Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia
The global race to develop high efficiency, low cost solar energy is fierce. And Baohua Jia and her colleagues are front runners.
Conventional solar cells are efficient, but thick and expensive. Baohua and her colleagues imagine a future when solar cells are so thin and cheap that city skyscrapers will be powered by a coating on their glass. But at present such thin-film solar cells are not efficient enough for general use.
Using her knowledge of nanotechnology and optics, Baohua and her colleagues have already created thin-film solar cells that are more than 20 per cent more efficient than those of her competitors. They have already lodged two patents.
But Baohua thinks she can do better. And that will be the focus of the work assisted by her $25,000 L’Oréal Australia & New Zealand For Women in Science Fellowship.
Manufacturers are looking for ways to make their factories more sustainable, but before whacking a solar panel on the roof, they’ve got to plan carefully.
University of New South Wales researcher Assoc Prof Sami Kara says production lines need a steady supply of electricity, and if the sun goes behind a cloud, businesses get hit with penalty rates for suddenly drawing more energy from the grid.
Imagine a power station that’s literally sprayed onto your roof —and could match the colour of your tiles.
Thin film solar cells are thinner, cheaper and more versatile than the traditional silicon solar panels. Spray-on solar is a next step in the evolution of on-site power generation.
“These cells can be made with semiconductor dye materials, so you can match them to any colour or pattern you like—they’ll just convert that part of the solar spectrum into electricity. In the future we could have billboards that act as solar panels,” says Dr Gerry Wilson of CSIRO’s flexible electronics team.
The world’s largest telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is expected to generate more data in a single day than the world does in a year at present. And even its prototype, CSIRO’s ASKAP, is expected to accumulate more information within six hours of being switched on than all previous radio telescopes combined.
Such gargantuan streams of data require serious management, and that will be one of the jobs of the $80 million iVEC Pawsey Centre in Perth, which is due to be completed in 2013.