Saving up excess solar and wind energy for times when the sun is down or the air is still requires a storage device. Batteries get the most attention as a promising solution although pumped hydroelectric storage is currently used most often. Now researchers are advancing another potential approach using sugar alcohols—an abundant waste product of the food industry—mixed with carbon nanotubes.
Solar cells, they’re kind of a big deal. Good for the environment, produce power from that big ball of burning gas we call our sun, they like long walks on the beach, cool drinks and just chilling with friends… oh sorry that’s from the wife swap [the wife and I love that show]. But in all seriousness, solar is the next oil. We had an industrial revolution and now we are going to have a more eco-friendly kind of revolution. Of course the high price of solar panels has made it all but inaccessible to the general public [I know I would love to have some on my roof!]. With natural gas and other sources of power being cheaper, solar needs to learn a few new tricks to keep up. Thankfully that is exactly what scientists at the University of Liverpool have accomplished.
Right now solar cells are inefficient at about 15% of the power actually converted to usable electricity. It is unfortunate then that solar cells need to be coated in a cadmium chloride to reach that paltry efficiency. I’ll let you in on a little secret, if it wasn’t for that coating we would only see about a 2% power conversion. Yeah damned if you do damned if you don’t stuff. That’s because that coating is roughly $0.30 a gram, doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up quick. Not to mention that there is a little problem with it being very toxic, incredibly hard to handle safely and hard to dispose of after solar cell decommission [I know… details, details].