Tag Archives: record

New, ultrathin solar cell doubles the current efficiency record by reaching almost 50%

Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have created a record-shattering new solar cell. The device can convert sunlight to energy at nearly 50% efficiency, much better than present alternatives.

NREL scientists John Geisz (left) and Ryan France testing their prototype panel.
Image credits Dennis Schroeder / NREL.

Solar cells today typically run with between 15% and 23% efficiency, meaning they convert roughly 1/6th to 1/4th of incoming energy (in the form of sunlight) to electricity. But a new, “six-junction solar cell” designed at NREL boasts an efficiency of almost 50%, a huge increase.

More bang for your sun

“This device really demonstrates the extraordinary potential of multijunction solar cells,” said John Geisz, a principal scientist in the High-Efficiency Crystalline Photovoltaics Group at NREL and lead author of a new paper on the record-setting cell.

The cell has a measured efficiency of 47.1% under concentrated illumination, with one variant setting a new efficiency record under one-sun (natural) illumination of 39.2%.

The team used III-V materials — so called because of their position in the periodic table, also known as the boron group of semiconductors — to build their new cell; such materials have a wide range of light absorption properties that made them ideal for the task. Due to their highly efficient nature and the cost associated with making them, III-V solar cells are most often used to power satellites

The cell’s six junctions represent photoactive layers, and each is designed to capture light from a certain part of the solar light spectrum — in essence, each layer is specialized in absorbing as much as it can from certain parts of incoming light. The device also contains about 140 layers of various III-V materials to support these junctions, however, it’s only one-third the thickness of a human hair, the team explains.

“One way to reduce cost is to reduce the required area,” says Ryan France, co-author and a scientist in the III-V Multijunctions Group at NREL, “and you can do that by using a mirror to capture the light and focus the light down to a point. Then you can get away with a hundredth or even a thousandth of the material, compared to a flat-plate silicon cell. You use a lot less semiconductor material by concentrating the light. An additional advantage is that the efficiency goes up as you concentrate the light.”

France adds that exceeding the 50% efficiency mark is “actually very achievable”, but reaching 100% efficiency is impossible due to the fundamental limits of thermodynamics — then again, that stands true for all engines and devices used to generate or convert power.

Geisz explains that the current hurdle in exceeding 50% efficiency is presented by resistive barriers that form inside the cell which make it harder for electrical currents to flow. While the team is working on tackling this issue, NREL overall is working heavily towards making III-V solar cells more affordable, to give this technology a competitive edge on the market.

The paper “Six-junction III–V solar cells with 47.1% conversion efficiency under 143 Suns concentration” has been published in the journal Nature Energy.

Portugal and Spain brace for record-breaking temperatures

Amid a scorching-hot summer spanning almost all of the northern hemisphere, Portugal and Spain are preparing for temperatures that could break not only the national record — but a record for the entire continent.

Forecast via Euronews.

Spain’s current record high is 47.3°C (117.14°F) and Portugal can boast a slightly-higher highest temperature, at 47.4°C. But all that may soon change, as current weather models forecast significantly higher temperatures. It’s not out of the question for Portugal to reach a groundbreaking 50°C, surpassing not only the national record but also the European record, which is currently at 48°C (recorded in Athens, Greece, in July 1977).

The probable maximum is set for Saturday, in the southern parts of Portugal and south-western parts of Spain. Met Office forecaster Sophie Yeomans says that the heatwave is directly connected to “a plume of very dry, hot air from Africa.” Although it’s unlikely for temperatures to go over 50°C, records may very well be broken, Yeomans says.

“There’s an outside chance of hitting 50C,” said Yeomans. “If somewhere gets the right conditions, it could do [it] but that’s a very low likelihood.”

Other forecasters have echoed this prognosis.

“Friday and Saturday are likely to be the hottest days with a very real chance of breaking records,” the forecaster of Meteogroup said.

The Spanish meteorology agency, AEMET, has issued an official warning of extreme temperatures, and authorities are already making emergency preparations for the dramatic heatwave. Some 11,000 firefighters and 56 aircraft have already been deployed and are on standby to tackle forest fires — that are likely to emerge in the searing heat.

Iberia, the peninsula hosting the two countries, is not the only area suffering from extreme heat. Scandinavia, an area known for its frigid temperatures, is reporting record highs, Greece is ravaged by wildfires, and most parts of France and Germany have been scorching for months. Aside from some mountainous areas and northern latitudes, few areas have been spared.

Most of Europe is under a heatwave. It’s hard to say that it’s global warming — but it sure walks and quacks like global warming.

Although it’s very difficult to assign a global trend to individual events, there is already substantial evidence that climate change is connected to these record temperatures. Recent studies have shown that man-made climate change is making heatwaves much more likely and, as was the case in previous years, it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that current temperatures and global warming are not connected.

