iPhones are cool and all, but they’d be a lot cooler if they were solar powered. Happily, the probability of such a development has just increased, now that a Cardiff, Wales-based company has set a new record for converting indoor light into electricity. BusinessGreen reports that G24 Innovations – or G24i – claims to have produced a photovoltaic cell with an efficiency rate of 26 per cent, beating its own previous record by over 10 percentage points. The company says the performance makes the cell almost five times more powerful than its nearest competitor, and the cell’s inventor, Professor Michael Graetzel, says a 40 per cent efficiency rate is still possible. And – the really exciting part – according to G24i’s COO Richard Costello, such levels raise the possibility of the technology replacing batteries in consumer electronics, or even reducing the carbon emissions impact of larger energy consuming appliances, such as TVs or sound systems.
BusinessGreensays that G24i’s technology – which uses small dye-sensitised solar cells that partially mimic photosynthesis to generate energy from low level indoor light – is already operating shade and blind systems for one of Las Vegas’ largest hotels and the company is now working on applications for wireless keyboards. The design took several decades of work and won Prof Graetzel the 2012 Albert Einstein World Award of Science and the 2010 Millennium Technology Prize. The company is now working to commercialise the technology – and, as Costello points out, with a global market for disposable batteries worth around $80 billion a year, “the potential to increase the volume of sales… is immense.”
Nasa’s big green bags
NASA will be showcasing its a system for growing algae in floating plastic bags next week: some of the space agency’s latest technology, reports MIT’s Technology Review; the result of a $10 million, two-year project that aims to to reduce the cost of making fuel from algae by making it possible to put algae farms near wastewater facilities, which offer a large source of nutrients. So far, the system has been tested in four nine-meter-long plastic bags at a wastewater plant near San Francisco. TR reports that the researchers demonstrated the ability to grow enough algae to produce nearly 2,000 gallons of fuel per acre per year, weather permitting (the warmer and sunnier the better). Jonathan Trent, the project’s lead researcher, has previously worked on NASA space travel systems that recycle human waste, not unlike the algae fuel technology. His plan is to pump wastewater from treating sewage into bags made from common polyethylene. The wastewater provides nutrients like ammonia and phosphates to feed the algae, while carbon dioxide from power plants would help algae grow. Trent says San Francisco produces enough wastewater to feed a floating algae farm of 1,200 acres.
The pros of NASA’s approach are that plastic bags floating in (relatively calm) water don’t need as much support as land-based bioreactors, and don’t require the expensive cooling systems either, because the water helps keep them cool. The cons: there will be an “enormous amount of plastic” to dispose of, admits Trent – the plastic bags would most likely have to be replace with new ones annually. Reusing the used bags is one option Trent suggests, giving the example of farmers using it to cover their fields to reduce weeds and evaporation. Another question mark is how the bags will fare in corrosive saltwater environments, and how they would weather storms. TR says there’s also a question mark over how much the system will cost at a large scale – although they have started a detailed economic analysis based on their results so far. The project has received $800,000 from the California Energy Commission.
Back to the all-electric future
We don’t want to seem like we’re always going on about EVs, but it seems worth passing on this news from eco.geek.org (via AutoBlog) that an all-electric DeLorean made its debut at the New York Auto Show last week, “and not just as a cool concept, but with an actual plan for production – and soon.” Autoblog reports that DeLorean Motor Company president Stephen Wynne said the DMCev should hit the market in early 2013, and will feature a “Flux Power” 32kWh lithium iron phosphate battery pack, a maximum speed of just over 200km/h, the standard range of 100 miles (160km), and the ability to go from 0-100km/h in under six seconds. And while it’s certainly not as pretty as, say, a Fisker EV – it’s staying true to the movie, after all (minus the time travel bit, at this stage) – at $95,000 a pop it is almost as expensive as Fisker’s high-end Karma. Before it can hit the road, however, it needs to lose some weight and find the right motor/inverter combination, says Autoblog. When all this is settled, the DMCev will be built in Houston, Texas. You can watch a video of it in action here or here.
In other news…
What do you do when you’re a teen pop sensation who’s recently been given a $102,000 Fisker Karma EV (live on US TV, etc, etc) for your 18th birthday? You chrome dip it, of course. Inhabitat reports that Justin Bieber has modified his new wheels (reportedly his previous car was a Cadillac he had modified to look like the Bat Mobile) by completely covering it in chrome, making it both “visible from three blocks away” and “insanely blinding to anyone not sitting inside.” You can see picture of the dazzling Bieber Karma on Inhabitat’s site, or there’s video footage of it in action, also on Inhabitat, courtesy of gossip site TMZ (we recommend watching this with the volume down). We’re not sure what this says about Bieber’s green credentials, or his appreciation of electric cars, but it does smack of overcompensation.