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View Diary: Nearly triple efficiency and lower cost: thin-film solar cell breakthrough (281 comments)

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  •  Petroleum industry (11+ / 0-)

    I think that's a very likely outcome of the Petroleum industry over the next century. As we move away from burning oil, humans will find other uses for it. There are many uses for oil that don't require burning it. Of course, not all of them are great for the world, but making thin plastic films for solar IS a great use!

    •  In fact, burning petroleum (6+ / 0-)

      wastes all those other chemicals that source from it. Most plastics are byproducts of refining oil into gasoline. Burning the oil as is (like heating oil or diesel) burns up the precursors to other, more durable compounds.

      If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

      by CwV on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 09:45:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Q: if used in solar panels, doesn't plastic become (3+ / 0-)

        brittle fairly quickly and start to change it's characteristics? Won't that be a significant problem?

        "But there is so much more to do." - Barack Obama, Nov. 4, 2008

        by flitedocnm on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 10:25:40 AM PST

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        •  UV resistant (6+ / 0-)

          It's common to mix UV resistant chemicals into plastic.

          For example, if you go into Home Depot/Lowes. Look in the plumbing section and you'll see a bunch of white PVC pipe.

          Then walk to the electrical aisle and you'll see a bunch of grey PVC pipe. The grey pipe has a UV resistant chemical in it allowing it to remain outdoors in the sun for many years.

          Greenhouse films are plastic and also contain UV resistant chemicals too.

        •  Depends on a loooot of things (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          But yes, that is in general a good point.  I've worked with greenhouses before.  An untreated thin sheet of polyethylene left in full sun in a bright location  will be brittle to the point of crumbling in a year and heavily fogged.  On the other hand, properly treated, thick transparent plastics like polycarbonate and acrylic can last a decade or so before they start to fog up.  That is, thickness helps maintain structural integrity, certain types of plastics are more resistant to UV damage than others, and there are various types of chemicals, such as UV-absorbing agents and free-radical scavengers, that you can add to control UV damage in plastics.   And when transparency isn't a requirement, the task becomes a lot easier (clearly you need the light to get into the electron donor layer, but you only need electrons to pass through to the rear grid, right?)  

          I don't know if there are any special requirements for the plastic if it's to be used as a solar cell material, but in general I think it should be a controllable issue.  They won't last forever but I'd expect you could get several decades out of them if done right.

          That said, I have to admit that there is some appeal to a solar panel that can last pretty much indefinitely.  I've read some interesting stuff about CIGS to that effect, that some types of CIGS cells actually increase in efficiency the longer they're in the sun.  Apparently exposure to solar radiation causes a natural annealing process which helps remove defects.

      •  plastics without gasoline? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I don't know much about petroleum based plastic, but can you make petroleum based plastic without making gasoline?

        Or is gasoline the byproduct?

    •  One can hope... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ZenManProject, BYw, kurt

      I hope they figure that out sooner rather than later. I suspect we will outgrow petroleum as a major transportation fuel at lot sooner than we will outgrow it as a chemical feedstock. I can definitely see us all standing around some time in the not-too-distant future saying, “Damn, making plastic has gotten so expensive. I wish we hadn’t burned it all up.”

      Plastic recycling will get a lot more popular as time goes on. Once that is tapped out we will be mining landfills for it unless some substitute input is developed.

      Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. - Groucho Marx

      by Joe Bob on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 10:08:01 AM PST

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      •  Nah... (0+ / 0-)

        It may get more expensive, but we won't tap out plastic because it can be grown. Unless of course we destroy all of our crop lands. Sigh.

        Humans can be so stupid.

      •  Common misconception. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        People have been producing hydrocarbons without oil since the 1800s; there's nothing to "figure out".  It's just not as cheap as getting your hydrocarbons ready-made from the ground.  The Nazis powered the Luftwaffe, for example, with fuel made from coal (until the allies bombed the refineries flat, that is).  South Africa did similar during apartheid.  It doesn't have to be coal - any source of carbon will do.  However, the more energetic of a form of carbon used, the less energy input the process takes.  That is, to say, if you want to make hydrocarbons from CO2, you have to put in more energy than was liberated by burning the hydrocarbons and releasing the CO2 in the first place.

        Which is never justified in the case of producing cheap forms of hydrocarbons (like coke for power plants), could potentially be justified for producing liquid hydrocarbon fuels for vehicles, which are much more expensive per unit energy, and would almost certainly be justified for producing plastics.

        But realistically, it'll be a long, long time before CO2 would have to be the carbon source.  Possibly never, it'll probably always be cheaper, easier, and sufficient to just convert biomass to syngas.

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