Although record-breaking temperatures are not the norm yet, it’s becoming increasingly plausible that this will be the case in the very near future. The evidence is indicating that climate change is increasingly affecting our lives, whether we care to admit it or not.

Solar Powerplant.

Earlier this month, California broke yet another green record using over 67% renewable power

California’s largest grid broke a renewable energy grid this May by sourcing more than 67% of its energy from renewables on the 13th.

Solar Powerplant.

The sunny state’s effort to go green is paying off bigger and better each time, as it claims yet another milestone in the renewable energy department. On the 13th of May the California Independent System Operator (CISO), its largest grid, drew 67.2% of its power from renewable sources, not including hydropower or rooftop solar. With hydropower factored in, this figure goes up to 80.7%, an achievement which can only help cement renewable energy in the eyes of the rest of the US.

The grid is greener on this side

CISO controls around 80% of the state’s power grids, meaning that if it draws primarily on renewable energy California, for all intents and purposes, draws on renewables too. The company had a bit of help sent its way by providence as 2017 has had plenty sunny days with ample winds (the state set a new wind power generation record on May 16 with 4,985 megawatts), hydroelectric reservoirs were full and in good order, and energy generation was goaded along by a rise in solar facilities (both traditional and roof-mounted).

These factors should make 2017 a year of more record-breaking as far as renewables are concerned in California.

“It’s going to be a dynamic year for records,” CISO spokesperson Steven Greenlee told SF Gate. “The solar records in particular are falling like dominoes.”

“The fact that the grid can handle 67 percent renewable power from multiple sources — it’s a great moment, and it shows the potential we have,” Center for Sustainable Energy director of policy Sachu Constantine told SF Gate.

Funnily enough, CISO was contending against the company’s own previous achievements. The record was set in March, when CISO filled 56.7% of demand with renewables, a record which in turn broke a previous CISO accomplishment.

And California is in an enviable position in other areas of clean energy, too. Last year, one power company contracted Tesla to construct a series of Powerpacks which would ensure a steady supply of clean energy on a (well, literally) rainy day. San Francisco’s public transport system is also set to go fully green by 2045, and is already cutting down on fossil fuel use.

And getting greener on the other side too

California is certainly making huge strides for clean energy and is probably leading the US in this regard, but the country is following suit. Atlanta officials recently committed to powering their city 100% with green energy by 2035 and Massachusetts plans to do the same. Chicago, too, pledged to reach the goal by 2025, Hawaii by 2045, and Nevada pledged to 80% renewables by 2040.

New York State has seen an 800% increase in solar use, Block Island is running on full-wind power and has shut down its previous diesel plants. This February, the US as a whole has had days when wind supplied more than 50% of power demand — and could run on mostly renewable energy by 2050 according to estimates by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Renewable energy isn’t only better for the environment — it’s also becoming cheaper every day. Battery storage, the simplest way to compensate for fluctuations in energy production and a perfect mate for solar and wind, is doing the same. The industry creates many more jobs and distributes wealth better to those it hires, not just CEOs — so it’s easy to see why governments are looking to build on clean energy.

And everyday folk are joining in on the transition more than ever. Certain types of renewable energy, chiefly solar, can easily be installed at home, will save you money on the bills (or turn a profit), help the planet, help you feel better at the same time, and the whole thing clearly pisses off the president and his backers something fierce. What’s not to love?

All in all, things are looking pretty swell on the renewable front. I’m hopeful that clean energy has a well-established future with so much support, especially considering that it mainly flows from the bottom up.


Tomorrow, India will launch a record-shattering 104 satellite missions

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) hopes to one-up every other competitor in a big way — by launching a record 104 satellites on a single rocket. The agency has established a reputation for being impressively frugal, and this launch should cement its place in the developing commercial space race.

Assembled PSLV-C37 with Mobile Service Tower.
Image credits ISRO.

Currying favor

There’s a growing need for satellites to handle modern society’s denser and more complex communication systems. So space agencies and private companies are competing to address this demand. Over the years, ISRO has distinguished itself on the market for its surprisingly cost-effective missions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wittily remarked in 2014 that ISRO launched four foreign satellites into orbit for less than it cost Hollywood to make “Gravity”. Just one year before, the agency put an unmanned rocket on Mars’ orbit for $73 million. For a similar mission, Maven Mars, NASA shelved out $671 million.

Now ISRO is looking to securing a place on the market by setting the record for most satellites launched at once. The agency plans to blast off an incredible 104 satellites at about 500 km from Earth in the PSLV-C37/Cartosat 2 mission. They will be deployed from the tried-and-true Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, now on its 39th mission — the same rocket Modi was referring to.

