The usual solar cell is made of silicon. The better cells use the crystalline form of the element, but there are other methods to obtain electric energy from the sun using silicon. Forming silicon crystals, though, can be expensive so there is always interest in different solar technologies. Perovskite is one of the leading candidates for supplanting silicon. Since they use lead salts, they are cheap and simple to construct. The efficiency is good, too, even when the material is not particularly well ordered. The problem is every model science has on what should make a good solar cell predicted that orderly compounds would perform better, even though this is not true for perovskite. Now scientists at Cambridge think they know why these cells perform even in the face of structural defects.
Perovskites take their name from a natural mineral that has the same atomic structure. In 2009, methylammonium lead halide perovskites were found to act as solar cells. Conversion rates can be as high as 25.5% according to sources and — apparently — the cells could be as much as 31% efficient, in theory. Solar cells top out — again, in theory — at 32.3% although in the real world you are lucky to get into the high twenties.
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.
Without knowing it, we’ve spent years watching [Jasper Sikken] piece together an empire of energy harvesting equipment, and now he’s putting the pieces together into wonderful creations. His recently finished solar harvesting pyramids are mesmerizing objects of geometric perfection we’d love to see glinting in the sun.
These solar harvesting pyramids are well described by their name. Each one contains a PCBA around 30mm on a side with a solar energy harvester built around the dedicated AEM10941 IC, a single solar cell, and a very bright green LED. [Jasper] calculates that the solar cell will charge the super capacitor at 20uA at with just 200 lux of light (a level typical for casual indoor spaces) letting it run indefinitely when placed indoors. Amazingly with the LED blinking for 15ms every 2 seconds it will run for 21 days in complete darkness. And that’s it! This is a software-free piece of hardware which requires no input besides dim light and blinks an LED indefinitely.
What about that super capacitor? It’s called a Lithium Ion Capacitor (LIC) and is a hybrid between a typical rechargeable lithium battery and an electrolytic capacitor, offering extremely high capacity in a convenient two leg through hole form factor. This one is a whopping 30 Farad at 3.8 V, and we first saw it when [Jasper] won the Hackaday Earth Day contest last month. Check out that link if you want to know more about their uses and how to integrate them.
For more detail about all of the components of the solar pyramid we need only turn to the Hackaday archives. In December 2019 [Tom Nardi] wrote about building a cheap degassing system for making some very familiar looking resin pyramids. And before that [Donald Papp] brought us another familiar piece of the pyramid when he wrote up a different 1″ x 1″ solar harvesting system that [Jasper] designed.
Check out the video after the break to see what one of these gems looks like from all sides. And for many more experiments leading up the final pyramid check out the logs on the Hackaday.io page.
When featuring cool hacks repurposing one thing for something else, we prefer to focus on what we could get our hands on and replicate for ourselves. Not this one, though, as nobody else has the misfortune of being responsible for 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) of radioactive contaminated land like the government of Ukraine. Trying to make the best of what they have, they’ve just launched a pilot program working to put up solar power farms inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
This is sure to invite some jokes in the comments section, but the idea has merit. Thirty years of weather has eroded the worst aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion. That area is no longer immediately lethal and people have been making short visits. Spanning from safety inspectors, to scientists, to curious adventurers with questionable judgement making television shows. Supposedly, by following rules on what not to do, it’s possible to keep radiation exposure of a short visit down to the level experienced by frequent fliers. But that’s still too much radiation for long-term stay. That means no homes, office parks, or factories. No agriculture either, as plants and animals grown in the area should not be eaten.
Well, next to the defunct power plant is the electric distribution infrastructure it used to feed into, and photovoltaic power generation requires little human oversight. Some maintenance will be required, but hopefully someone has worked out how to keep maintenance workers’ cumulative exposure to a minimum. And if this idea pans out, clean renewable energy would start flowing from the site of one of the worst ecological disasters of our era. That makes it a worthwhile hack on a grand scale.
Our Hackaday Prize Challenges are evaluated by a panel of judges who examine every entry to see how they fare against judging criteria. With prize money at stake, it makes sense we want to make sure it is done right. But we also have our Hackaday Prize achievements, with less at stake leading to a more free-wheeling way to recognize projects that catch our eye. Most of the achievements center around fun topics that aren’t related to any particular challenge, but it’s a little different for the Infinite Improbability achievement. This achievement was unlocked by any project that impressed with their quest for power, leading to some overlap with the just-concluded Power Harvesting Challenge. In fact, when the twenty Power Harvesting winners were announced, we saw that fourteen of them had already unlocked the achievement.
Each of the Power Harvesting winners will get their own spotlight story. And since many of them have unlocked this achievement, now is the perfect time to take a quick tour through a few of the other entries that have also unlocked the Infinite Improbability achievement.
[Erik Knutzen] and [Kelly Coyne], authors of The Urban Homestead, are really into all things green and sustainable. In their blog, Homegrown Evolution, they discuss building their own solar dehydrator using plans from the February/March 1997 issue of Home Power Magazine. The dehydrator is designed by Appalachian State University’s Appropriate Technology Program. If interested, you can check out or buy other solar dehydrator designs. This seems like a great, cheap alternative to buying an expensive electric dehydrator, and you get some great advantages, like low-cost dehydrating, solar energy, and beef jerky whenever you want it. Plus, the authors point out, for most of these designs, if you remove the top box and you stick it next to a window, you’ve got a solar heater. It’s now a dual-purpose device.
Etsy places a spotlight on tinyminds, creator of the much-hyped solar robots. [Jenny], the brains behind tinyminds and self-described “all round nerd and non-stop crafter”, claims to draw inspiration for her BEAM solar bug and monster robots from things as varied as paper and wood. She describes the process of creating her robots and working with solar energy as “magical”. The fact that they’re solar-powered is a huge advantage – these “pets” never die and never need recharging, only light. Her Cthulhu robot was linked to by BoingBoing Gadgets, and is unfortunately sold out at the moment. tinyminds has plenty of other inventive, equallyinspiringrobots available for purchase.