Solar Ricardo

Solar Ricardo

Friday, June 26, 2015

Biomimicry: Using Nature's Solar Technology

The concept of imitating natural systems in the built environment is known as “Biomimicry,” and it holds great promise for advancements in many areas of technology, including solar. Several new, cutting edge research project are looking at biomimetic solutions to solar’s nagging problems.

Plastic Solar Panels Imitate Photosynthesis

A UCLA press release this week announced chemists there have developed a new solar cell design that is inspired by the way that plants generate energy through photosynthesis. The team’s full report, entitled Long-lived photoinduced polaron formation in conjugated polyelectrolyte-fullerene assemblies is available at the website of the journal Science.
photo: UCLA
photo: UCLA

“Biology does a very good job of creating energy from sunlight,” said Sarah Tolbert, a UCLA professor of chemistry and one of the senior authors of the research. “Plants do this through photosynthesis with extremely high efficiency.”

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Wood Chip Mulch – Free Friend or Fungusy Foe?

mulch3Wood chip mulch. Some people love it, others fear it! Wood chip mulch can be purchased for less than two bucks a bag at many home centers. Fancier, colored chips can be had for a little extra moolah. In many towns, wood chips from tree trimming and brush clearing are free for the taking at the local landfill or compost facility. Wood chips are really effective as mulch for suppressing weeds and retaining moisture, as well as adding carbon to compost piles… so what’s not to like about wood chip mulch? I mean, we are talking FREE here!! [Read more…]

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Travelers Cross the Country in “Green Machine”

A young couple from Portland, Oregon recently stopped by the Sustainable Living Department on their cross country adventure that has taken them down the West coast, across the Southwest to New Orleans, up to Pennsylvania and New York, and back across the Midwest on their way home. Although Tom Walther and April Cummins drove a 1986 Ford Van, they did not burn fossil fuel on their journey. They made the entire trip fueled by waste vegetable oil.
IMG_20150605_101550This summer, the MUM Sustainable Living Department (SL) is in the process of moving our biodiesel brewing operation into a new facility. During the downtime, we have collected a backlog of waste vegetable oil (WVO) that we use to manufacture biodiesel for the SL vehicles. We placed an ad on Craigslist to get rid of some of the extra oil, and Tom responded.  “Craigslist is a great resource for finding oil,” April explained, saying that they had gotten oil in numerous ways, including online contacts and face-to-face meetings with friendly strangers. “In New Orleans, we just went around to local restaurants, and they were happy to share.”

Thin Film Makes Solar Headlines

Thin film solar cells have been used in small-scale applications since the 1970’s for consumer electronics beginning with calculators, and more recently appearing on solar yard lights, emergency radios and cell phone chargers. Thin film technology has been scaling up to larger applications, now competing with conventional crystalline silicon (c-Si) panels. Commercially available thin film panels are made of cadmium telluride (CdTe), copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS), and amorphous and other thin-film silicon, unlike conventional solar c-Si cells. Thin film panels are cheaper and flexible, making them more versatile than their rigid c-Si competitors, but the big stumbling block is their lower efficiency. This means that it take a larger area to produce the same energy as a c-Si panel.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

CSP: PV Not the Only Game in Town

With the price of photovoltaic (PV) panels plummeting and the advent of the era of PV “solar farms,” large scale solar thermal projects have not been getting much love lately, at least not in the USA. Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) is a workhorse technology for large-scale solar power generation. So why aren’t we hearing more about it?

 What is CSP? According the the Solar Energy Industry Association’s Website: “Concentrating solar power (CSP) plants use mirrors to concentrate the energy from the sun to drive traditional steam turbines or engines that create electricity. The thermal energy concentrated in a CSP plant can be stored and used to produce electricity when it is needed, day or night. Today, over 1,400 MW of CSP plants operate in the United States, and another 390 MW will be placed in service in the next year.” Built-in storage. That’s the holy grail of solar, right? Why are we not all over this?

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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Lithium Batteries and Solar: Where are We Headed?

Tesla, the electric car giant led by entrepreneur and futurist Elon Musk recently rolled out their new “Powerwall” system to much fanfare. Hot on their heels is Trina, the Chinese solar giant, who announced one week later that they, too will be  rolling out a new RBS with a soft launch in Australia this summer. Bosch, GE, LG, Sony and Samsung are all close to releasing similar products.

Both the Tesla and the Trina systems, although very different, are built on a backbone of Lithium Ion batteries. Up until recently, Lead Acid batteries were the only realistic option for RBS because of the high cost of Lithium Ion technology. Now, it would appear that Lithium Ion is ready for prime time in the RBS world. The question is, are Lithium Ion batteries a game changer for solar, or just a stepping stone to the next energy storage technology?

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Manly Art of Sewing – Chapter 1

sewing6There is not a power tool that I am afraid to conquer!! Including… a sewing machine? Yes, it is true! Clothing construction is not that different from furniture construction, home construction, or any other type of construction. I am putting together something that everyone needs to use. I know how to measure, layout, cut and join materials. Sewing requires a great deal of technical proficiency and craftsmanship. The question is, why do so many men, even now, in the 21st century, still consider sewing “women’s work?” [Read more…]