“We want to make optimum use of our capacity. We initially wanted to launch three of our satellites, of which one weighs 730 kg and the other two 19 kg each.”

“As there was additional space for 600 kg, we decided to accommodate the 101 nanosatellites,” said ISRO chairman AS Kiran Kumar.

I just love the fact that in a three-satellite launch, ISRO found room for 101 extra ones.

Last steps

The Mission Readiness Review committee and Launch Authorisation Board has green-lit the launch and starting at 5:28 AM today, the 28-hour countdown to ignition has been officially started, ISRO said.

The agency used the biggest variant of the PSLV at their disposal for the mission — the XL variant, with an estimated 1800 kg (3970 pounds) maximum payload. It’s currently fueled up and awaiting launch at the Sriharikota spaceport, 125 km from Chennai.

It will carry a 730 kilogram (1610 pound) main satellite of the Cartosat 2 series and 103 co-passenger “nanosatellites” adding a further 664 kilograms (1463 pounds) of weight. The latter are almost all supplied by other countries including Israel, Kazakhstan, and Switzerland. The US is the biggest contractor with 96 such satellites. India will launch two co-passenger satellites on the mission.

Cartosat 2 is meant for earth observation and will be used to monitor road networks, coastal land use and regulation, water distribution, and map creation among other applications. The two INS’s (Isro Nano Satellites) will provide a testing and demonstration platform for ISRO tech. INS-1A carries a Surface Bidirectional Reflectance Distribution Function Radiometer and INS-1B carries the Earth Exosphere Lyman Alpha Analyser as payloads.

The launch is scheduled for launch on Wednesday, February 15, at 9:28 IST. If you want to see history blasting off, here’s your chance.

Highest-living plant discovered more than 6km above sea level in the Himalayas

A new discovery marks the highest-known vascular plant to date: a record-breaking 6,150 meters (20,177 ft) above sea level, on Mount Shukule II, India.

Image credits Prakash Aryal / Pexels.

It’s cold. Every step feels like walking with lead boots on, and everyone’s nauseous and tired from the thin air — that’s how a team led by Jiri Dolezal from the Institute of Botany at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Průhonice fared while trying to understand how plants react to warming climates. Their site lies in a remote part of Mount Shukule II, India, a full five-days’ trek from the nearest road.

“We could manage only a couple of hours of work a day,” says Roey Angel, a team member from the University of Vienna.

In this inhospitable environment, the team discovered six species of cushion plants, clinging to a gravelly SW-facing patch of mountainside — the highest-altitude living example of vascular plants ever found. The species are Draba alshehbazii, Draba altaica, Ladakiella klimesii, Poa attenuata, Saussurea gnaphalodes and Waldheimia tridactylites.

Image credits Roey Angel et al., (2016) Microbial Ecology.

Living the high life

This sets a record for vascular plants, although algae and mosses — tolerant to drought and frost — are known to grow even higher up. But there’s also cause for alarm.

These patches of green are well adapted to the harsh conditions. Each plant is roughly the size of a coin with leaves in a rosette-pattern to trap warmer air. The team also identified a high-sugar biological “antifreeze” in the plant’s systems. Their roots were also very small. Dolezal however managed to count 20 growth rings in a 1-millimeter root, implying the plant has been living there for two decades — others, however, have probably been around only for a few years.

These plants likely grew from seeds which took root after a glacier had retreated. It just go to shows how climate change is re-shaping the Himalayas. Dolezal says that the average temperature during the short growing season at this spot has gone up about 6 °C in the last decade. He believes that this trend will continue, pushing away glaciers while plants ascend even higher in future. Plants need at least 40 days of frost-free soil per year to grow, he adds — something that was unheard of in the Himalayas a few decades ago, but is not probably routinely happening on the peaks in this region.

“In the arid Himalayas – mostly Tibet – there are many mountains with vast unglaciated areas available,” he adds.

As part of the GLORIA-Himalaya project, she has found alpine plants in Tibetan China moving upwards at 0.06 metres a year, while the temperature band they usually occupy is outpacing them by ascending at 6 metres a year. The fear is that the temperature increase is encouraging the tree line to ascend too, squeezing the alpine plants out.

The full paper “The Root-Associated Microbial Community of the World’s Highest Growing Vascular Plants” has been published in the journal Microbial Ecology.

This vinyl playing under an electron microscope is mesmerizing

Vinyl just sounds better, doesn’t it? It’s as if all the scratches and tiny imperfections in the recording work to make the sound perfect.

But how exactly does it work? How do you get sound from a piece of grooved plastic? Well, let’s start with this image tweeted by Vinyl Loop.

That huge spike you see in the picture is the player’s needle, magnified 1000 times. The groves are analog representations of sound vibrations, etched into the record. As the table turns, the needle follows the grove and moves on two axis — up and down, left and right.

