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Sunday, October 30, 2011

More cool things from the solar world

     On the same site that I read about spray-on solar, I read about some other pretty neat things. The researchers at the National Renewable Energy Lab have come up with new solar cells that absorb more wavelengths of light (currently, solar cells are only able to absorb wavelengths of the red spectrum). And, we already know that they work: these special cells have been used to power space technologies on Mars. The NRE Lab has worked with other companies, and now they have improved solar cells to a 43% efficiency, a big increase.
     Still another new technology is solar-powered LCD screens. Apparently, about 50% of light is lost and wasted when LCD screens are in use. UCLA researchers have figured out a way to use this excess light to make the LCD almost like a solar cell itself. They are continuing research in the hopes that they can use this method without reducing viewing quality.

Here is the site where I got this info:

Go Big Oran---, er, Green!

So I've written before about what UT is doing to be more sustainable. We have battery-powered bicycles, campus-wide competitions (who conserves the most energy, who recycles the most, etc), and we're now involved in these types of competitions with the whole nation. Yesterday, the Tennessee Volunteers played the South Carolina Gamecocks; although everyone was interested to see how we would perform on the field, the EPA's Game Day Recycling Challenge was also a concern. Last year, the University of Tennessee recycled 54.7  tons (that is a huge amount!) of waste during the football season, and we got third place in the SEC recycling category. This year, the goal is 80 tons, which would be 10 tons per game. Sadly, we lost the football game, but hopefully we'll win the Recycling Challenge! I'll keep you updated..

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spray-on Solar?

I was reading articles on a site called Celsias ( and came across a really interesting post about some new solar energy things we'll be seeing. One that I found especially intriguing is the idea of spray-on solar. Apparently, the geniuses at M.I.T. have found a way to print solar cells on paper (similar to printing ink on paper, except instead of ink, an organic semiconductor material is put on the paper).It looks like this:
(picture is from the Celsias website)

 The paper can still be folded and is virtually indestructible, according to the article. The article also said that the researchers are working to improve this method so that eventually the solar cells could be sprayed on a variety of surfaces. How cool would that be??

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Will and Kate cycle, too!


     Okay, so you might expect to see the title of this post on an entertainment site, rather than on a solar energy blog; that's an understandable thought. But, I think it relates to my subject matter...
     Obviously the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are hugely popular. Not only are many Brits fascinated by them, but many people all over the world are interested in them as well. It is their worldwide popularity that makes me think this story is blog-worthy. So, what exactly did the couple do that is so exciting? They went on a bike ride. (Sorry if you were expecting something more dramatic, but the title should have given it away).
     I understand that a bike ride doesn't seem particularly newsworthy, but the reason that I am writing about it is that it draws attention to sustainability. In my sustainability class, we read an article by Michael Pollan in which he wrote about the importance of getting everyone "on board" with something before a change can be made. He was writing about issues in the food industry, but the same can be applied here. Until a majority of people care about living sustainably (and doing things like riding bicycles instead of driving cars), it is difficult to make significant changes. When people who are in the public eye (like William and Kate) practice sustainability, it sets a positive example for everyone who is watching them. I think this is a sign of progress, and I hope more public figures will act in a similar manner.

*Note: The Duke and Duchess reportedly rent Boris Bikes, a program that seems similar to Autolib (which I  blogged about last week)

**Photo from

Monday, October 10, 2011

Autolib! (Don't worry, I don't know what that means either)

     I was reading a green energy blog (check it out:, and one post led me to an interesting site. The website ( is entirely in French, and my Google Translate wasn't working properly; so unfortunately, I wasn't able to read it (if anyone speaks French, I'd be interested to know what it says). 
     Even though I wasn't able to read anything, I watched a video on the site that is pretty clear, and I read what blogger David Jolly wrote explaining the program. Basically, France is implementing a new car rental program that enables people to rent electric cars. Jolly writes, "The city says the goal is to reduce car ownership, traffic and tailpipe emissions, improving residents’ quality of life." This program follows a similar project that they did several years ago: Velib. The idea of Velib was to provide bicycles to decrease the number of people in vehicles and thus reduce pollution. 
    I think it's pretty neat that France is putting an effort into taking care of our environment. And, now I'm going to brag a little bit... UT is doing something similar! Recently, UT students have had the privilege to test out electric bikes. A station is set up in Presidential Courtyard (where many freshmen live) where the bikes can be picked up and later returned to re-charge. This program is the first of its kind in the nation according to WBIR. Now, if only it would catch on!

Read more about the bikes and watch an interview of the project initiator:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Continuing Effects of Solyndra Failure

I blogged last week about the failure of Solyndra, the solar energy company that received some pretty hefty funding by the US government. It has stimulated more doubt in the importance of solar energy and prompted investigation by the House of Representatives Republicans and the FBI. Now, Jonathan Silver (an energy loans official) has resigned from his position. Even with his resignation, though, the investigation is likely to continue. Even with all the legal issues, President Obama does not want to cease progress in this field. In a recent talk, he said, "If we are going to be able to compete in the 21st century, then we've got to dominate cutting-edge technologies, we've got to dominate cutting-edge manufacturing" (qtd in Energy loans official leaves in wake of Solyndra), referring to the necessity that the U.S. be competitive with China and other countries who are constantly advancing their technologies. It will be interesting to see if people can focus on what's important (having clean energy) rather than making the issue solely a political problem.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Updated Solar Energy

     Currently, solar energy technology is what staff writers for Space Daily call "mechanically brittle and reliant on a relatively rare mineral." So, researchers are seeking improvements. Mark C. Hersam, Tobin J. Marks, and Vladimir N. Ipatieff (from Northwestern University) are leading current research, and have actually come up with a new way of harvesting solar energy: using carbon-based materials. The new technology is very flexible and could even be placed in fabric and clothing, which Space Daily says "enabl[es] portable energy supplies that could impact everything from personal electronics to military operations." The carbon nanotubes would also be more accessible because of their more reasonable price (carbon is obviously not a "rare" material like the current indium tin oxide that requires the element indium).
     I think it  is great to see that people are working to improve solar energy, because this means they have faith in it. They think there will be a great demand for this alternative energy in the future and thus it needs to be efficient. Making solar energy more cost-efficient should attract more potential users, and hopefully its popularity will continue to grow!

Here is the source of my story and picture:

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fail... What happened to Solyndra?

     Some may be familiar with Solyndra, but just in case you're not, I'll tell you about it. The business, based in California, manufactures thin-film solar panels. These panels' popular characteristic was their lack of silicon. Several years ago, polysilicon was not cheap; but just as Solyndra was approved to receive a $535 million loan, the silicon prices significantly dropped. With the competitors' prices much lower, Solyndra was struggling to survive.
     In a country where people are already afraid of solar energy, this was quite the setback. The solar community has difficulty getting funding as it is; Mike Koshmrl and Seth Masia wrote that "Chinese banks have offered Chinese solar companies a staggering $40.7 billion. For perspective, U.S. solar manufacturers have received $1.4 billion in DOE loan guarantees since 1705's inception"** {1705 authorizes loan guarantees for alternative energy systems}. So, the failure of Solyndra is not helping an already-existing problem.

**Here is the website where I got my information: