-1 for photovoltaic (PV) and 2213 TWh year-1 for concentrating solar power (CSP). Accounting for technology efficiencies, this exceeds California’s 2025 projected electricity demands up to 13 and 2 times for PV and CSP, respectively. Our study underscores the potential of strategic renewable energy siting to mitigate environmental trade-offs typically coupled with energy sprawl in agricultural landscapes.

Concepts: Energy, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, California, Renewable energy, Solar energy, Solar thermal energy, Concentrating solar power

6

We introduce a paradigm-“hydricity”-that involves the coproduction of hydrogen and electricity from solar thermal energy and their judicious use to enable a sustainable economy. We identify and implement synergistic integrations while improving each of the two individual processes. When the proposed integrated process is operated in a standalone, solely power production mode, the resulting solar water power cycle can generate electricity with unprecedented efficiencies of 40-46%. Similarly, in standalone hydrogen mode, pressurized hydrogen is produced at efficiencies approaching ∼50%. In the coproduction mode, the coproduced hydrogen is stored for uninterrupted solar power production. When sunlight is unavailable, we envision that the stored hydrogen is used in a “turbine”-based hydrogen water power (H2WP) cycle with the calculated hydrogen-to-electricity efficiency of 65-70%, which is comparable to the fuel cell efficiencies. The H2WP cycle uses much of the same equipment as the solar water power cycle, reducing capital outlays. The overall sun-to-electricity efficiency of the hydricity process, averaged over a 24-h cycle, is shown to approach ∼35%, which is nearly the efficiency attained by using the best multijunction photovoltaic cells along with batteries. In comparison, our proposed process has the following advantages: (i) It stores energy thermochemically with a two- to threefold higher density, (ii) coproduced hydrogen has alternate uses in transportation/chemical/petrochemical industries, and (iii) unlike batteries, the stored energy does not discharge over time and the storage medium does not degrade with repeated uses.

Concepts: Energy, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Energy conversion, Renewable energy, Solar energy, Solar thermal energy, PS10 solar power tower

4

Major developments, as well as remaining challenges and the associated research opportunities, are evaluated for three technologically distinct approaches to solar energy utilization: solar electricity, solar thermal, and solar fuels technologies. Much progress has been made, but research opportunities are still present for all approaches. Both evolutionary and revolutionary technology development, involving foundational research, applied research, learning by doing, demonstration projects, and deployment at scale will be needed to continue this technology-innovation ecosystem. Most of the approaches still offer the potential to provide much higher efficiencies, much lower costs, improved scalability, and new functionality, relative to the embodiments of solar energy-conversion systems that have been developed to date.

Concepts: Sun, Science, Research, Photovoltaics, Technology, Solar energy, Solar thermal energy, Applied research

2

Solution-processed organic photovoltaics (OPV) offer the attractive prospect of low-cost, light-weight and environmentally benign solar energy production. The highest efficiency OPV at present use low-bandgap donor polymers, many of which suffer from problems with stability and synthetic scalability. They also rely on fullerene-based acceptors, which themselves have issues with cost, stability and limited spectral absorption. Here we present a new non-fullerene acceptor that has been specifically designed to give improved performance alongside the wide bandgap donor poly(3-hexylthiophene), a polymer with significantly better prospects for commercial OPV due to its relative scalability and stability. Thanks to the well-matched optoelectronic and morphological properties of these materials, efficiencies of 6.4% are achieved which is the highest reported for fullerene-free P3HT devices. In addition, dramatically improved air stability is demonstrated relative to other high-efficiency OPV, showing the excellent potential of this new material combination for future technological applications.

Concepts: Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Organic solar cell, Photodiode, Solar energy, Solar power, Solar tracker, Solar thermal energy