N.B. professor developing cheap method to make solar cell material

A heating system so powerful it gave its creator a sunburn from three metres away is being developed by a New Brunswick engineering professor as a method to sharply reduce the costs of making the carbon used in some solar cells.

See Full Article

Felipe Chibante says his "sun in a can" method of warming carbon at more than 5,000 degrees Celsius helps create the stable carbon 60 needed in more flexible forms of photovoltaic panels.

Potential products include solar house paint, shingles and even solar blinds and clothing.

Chibante and senior students at the University of New Brunswick created the system to heat baseball-sized lumps of plasma -- a form of matter composed of positively charged gas particles and free-floating negatively charged electrons -- at his home and later in a campus lab.

The chemist said in a telephone interview he was commissioned three years ago to look at ways to reduce the costs of producing the component Carbon 60, a very stable molecule shaped like a soccer ball, for use in solar cell systems.

He says the original goal was to reduce the $15,000 per kilogram cost of converting the rough carbon by 10 per cent.

But Chibante estimates the heating system -- which resembles three welding arcs converging in a single spot -- could slice the cost to less than $50 per kilogram for the highest priced component of carbon-based solar cells.

"It's a three-phase arc ... that allows us to enlarge the plasma with relatively small amounts of plasma. It gives us temperatures roughly equivalent to the surface of the sun," said the specialist in nanotechnologies.

The 52-year-old researcher says he first set up the system to operate in his garage.

He installed optical filters to watch the melting process but said the light from the plasma was so intense that he later noticed a sunburn on his neck.

An early version of the process features three white-hot arcs of flame and Chibante shouting in the background, "You know what, I think it's going to work!"

"Just from that little experiment ... I had a sunburn on my neck. When you have a sun just a few metres away you have a lot of light," he said.

The plasma is placed inside a container that can contain and cool the extremely hot material without exposing it to the air.

The conversion technology has the advantage of not using solvents and doesn't produce the carbon dioxide that other baking systems use, says Chibante.

He says the next stage is finding commercial partners who can help his team further develop the system, which was originally designed and patented by French researcher Laurent Fulcheri.

Chibante said he doesn't believe the carbon-based, thin-film solar cells will displace the silicon-based cells because they capture less energy.

But he nonetheless sees a future for the more flexible sheets of solar cells.

"You can make fibres, you can make photovoltaic threads and you get into wearable, portable forms of power that makes it more ubiquitous rather than having to carry a big, rigid structure," he said.

The researcher says the agreement earlier this month in Paris among 200 countries to begin reducing the use of fossil fuels and slow global warming may help his work.

"Solar energy will help mitigate or offset the rise in the earth's surface temperature because it reduces dependency on fossil fuels and supports the Paris agreement," he said.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Fukushima reactor briefly loses cooling during inspection

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TOKYO -- One of the melted reactors at the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant had a temporary loss of cooling Monday when a worker accidentally bumped a switch while passing through a narrow isle of switch panels during an inspection and turned off the pumping system. Source
  • Cool tech toys for the kid in your life

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Looking for a cool tech gift for a kid in your life? There's no shortage of fun and fairly educational items these days. New toys for the holidays include little robot friends full of personality and magnetic blocks that snap together to teach the basics of computer programing. Source
  • Ransomware doesn't just target the big guys

    Tech & Science CBC News
    It sounds like the plot of a blockbuster movie: a metropolitan transit system is hit by a ransomware attack that freezes its entire ticketing infrastructure. A message from the hacker is splayed across the terminals' public displays: "You are Hacked. Source
  • Rare weasel species makes a comeback in Washington state

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK, Wash. -- The elusive weasel-like mammal poked its head out of the wooden crate, glanced around and quickly darted into the thick forest of Mount Rainier National Park -- returning to a landscape where it had been missing for seven decades. Source
  • Explosive advances in DNA testing raise hope, ethical questions

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A Calgary author and university professor says advances in DNA testing available to the average person are taking off, but alongside that comes ethical questions Canadians will be forced to address. Tom Keenan, author of Technocreep and a professor of environmental design at the University of Calgary, says genetic testing has come a long way. Source
  • Killer whales eating their way further into Manitoba

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The food chain in Hudson Bay is drastically changing as killer whales take advantage of less sea ice and eat their way into Manitoba, a researcher in Arctic mammal populations says. Steven Ferguson, a researcher with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the University of Manitoba, will be presenting his findings in Winnipeg this week at ArcticNet 2016, the largest single gathering of scientists focused on the rapidly changing Arctic. Source
  • New Hampshire seeks answers behind oyster outbreaks

    Tech & Science CTV News
    DURHAM, N.H. -- For the past 25 years, researcher Stephen Jones has tried to understand the threat that bacteria may pose to oysters in New Hampshire's Great Bay estuary. He often couldn't get funding to study the problem. Source
  • Oldest zoo gorilla doing well after biopsy before birthday

    Tech & Science CTV News
    POWELL, Ohio - The oldest known gorilla living in a zoo is doing well after a surgical biopsy ahead of her 60th birthday on Dec. 22. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium said Saturday that veterinarians successfully removed a mass under the gorilla's arm that recently started causing her discomfort. Source
  • Friendly moose befriends 2 cows on Vermont farm

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SHELDON, Vt. -- A Vermont couple has chased off a moose that appeared to be bonding with their two cows on a Sheldon farm because they didn't want it to get injured, stuck in their barn or damage their fences. Source
  • Scientists gathering in Winnipeg to focus on 'complex' changing Arctic climate

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The largest single gathering of scientists focused on the rapidly changing Arctic gets underway in Winnipeg on Monday. ArcticNet 2016 will see 800 scientists from across the country gather at the RBC Convention Centre to present research on a wide array of subjects impacting the health of the biology and the physical systems of the Arctic. Source