Solar Cells, Half Off

A company named Leap Photovoltaic claims they have a technology to create solar panels without silicon wafers which would cut production costs in half. According to [FastCompany] the cells are still silicon-based, but do not require creating wafers as a separate step or — as is more common — acquiring them as a raw material.

The process is likened to 3D printing as silicon powder is deposited on a substrate. The design claims to use only a tenth of the silicon in a conventional cell and requires fewer resources to produce, too.

Continue reading “Solar Cells, Half Off”

Solar Power Goes Back To 1910 Tech

If you want to read about a low-tech approach to solar cells invented — and forgotten — 40 years before Bell Labs announced the first practical silicon solar cell, we can’t promise the website, Low Tech Magazine, will be available. Apparently the webserver it is on is solar-powered, and a disclaimer mentions that it sometimes goes offline.

The article by [Kris De Decker] tells of George Cove and includes a picture from 1910 of the inventor standing next to what looks suspiciously like a solar panel (the picture above is from a 1909 issue of Technical World Magazine). His first demonstration of the technology was in 1905 and there is a picture of another device from 1909 that produced 45 watts of power using 1.5 square meters with a conversion efficiency of 2.75%. That same year, a new prototype had 4.5 square meters and used its 240-watt output to charge 5 lead-acid batteries. The efficiency was about 5%.

Continue reading “Solar Power Goes Back To 1910 Tech”

Making Ferroelectric Solar Cells Better

Researchers claim that using several very thin layers of ferroelectric crystals can lead to significantly better ferroelectric solar cell efficiency. But don’t pull the panels off your roof yet. Conventional cells are still much more efficient than ferroelectric devices — at least, for now.

Unlike conventional silicon-based solar cells, ferroelectric cells don’t depend on a PN junction and — in theory — can be cheaper and easier to produce. However, they typically don’t absorb as much sunlight as other materials.

Continue reading “Making Ferroelectric Solar Cells Better”

Wireless Earbuds Charge Themselves

As more and more ports are removed from our smart devices, it seems that we have one of two options available for using peripherals: either buy a dongle to continue to use wired devices, or switch to Bluetooth and deal with perpetually maintaining batteries. If neither of these options suits you, though, there’s a third option available as [befinitiv] shows us in this build where he integrates a tiny solar panel to his earbud case to allow them to automatically charge themselves.

To start, he begins by taking apart the earbud case. For those who still haven’t tried out a set of these, they typically charge only when placed inside of their carrying case, which in his case also contains a small battery itself. Soldering wires directly to the battery allow for the battery to charge without as much electrical loss as he would have had if he had connected to the USB pins on the circuit board. Even then, the cell only generates a single volt so he needs a 5V boost converter to properly charge the battery. That came with its own problem, though, as it wouldn’t fit into the case properly. To solve that issue, he desoldered all of the components and deadbugged them together in order to fit the converter into a much smaller space without having to modify the case in any other way.

With all of that done and the small solar cell attached to the case, [befinitiv] has a smart solution to keep his wireless earbuds topped up without having to carry cables or dongles around every day. We’ve seen plenty of interesting solutions to the problem of various electronics manufacturers removing the ubiquitous 3.5 mm headphone jack too, and not all of them have dealt with this problem without certain other quirks arising as a result.

Continue reading “Wireless Earbuds Charge Themselves”

Revolving Plant Tower Is Solar-Powered

Do you live in a small or yard-less space, but want to grow things anyway? You’re not totally out of luck — you’ll just have to get creative and probably vertical with your planting scheme. And since apartments and other smallish dwellings often have a limited amount of exposure, it would really help a lot if you could somehow rotate the plants so that they receive even sunlight.

[JT_Makes_It]’s rotating strawberry tower ticks all these boxes and more. The 12 V solar cell powers a small DC motor that spins at the gentle speed of 0.6 RPM. The tube is hanging from a swiveling carabiner that acts like a clutch — if a strong wind comes along or something bumps into it, the motor will continue to spin the carabiner.

[JT_Makes_It] already had a tube with holes, though they did cut several more into it. As built, this is not exactly apartment dweller-friendly, unless you have off-site access to things like plasma cutters and welding equipment. But as they point out, you could theoretically use PVC and a hole saw and make it shorter and therefore lighter. We think this looks great, although we’re a bit concerned about the weight. Not so much on the mechanism itself; that looks strong. We’re just wondering how long that carport frame will support it. Judge the build quality for yourself from the video after the break.

Did you know that strawberries can do tricks? Fasciation makes fanned-out berries, and vivipary makes them hairy.

Continue reading “Revolving Plant Tower Is Solar-Powered”

Perovskites: Not Just For Solar Cells Anymore

If you’ve been around long enough, you’ll know there’s a long history of advances in materials science that get blown far out of proportion by both the technical and the popular media. Most of the recent ones seem to center on the chemistry of carbon, particularly graphene and nanotubes. Head back a little in time and superconductors were all the rage, and before that it was advanced ceramics, semiconductors, and synthetic diamonds. There’s always some new miracle material to be breathlessly and endlessly reported on by the media, with hopeful tales of how one or the other will be our salvation from <insert catastrophe du jour here>.

While there’s no denying that each of these materials has led to huge advancements in science, industry, and the quality of life for billions, the development cycle from lab to commercialization is generally a tad slower than the press would have one believe. And so when a new material starts to gain traction in the headlines, as perovskites have recently, we feel like it’s a good opportunity to take a close look, to try to smooth out the ups and downs of the hype curve and manage expectations.

Continue reading “Perovskites: Not Just For Solar Cells Anymore”

Give Your Solar Garden Lights A Color Changing LED Upgrade

White LEDs were the technological breakthrough that changed the world of lighting, now they are everywhere. There’s no better sign of their cost-effective ubiquity than the dollar store solar garden light: a complete unit integrating a white LED with its solar cell and battery storage. Not content with boring white lights on the ground, [Emily] decided to switch up their colors with a mix of single-color LEDs and dynamic color-changing LEDs, then hung them up high as colorful solar ornaments.

The heart of these solar devices is a YX8018 chip (or one of its competitors.) While the sun is shining, solar power is directed to charge up the battery. Once the solar cell stops producing power, presumably because the sun has gone down, the chip starts acting as a boost converter (“Joule thief”) pushing a single cell battery voltage up high enough to drive its white LED. Changing that LED over to a single color LED is pretty straightforward, but a color changing LED adds a bit of challenge. The boost converter deliver power in pulses that are too fast for human eyes to pick up but the time between power pulses is long enough to cause a color-changing circuit to reset itself and never get beyond its boot-up color.

The hack to keep a color-changing LED’s cycle going is to add a capacitor to retain some charge between pulses, and a diode to prevent that charge from draining back into the rest of the circuit. A ping-pong ball serves as light diffuser, and the whole thing is hung up using a 3D-printed sheath which adds its own splash of color.

Solar garden lights are great basis for a cheap and easy introduction to electronics hacking. We’ve seen them turn into LED throwies, into a usable flashlight, or even to power an ATTiny microcontroller.

Continue reading “Give Your Solar Garden Lights A Color Changing LED Upgrade”