The needle’s arm is attatched either to a piezoelectrical crystal or a series of small magnets placed near a coil. The arm moves the two magnets relative to the coil, generating small electrical currents which are picked up, amplified, and turned into sound — Andrei covered this in more detail here. The scratch sounds you sometimes hear on a vynil are either particles of dust cought in the grove — that needle up there is only about 1-2 mm thick — or actual scratches on the grove.

And now, through the wonder of modern technology, you can see how vynil stores sound in this video Applied Science put together of a record under the electron microscope. It’s a really nice video, but skip to ~4:25 if you’re only interested in seeing the groovy action. Enjoy!


Music company just played a vinyl record 28,000 meters above the Earth

Third Man Records, founded by famous musician Jack White has just become the first company to ever play a vinyl record, on a turntable, in space. The 80-minute long recording, consisting of a mix of composer John Boswell’s A Glorious Dawn and audio clips of Carl Sagan, was sent to space using a high-altitude balloon.

Image via officialTMR

Image via officialTMR

“Our main goal from inception to completion of this project was to inject imagination and inspiration into the daily discourse of music and vinyl lovers,” White told The Guardian.

“We hope that in meeting our goal we inspire others to dream big and start their own missions, whatever they may be.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve sent a record to space — that distinction belongs to the 1977 Voyager mission. But those records are meant for another, more alien, audience. Really, it’s meant for aliens. This is the first time we’ve sent vinyls to space for no other reason than to play them.

Now, turntables aren’t made to survive in the harshness of space — surprising, I know. So White and his colleagues had to find a special container that could protect it and the record on their adventure. They turned to Kevin Carrico, and engineer whose father worked on NASA’s Viking missions.

Carrico spent the past three years designing the Icarus Craft, a container designed to carry a gold-covered vinyl record to the outer limit of the Earth’s atmosphere using a high-altitude balloon. Gold was used to keep the record cool, as Carrico explains:

“As you rise higher and higher into the thinning atmosphere, temperature and increasing vacuum (lack of air) can cause issues,” Carrico said.

“Vinyl has a rather low melting point (71°C/160°F) and without air to keep things cool, you could wind up with a lump of melted plastic on your hands if a record is exposed to the sun for too long.”

The record played for 80 minutes, after which the Icarus eventually crashed in a vineyard. The team reports that the record was still spinning when they finally recovered it.

“Once the return to Earth began (with the craft attached to a parachute and falling about 4x faster than it rose), the turntable automatically went into ‘turbulence mode’, where the record continued to spin, but the tone arm was triggered to lift from the record surface and stay in its locked position, to protect both the needle and the record itself,” the team says on their YouTube Channel.

“When Icarus reached the ground – a vineyard, to be exact – the record still spun, unfazed by its incredible journey.”

You see the vinyl’s journey and its historic playback in this video Third Man Records put together:

smallest book in the world

The smallest book in the world measures less than a millimeter

A 22-page micro-print of Shiki no Kusabana (flowers of seasons) is officially the smallest book in the world, measuring  0.75 millimetres (0.03 inches) or just about impossible to read with the naked eye. The book was printed by Toppan Printing in Japan, who have been making micro books since 1964, using its ultrafine printing technology, the same method used to avoid forgery of paper currency.

Previously, the record holder for smallest book belong to a 1996 micro-edition of Chekhov’s short story, “Chameleon.” The flowers of seasons book is currently on display at Toppan’s Printing Museum in Tokyo, and is on sale, together with a magnifying glass and a larger copy, for 29,400 yen (£205).

Surfer sets new record – rides 30 meter wave [w/ video]

Hawaiian surfer Garrett McNamara has nerves (and other body parts) of steel! According to all reports, he broke his own Guinness world record with a ride on a wave that was about 30 meters (about 100 feet).

surf record

The stage was set in Nazare, Portugal, as a jetski towed him to a monstruous setting, with constant waves over 10 meters – but the big ones were a lot scarier.

“We were surfing in zones we haven’t surfed, so it was a little overwhelming,” McNamara told surfertoday.com. “Personally, it was very challenging. You just have to stay in the moment, stay focused on what you’re doing. We’re really comfortable here, but some of those waves…”

Nazare is about as good as you’re gonna get with big waves – it’s a deep water beach, which funnels storm swells that were originally generated in the north Atlantic. McNamare also held the previous record of biggest wave, a record he set in 2011. Confirmations still have to be done, but all witnesses believe this is definitely a new record.

“The Garrett McNamara team believes that the wave surfed Monday is higher than the one of 2011, but to avoid any controversy we asked two surfers who certify the Billabong XXL to confirm the size of the wave, before we talk about a new record”, explains Miguel Sousinha, president of Nazaré Qualifica.