You may have heard deflation is a bad thing, something to be feared. This might have been true in a scarcity based economy, but the opposite is true in an abundance based economy. No where is this more true than in the information technology sector, where annual deflation runs well over 50%. This is a huge rate of deflation, yet it comes from a sector of the economy that generates the most robust economic growth each year. Deflation is the result of advancing technology that generates greater efficiencies resulting in ephermalization – doing more and more with less and less. Ephermalization is now impacting the energy markets in earnest. Soon, energy is about to become even cheaper than it already is, despite falling oil prices. Below are two articles you should read, back to back. The first is a projection from Citigroup, a traditionally conservative institution, that advancing battery technology is going to be even more disruptive than solar, supplanting the entire fossil fuel industry withing the next *decade*. The second is a brilliant explanation of Saudi Arabia’s smart and prescient move to drop oil prices. Time is running out for fossil fuels to remain competitive, so with each passing day remaining reserves are becoming less valuable. Soon they will be worthless. Better to make some money now while the world still needs your oil, than none later when the world has moved on to something better.
From Northwestern University:
In a potentially breakthrough discovery, researchers at Northwestern University have designed a new type of organic solar cell that will very likely lead to much higher efficiency and cheaper solar power.
The new cell design is based around a new geometrical pattern to be used in the ‘scattering layer’ of a solar cell, which works to keep the light trapped in the cell for longer.
The specific geometrical pattern was obtained by using a mathematical search algorithm modeled on natural evolution to identify the optimal design “for capturing and holding light in thin-cell organic solar cells.”
“The resulting design exhibited a three-fold increase over the Yablonovitch Limit, a thermodynamic limit developed in the 1980s that statistically describes how long a photon can be trapped in a semiconductor.”
According to the researchers, the new design will greatly increase the efficiency of organic solar cells.
It’s currently planned for solar cells, with the pattern in question to be fabricated with partners at Argonne National Laboratory.
From Princeton University:
Princeton researchers have found a simple and economical way to nearly triple the efficiency of organic solar cells, the cheap and flexible plastic devices that many scientists believe could be the future of solar power.
The researchers, led by electrical engineer Stephen Chou, were able to increase the efficiency of the solar cells 175 percent by using a nanostructured “sandwich” of metal and plastic that collects and traps light.
Chou, the Joseph C. Elgin Professor of Engineering, said the research team used nanotechnology to overcome two primary challenges that cause solar cells to lose energy: light reflecting from the cell, and the inability to fully capture light that enters the cell.
With their new metallic sandwich, the researchers were able to address both problems. The sandwich — called a subwavelength plasmonic cavity — has an extraordinary ability to dampen reflection and trap light. The new technique allowed Chou’s team to create a solar cell that only reflects about 4 percent of light and absorbs as much as 96 percent. It demonstrates 52 percent higher efficiency in converting light to electrical energy than a conventional solar cell.
That is for direct sunlight. The structure achieves even more efficiency for light that strikes the solar cell at large angles, which occurs on cloudy days or when the cell is not directly facing the sun. By capturing these angled rays, the new structure boosts efficiency by an additional 81 percent, leading to the 175 percent total increase.
The physics behind the innovation is formidably complex. But the device structure, in concept, is fairly simple.
The top layer, known as the window layer, of the new solar cell uses an incredibly fine metal mesh: the metal is 30 nanometers thick, and each hole is 175 nanometers in diameter and 25 nanometers apart. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter and about one hundred-thousandth the width of human hair). This mesh replaces the conventional window layer typically made of a material called indium-tin-oxide (ITO)
A super advanced technology breakthrough using a $50 DVD-Burner.
Courtesy Extreme Tech:
A team of international researchers have created graphene supercapacitors using a LightScribe DVD burner. These capacitors are both highly flexible and have energy and power densities far beyond existing electrochemical capacitors, possibly within reach of conventional lithium-ion and nickel metal hydride batteries.
