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  • Writer's pictureTufan Mukhopadhyay

Sun: The Next Generation Power Plant

The principal source of energy to mankind till date has been the fossil fuels, which were generated millions of years ago and were stored underneath the Earth in the form of oil, natural gas, and coal. While the survival has mostly relied upon these particular forms of “carbonized” energies, simultaneously a dark side has been created due to its environmentally deleterious outcomes. These fuels burn to release carbon dioxide into atmosphere, which is a potential cause of global warming. Furthermore, due to the increasing populations and growing economy the use of fossil fuels is surging exponentially, which will trigger menacing consequences in near future.

Fortunately, a significant number of researchers and scientific organizations from all around the globe are participating in search for more sustainable surrogates. More specifically, when we talk about sustainable energy, highly abundant water and sunlight touch our thoughts. While water has an impact in generating hydroelectric power in a reasonably high magnitude, the innovation of ‘solar-to-electric’ conversion has yet to prosper. Nonetheless, solar energy conversion technology holds advantages in many ways- (a) it is green and decarbonized (b) it uses relatively cheap materials, and (c) it has flexible designs from tiny calculators and watches to giant rooftops.

The use of solar energy is not new [1]. Harnessing solar powers using bronze shields and focusing onto wooden ships to burn was a tactic of combat against Roman soldiers, which was introduced by the Greek scientist Archimedes in 212 BC. Later in 1973 Greek navy had reproduced it to burn a wooden boat. As for instance, some of us have played in our childhood with a magnifying glass to burn papers. The fact to be noted here is that the amount of sunlight that beams the Earth per day has enormous energy hidden into it in the form of “photons”. In 1954, the ‘solar-to-electric’ conversion (or photovoltaic effect) was first witnessed by a group of scientists at Bell Telephone Laboratories when they noticed charges being formed while silicon was exposed to sunlight. They launched the first silicon solar cell with 4% efficiency.

This promising discovery propelled further development and the first megawatt-scale power station using photovoltaic was introduced in 1982. Currently, the use of solar photovoltaic has flourished and being increasingly adapted by many countries. Overall, it supplies more than 1% of the global energy demand. According to a synopsis from “CleanTechnica” [2], the global ‘solar-to-electric’ capacity is about to reach 200 GW very soon. A typical solar cell consists of a semiconductor material (such as silicon) that releases electrons upon illumination and these electrons are essentially converted into current using a circuit. Although silicon has remained the highly used and efficient component in commercial solar panels, scientists are trying to explore complimentary materials with improved efficiencies. Notably, perovskite has been found to possess characteristics of promising next generation material with a maximum efficiency of more than 20%. There are enormous efforts currently ongoing around the world to convert this technology into a low cost high throughput system.

Another exciting aspect of ‘solar-to-electric’ technology is that it can be utilized in a diverse set of applications. For example, we have seen solar charged watches and calculators. Surprisingly, design of large integrated tiles has become very attractive because it can power up a multi-stored building and even a satellite. The most optimistic application of this technology could be a solar powered vehicle with zero pollution. Moreover, using a battery one can think of storing the generated electricity, which can be used later.

Overall, this solar panel technology can result a green energy future. The bottom-line is why don’t we scoop out the wasted ‘photons’ from sunlight to generate energy so that we can save our future from fuel crisis.

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Tufan K Mukhopadhyay

PhD Student, Arizona State University (U.S.)

Tufan K Mukhopadhyay is a 5th year PhD student at Arizona State University. He is currently working on catalyst development for carbon dioxide reduction and renewable fuel production using organometallic chemistry. One of his interests lies in the regime of “solar energy conversion” and this is the sole reason Tufan has joined the “Alien Solar” team. GO SOLAR, MAKE A GREEN FUTURE.

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