Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Diving for Solar Energy Technology

One of the most promising technologies for environmentally friendly harvesting of energy available to mankind is finally gaining momentum. Consider that, the amount of energy reaching earth from the sun in one hour exceeds every bit used in all human activities for a full year.

Yesterday's Molten Eagle posting Cheaper Solar Power is Finally Coming discussed develpoments in nanotechnology. Now from a federally protected submarine area of California's coast off Monterey Bay, another, potentially helpful solar discovery.

There are thousands of types known, and they can be found anywhere from the intertidal (littoral) zone to depths up to 29,000 feet (8,500 m) or further. In one way or another, they are anchored to the benthic (lowest) levels of their natural environments.

Not military submarines, but sponges. Some sponges actually harvest silicon from seawater to build their spiky body coverings. The process has inspired the development of a cheaper, low-energy method to manufacture solar cells.

Conventional solar cell manufacturing utilizes high-temperature vapor deposition of chemicals to create a crystalline semiconductor layer capable of producing electric current when struck by light. The high temperatures and very low pressures required makes this method energy- intensive.

But now, Daniel Morse, a molecular biochemist, and colleagues John Gomm and Birgit Schwenzer at the University of California, Santa Barbara, mimic sea sponges like the orange puffball sponge (photo) to control the structure of the zinc oxide film that was slowly deposited on a glass substrate in a reaction chamber. Schwenzer says the technique still needs further development. "There are still problems but the process seems to be working at really low temperatures and producing devices at really low cost." [emphasis added]
Imagine improved night search and rescues. Flexible solar-cell fabric woven right into clothing illuminates victims.



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