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