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David Officer sums up week 2 on solar power and we look forward to week 3.
We’ve seen how we can easily make plastic solar cells from conducting plastics or polymers using only very thin layers of the energy material. Conducting polymers have already been made by the tonne, an amount that could make thousands of kilometres of solar cells. And those thousands of kilometres of solar cells can be easily made using modern reel-to-reel printing processes, potentially cheap enough to even be printed in small towns and villages in developing countries. There are still many challenges to overcome to make that a reality, including recycling the old solar cells. But these plastic solar cells could go a long way to helping us survive on Earth when the sun is shining.
Well, that’s great here in Australia, where the sun shines many days of the year. But many of you that have to endure cold, bleak, winter days would not survive if you were relying on solar cells. The solution is, of course, that we have to store the solar energy that the plastic solar cells capture. And we have to do that easily and cheaply There are many ways to store energy. But one of the simplest is using batteries. We all use batteries every day in our phones, computers, and in our cars. But these are often not very efficient and use costly energy materials like lithium.
To survive on Earth, we need light, inexpensive, efficient batteries that we can recharge quickly and recycle at the end of their life. Could we make such batteries from the abundant salt in sea water or even from carbon-based materials like coal? Come back next week and find out.

Solar as electricity

This week, we’ve looked at how solar power can be captured and converted into electricity. We’ve looked at various types of solar cells and discussed the limitations of this technology.

Solar has the potential to provide us with enough energy to combat our current energy crisis, but what happens on overcast days?

How do we meet our power needs at night? If we are going to rely on solar energy though we need an equally efficient storage solution.

Are batteries the answer? What materials should we use to create these batteries?

Come join us next week to find out.

Conversation Starter

  • What have you learned this week that has surprised you?

  • What questions do you still have about solar generated power?

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How to Survive on Earth: Energy Materials for a Sustainable Future

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