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Mardi, 13 Septembre 2011 17:00

Solar Panel Researchers Need Your Computer

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Solar Panel Researchers Need Your Computer

By Mark Brown, Wired UK

A team of researchers from universities across America are rooting through millions of molecules to hunt down a material that can create efficient and cost-effective solar cells — and they need your computer power to do it.

Currently, the cost of electricity from silicon solar cells is about ten times that of other energy sources. So to put solar on level pegging researchers are hunting down organic materials that have a conducting efficiency of 10 to 15 percent and an average lifetime of more than a decade.

Organic cells also have the ability to be molded into different shapes, they can be made semi-transparent and are much lighter than inorganic materials. They’re cheaper and easier to produce, too, and are non-hazardous.

But with literally millions of materials to choose from, identifying the handful that have the best properties — for optical and electronic purposes — is a Herculean task. That’s why the Clean Energy Project wants to borrow your PC power.

Distributed computing projects like this harnesses multiple computers around the web to get supercomputer-level processing power from everyday machines. The technique is in use right now to work on cures for cancer and Parkinson’s, detect earthquakes and listen in for aliens.

This latest use, run by chemist Alán Aspuru-Guzik from Harvard University, uses computational models to screen organic molecules and identify those likely to be the best semiconductors. 3.5 million organic molecules need to be tested, before Aspuru-Guzik can take the 1,000 molecules with the most useful calculated properties and investigate them further.

The virtual hunt has been running for more than two years now, but the group has recently found some promising results. The screening process turned up an organic semiconductor with desirable properties. Aspuru-Guzik sent the structure to synthetic chemist Zhenan Bao who made the chemical and then tested it in an experimental transistor.

The team found the molecule to be a good conductor, and even conducted electric charge between three and four times better than predicted. “This shows how difficult it is to predict a molecule’s properties accurately, but confirms that models are good at ranking molecules according to their relative performance,” said Bao.

So far, the initiative has inspected more than 2.3 million molecules and is expected to reach the 3.5 million mark in 2012. If you want to take part, head to The Clean Energy Project and download the free screensaver. This will lend your computer power to the project whenever your PC is idle.

Image: Clearly Ambiguous/Flickr


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