The team, which was led by Richard Kaner of UCLA, started by smearing graphite oxide — a cheap and very easily produced material — films on blank DVDs. These discs are then placed in a LightScribe drive (a consumer-oriented piece of gear that costs less than $50), where a 780nm infrared laser reduces the graphite oxide to pure graphene. The laser-scribed graphene (LSG) is peeled off and placed on a flexible substrate, and then cut into slices to become the electrodes. Two electrodes are sandwiched together with a layer of electrolyte in the middle — and voila, a high-density electrochemical capacitor, or supercapacitor as they’re more popularly known.
Now, beyond the novel manufacturing process — the scientists are confident it can be scaled for commercial applications, incidentally — the main thing about LSG capacitors is that they have very desirable energy and power characteristics. Power-wise, LSG supercapacitors are capable of discharging at 20 watts per cm3, some 20 times higher than standard activated carbon capacitors, and three orders of magnitude higher than lithium-ion batteries. Energy-wise, we’re talking about 1.36 milliwatt-hours per cm3, about twice the density of activated carbon, and comparable to a high-power lithium-ion battery.
These characteristics stem from the fact that graphene is the most conductive material known to man — the LSG produced by the scientists showed a conductivity of 1738 siemens per meter (yes, that’s a real unit), compared to just 100 siemens for activated carbon. The performance of capacitors is almost entirely reliant on the surface area of the electrodes, so it’s massively helpful that one gram of LSG has a surface area of 1520 square meters (a third of an acre). As previously mentioned, LSG capacitors are highly flexible, too, with no effect on its performance (pictured right).
These graphene supercapacitors could really change the technology landscape. While computing power roughly doubles every 18 months, battery technology is almost at a standstill. Supercapacitors, which suffer virtually zero degradation over 10,000 cycles or more, have been cited as a possible replacement for low-energy devices, such as smartphones. With their huge power density, supercapacitors could also revolutionize electric vehicles, where huge lithium-ion batteries really struggle to strike a balance between mileage, acceleration, and longevity. It’s also worth noting, however, that lithium-ion batteries themselves have had their capacity increased by 10 times thanks to the addition of graphene. Either way, then, graphene seems like it will play a major role in the future of electronics.
So many headlines of the past few years have a common background theme: the dependence of modern economies on a steady, dependable supply of energy, and the consequences of our current fossil fuel dependency for global stability and climate. Clearly this cannot continue forever. Worse still, most of the people of the world do not even live under modern economic conditions as yet, and as China, India, and other similar nations continue to progress, world energy needs will almost inevitably double or triple from their current levels. So where is all that energy going to come from?
In the November 1, 2002 issue of Science, Marty Hoffert of NYU and 17 co-authors have published an analysis of the energy options that will be available to meet world demand a few decades from now, under the constraint of constant or reduced carbon dioxide emissions. While there are many short-term measures that could make a difference, the only long-term viable alternatives seem to be fusion and space-based solar power.
Fusion is still a gambit, and could take decades before it energizes. Space-based solar power relies on mostly existing technology. Nanotechnology will of course improve the efficiency of such power systems, but it and the economic drive to build solar power satellites will reduce the cost of escaping gravity. With the economic drive to increase our energy output and the feasible and affordable means to do it – we will go into space. This economic drive will encourage large investments of cash into long-term sustainable space technologies.
For me the greatest prospect of migrating into space is freedom. Not only political and sociological freedom, but also means freedom from living on a contrained flat gravity-fixed surface. Combine all of this and you gain the ability,to create and inhabit any environment your imagination can conceive with freedom that only utopian anarchists imagined. Of course, virtual realities will be extremely sophisticated offering compelling cyber-spaces t rich in knowledge and interactivity.
What this all means is that as space access becomes increasingly affordable, more people are likely to become highly motivated to go there – perhaps to escape the repressive regimes of earth that may inevitably form to “keep the world safe” Like the new world, space will offer a release valve, of an over-populated and stangled earth, for a species that has outgrown the womb.