New Solar Spheres Claim To Be Better Than Solar Panels

When you think of solar energy, you probably think of flat plates on rooftops. A company called WAVJA wants you to think of spheres. The little spheres, ranging from one to four inches across, can convert light into electricity, and the company claims they have 7.5 times the output of traditional solar panels and could later produce even more. Unfortunately, the video below doesn’t have a great deal of detail to back up the claims.

Some scenes in the video are clearly forward-looking. However, the so-called photon energy system appears to be powering a variety of real devices. It’s difficult to assess some of the claims. For example, the video claims 60 times the output of a similar-sized panel. But you’d hardly expect much from a tiny 4-inch solar panel.

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Solar Energy Plant Creates Fuel

Normally, when you think of solar power, you think about photovoltaic cells or using the sun to generate steam. But engineers at Synhelion — a spin off from ETH Zurich — had a crazy idea. Could you reverse combustion and change waste products back into fuel? The answer is yes if you can use the sun to turn things up to 1,500°C.

The input is water, carbon dioxide, and methane into syngas. The pilot plant in Germany is set to begin operations using a thermal storage device to allow the plant to operate around the clock. The new plant is slated to produce several thousand liters of fuel a year. Future plants will produce more, and they are targeting a cost of $1 per liter of fuel. The pilot plant has a 20-meter-tall tower and around 1,500 square meters of mirrors, producing 600 kW of output. The hexagonal mirrors are very thin, and the plant uses drones to aim the mirrors quickly compared to other methods.

Syngas shows up a lot lately. Getting to 1,500 degrees is a big ask, although we’ve seen ETH Zurich get to 1,000 using solar.

A solar-powered decibel meter the size of a business card.

2024 Business Card Challenge: NoiseCard Judges The Sound Around You

Let’s face it: even with the rise of the electric car, the world is a noisy place. And it seems like it has only gotten worse in recent years. But how can we easily quantify the noise around us and know whether it is considered an unhealthy decibel level?

That is where the NoiseCard comes in. This solar-powered solution can go anywhere from the regrettable open office plan to the busy street, thanks to a couple of 330 µF capacitors. It’s based on the low-power STM32G031J6 and uses a MEMS microphone to pick up sound from the back of the card, which the code is optimized for. Meanwhile, the LEDs on the front indicate the ambient noise level, ranging from a quiet 40 dB and under to an ear-splitting 105 dB or greater.

When it comes to building something the size of a business card, every component is under scrutiny for size and usefulness. So even the LEDs are optimized for brightness and low power consumption. Be sure to check it out in action after the break in various environments.

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An image of an orange, translucent glowing quartz rod. Thermocouples can be seen at intervals along the rod looking in.

Industrial Solar Heat Hits 1000˚C

While electricity generation has been the star of the energy transition show, about half of the world’s energy consumption is to make heat. Many industrial processes rely on fossil fuels to reach high temps right now, but researchers at ETH Zurich have found a new way to crank up the heat with a solar thermal trap. [via SciTechDaily]

Heating water for showers or radiant floor systems in homes is old hat now, but industrial application of solar power has been few and far between. Part of the issue has been achieving high enough temperatures. Opaque absorbers can only ever get as hot as the incident surface where the sun hits them, but some translucent materials, like quartz can form thermal traps.

In a thermal trap, “it is possible to achieve temperatures that are higher in the bulk of the material than at the surface exposed to solar radiation.” In the study, the researchers were able to get a 450˚C surface to produce 1,050˚C interior temperature in the 300 mm long quartz rod. The system does rely on concentrated solar power, 135 suns-worth for this study, but mirror and lens systems for solar concentration already exist due to the aforementioned electrical power generation.

This isn’t the only time we’ve seen someone smelting on sunlight alone, and you can always do it less directly by using a hydrogen intermediary. If you’re wanting a more domestic-level of heat, why not try the wind if the sun doesn’t shine much in your neighborhood?

Double-Checking NASA’s Eclipse Estimate At Home

If you were lucky enough to be near the path of totality, and didn’t have your view obscured by clouds, yesterday’s eclipse provided some very memorable views. But you know what’s even better than making memories? Having cold hard data to back it up.

Hackaday contributor [Bob Baddeley] was in Madison, Wisconsin for the big event, which NASA’s Eclipse Explorer website predicted would see about 87% coverage. Watching the eclipse through the appropriate gear at the local hackerspace was fun, but the real nerding out happened when he got home and could pull the data from his solar system.

A graph of the system’s generated power shows a very clear dip during the duration of the eclipse, which let him determine exactly when the occlusion started, peaked, and ended.

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Space Mirrors: Dreams Of Turning The Night Into Day Around The Clock

Recently, a company by former SpaceX employee Ben Nowack – called Reflect Orbital – announced that it is now ready to put gigantic mirrors in space to reflect sunshine at ground-based solar farms. This is an idea that’s been around for a hundred years already, both for purposes of defeating the night through reflecting sunshine onto the surface, as well as to reject the same sunshine and reduce the surface temperature. The central question here is perhaps what the effect would be of adding or subtracting (or both) of solar irradiation on such a large scale as suggested?

We know the effect of light pollution from e.g. cities and street lighting already, which suggests that light pollution is a strongly negative factor for the survival of many species. Meanwhile a reduction in sunshine is already a part of the seasons of Autumn and Winter. Undeniable is that the Sun’s rays are essential to life on Earth, while the day-night cycle (as well as the seasons) created by the Earth’s rotation form an integral part of everything from sleep- and hibernation cycles, to the reproduction of countless species of plants, insects, mammals and everyone’s favorite feathered theropods.

With these effects and the gigantic financial investments required in mind, is there any point to space-based mirrors?

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Lamp Becomes Rotating, Illuminated Sign For Festival Table

Two things we love are economical solutions to problems, and clever ways to use things for other than their intended purpose. [CelGenStudios] hits both bases with a simple illuminated and spinning sign made from a lamp and a couple economical pieces of hardware: an LED bulb, and a solar-powered product spinner. Both are readily and cheaply available from your favorite overseas source.

The first step in making a cheap illuminated sign is to not buy one, but instead make do with a standing lamp. Plug a bright LED bulb into the socket, decorate the lampshade with whatever logos or signs one wishes to display, and one has an economical illuminated sign suitable for jazzing up a table at an event. But what really kicks it up a notch is making it rotate, and to do that is where the clever bit comes in.

Mounting the lampshade to the solar turntable body yields a simple, rotating, illuminated sign.

The first attempt used a BBQ rotisserie motor to turn the whole lamp, but it was too loud and not especially stable. The second attempt used a “disco ball effect” LED bulb with a motorized top; it worked but turned too quickly and projected light upward instead of into the lampshade.

The winning combination is LED bulb plus a little solar-powered turntable onto which the lampshade mounts. As a result, the lampshade spins slowly when the lamp is turned on. It might not be the most durable thing to ever come out of a workshop, but as [CelGenStudios] says, it only needs to last for a weekend.

The basic concept is far more simple than it might sound, so check it out in the video (embedded below) to see it in action. Curious about what’s inside those little solar spinners? Skip to 5:55 in the video to see how they work. And if you’re intrigued by the idea of using solar power for motive force but want to get more hands-on with the electrical part, we have just the resource for turning tiny motors with tiny solar cells.

Thanks to [Bike Forever] for the tip!

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