How do you power a solar panel without sunlight? These scientists have an awesome answer.

We might not need ideal weather conditions to generate solar power.

The more you think about it, the more it seems like solar panels were gifted to us by a strange foreign planet.


Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images.


They're stronger than a hurricane, they harness their power from the sun, and they provide us with a valuable service while asking nothing in return. If that doesn't scream "the Superman of the environmental conservation effort," I don't know what does.

GIF from "Superman Returns."

Of course, there's one major catch: The amount of energy solar panels create and store can be substantially affected by weather.

Photo via iStock.

Yes, the cumulonimbus cloud is truly the kryptonite to the solar panel's Superman, to continue with this clumsy metaphor.

For some areas of the world, the push toward clean, renewable solar energy has faced an uphill battle due largely to climate constraints and regional weather patterns. With environmental experts predicting that solar energy could account for two-thirds of all new energy generated in the next 25 years, these areas are increasingly at risk for missing out on this largely untapped goldmine.

That is ... they were at risk until last month.

Scientists from China just unveiled an "all weather solar cell" that could turn even gloomy weather into glorious electricity by generating energy from raindrops.

Photo via iStock.

In a paper published by the Angewandte Chemie Journal, the scientists explained that by cloaking traditional solar panels with a thin layer of graphene — a highly conductible carbon material first discovered in 2004 — the new panels can actually break down the salt found in rain on a subatomic level.

In fact, I'll just let the experts at Science News Journal explain the nitty-gritty details of this game-changing technology:

“The salt contained in rain separates into ions (ammonium, calcium and sodium), making graphene and natural water a great combination for creating energy. The water actually clings to the graphene, forming a dual layer (AKA pseudocapacitor) with the graphene electrons. The energy difference between these layers is so strong that it generates electricity.”

Got that? Basically, we might not need ideal weather conditions to generate solar power.

Lex Luthor would be so proud.


GIF via "Smallville"

With a little tweaking, these graphene-coated cells could very well revolutionize how the some areas on our planet generate power.

But the story actually gets more dramatic from there.

Not wanting to be outdone, researchers at Binghampton University's Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science inNew York published a paper of their own on the same topic.

In their study, they were able to generate energy across a bio-solar panel using bacteria. BACTERIA, you guys! According to their research:

"Using cyanobacteria (which can be found in almost every terrestrial and aquatic habitat on the planet) as a source of clean and sustainable energy ... the group connected nine identical bio-solar cells in a 3x3 pattern to make a scalable and stackable bio-solar panel. The panel continuously generated electricity from photosynthesis and respiratory activities of the bacteria in 12-hour day-night cycles over 60 total hours."

This means the weather might not even matter much for generating solar energy in the future. "This could result in barrier-transcending advancements in bio-solar cells that could facilitate higher power/voltage generation with self-sustainability, releasing bio-solar cell technology from its restriction to research settings and translating it to practical applications in real-world," the report read.

Both rain and bacteria-powered solar energy are a long way from becoming readily available, but the proof of concept under development in these projects is awesome.

People are really into solar energy right now. In fact, last year was the biggest year on record for solar energy development, with over 7,000 megawatts of solar power being installed in the United States alone. China also plans to triple its solar power capacity by 2020 in an effort to significantly reduce its greenhouse emissions, according to a recent Bloomberg report.

Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images.

But even with the solar power industry set to double by the end of the year, we're still searching for ways to undo, or at least repair, the damage that harmful coal and fossil fuels have done to our environment.

Because in the words of the (Super)man himself, "Earth is a terrific planet! But it needs all the help it can get!" Maybe bacteria and rain powered solar energy are part of the answer. I sure hope so.

Heroes
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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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