Bendable Electronics: A Major Technological Breakthrough

Jaeah Lee has a great write-up on mc10’s remarkable new technology:

After more than a decade of research and testing, electronics that can bend and stretch over virtually any surface are finally making their way to the marketplace.

One company in the space is mc10, a start-up in Cambridge Massachusetts. mc10 bases its products on research by co-founder and University of Illinois materials scientist John Rogers, and it’s developing a new class of semiconductor applications that broadly range from from catheters to clothes…

Rogers’ research has already made a splash in hospitals. His work has led to electronic sensors than can wrap around a balloon catheter to monitor vital stats during an angioplasty operation and a strip sensor that sticks to the heart’s outer tissue layer in order to monitor arrythmias…

Rogers’ laboratory is also working to apply the technology to batteries, solar cells, and wireless equipment.

As MSNBC reports, his lab is working toward producing a new photovoltaic module binding together miniature solar cells (each the size of a grain of sand) and tiny glass lenses. The Tucson Electric Power Company is currently piloting the module.

Charlie Dent’s Fuel Cell Pork

Other than pure hackery, I don’t know why Bernie keeps covering for Charlie Dent on hydrogen fuel cells. I have explained to him, patiently and gently, that no one believes this technology is going anywhere. Continuing research for it is a huge waste of money. Here’s me in February:

Hydrogen fuel cells are a pipe dream, continuing research on them is a waste of money, and Dent only supports them because they’re a backdoor handout to the natural gas industry.

To throw more money at this dead-end technology, Dent and the Republicans stripped funding from clean energy investments that are actually worthwhile. Here’s Bernie:

Dent, a founder and co-chair of the House Hydrogen Fuel Cell Caucus, rejected President Obama’s proposal to advance other alternative and renewable programs at the expense of hydrogen and fuel cells and worked to ensure more reasonable investment in the promising technology.

Again, the technology is not “promising.” The technology hasn’t looked promising in some time, and the subsidies should have ended long ago. But just like ethanol, there’s a political constituency for keeping the subsidies alive long after they have outlived their usefulness. Now it’s just pork.

LVCI does Bernie’s homework for him and finds:

According to Reuters on June 21st, the latest version of the bill shortchanges President Obama’s..

“innovation and competition stradegies by 40% n favor of an addiction to oil, coal and natural gas.”

“On the energy front, this version of the bill snips $1.9 billion from the White House request for investments in energy efficiency research, renewables such as solar, wind and geothermal, fuel-conserving vehicles, weatherization, biomass and other programs. That’s more than 40 percent below current funding levels.”

“.. the legislation increases funding for DOE’s Fossil Energy Office by $32 million while decreasing designated dollars for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) by $80 million.

The House later voted to restore $10 million of the $1.9 billion cut to clean energy. This is pathetic. What you have here is an oil-uber-alles energy agenda that’s all about protecting fossil fuel producers from competition. Everything about this bill is a joke. It does nothing to reduce the price difference between clean and dirty energy, and only entrenches our addiction to fossil fuels.

Remember, there is no option to make the United States energy independent through domestic drilling or domestic development of fossil fuel resources. There is no option to reduce energy prices through increased drilling. This is one of the most pernicious Big Lies of American politics.

Our Solar Future, Cont’d.

The solar breakthroughs keep coming:

Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered how to create successful “CIGS” (copper, indium, gallium and selenium) solar devices with inkjet printing, reducing raw material waste by 90 percent and significantly lowering the cost of producing solar energy cells.

The process could lead to high-performing, rapidly produced, ultra-low cost thin film solar electronics, according to the researchers. Instead of depositing chemical compounds on a substrate with a more expensive vapor phase deposition — wasting most of the material in the process — inkjet technology could be used to create precise patterning with very low waste.

If costs can be reduced enough and other hurdles breached, it might even be possible to create solar cells that could be built directly into roofing materials, scientists say, opening a huge new potential for solar energy.

Our Solar Future, Cont’d.

This is the sort of breakthrough that has the potential to change the way buildings are made:

A start-up in Northern California is working on creating “solar windows” that could act as solar panels at the same time as blocking sunlight from entering office buildings to reduce their energy needs, according to a Sunday story in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The company Pythagoras Solar is based in San Mateo, California, and it won an award from the “GE ecomagination Challenge,” award of $100,000 last week for its idea.

The company makes a “window laced with solar cells,” that could generate power for office buildings and shield offices from sunlight, thus reducing air conditioning costs.

It really does not look like the future of solar is big arrays out in the desert. More likely it will simply be what your roof, siding and windows are made of.

Oil Drilling Will Not Reduce Gas Prices

Intellectual garbage clean-up of Charlie Dent press releases outsourced to Greg Palmer:

First, we disagree with him on the substance of his attack – if energy prices are high and thats hindering job creation, we’re all for releasing some of the SPR. Job creation is Job 1, to modify an old Ford slogan.

But more importantly, good ole’ Charlie voted FOR a very similar measure during the Bush Administration when oil prices were sky high. Back in 2008, HR 6022 instructed the Secretaries of the Interior and Energy to stop buying oil for the petroleum reserves for the express reason that energy prices were too high.

Vote to pass a bill that suspends acquisition by the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Energy for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until December 31, 2008 unless the average price of petroleum falls below $75 per barrel for the most recent 90-day period.

Mr. Dent votes Aye. As usual, Charlie’s blowing with the wind.

Rich Wilkins weighs in here.

I will add that there is no – repeat, no – option to lower oil prices through increased oil drilling in America. This is pure fantasy. Even if we let Charlie Dent and his campaign contributors go buck-wild and put a drill bit through the head of every baby seal in the land, that would knock 3 cents off oil prices between now and 2030.

Fossil fuels are a dead end. Rather than doubling down on oil, we need to be laying the groundwork to free ourselves from it altogether.

Our Solar Future

Stephen Lacy at Grist gives us more reasons to be optimistic about solar. Here’s the price trend:

And so much for natural gas as a “bridge fuel.” We’ve already crossed the bridge:

Solar Could Compete on Price With Dirty Energy in 3 Years

Futurist Ray Kurzweil has been saying for a while that we’ll be able to power the world with solar energy by around 2027. He has noted that the relationship between solar panel prices and efficiency gains have been tracking a Moore’s Law pattern for the last 20 years. I’m not endorsing anything that optimistic, but it seems like some important changes are happening in the solar market:

The solar industry is predicting that solar energy will be able to compete on price with fossil fuels in just 3 years:

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US solar power will compete on price with conventional generation within three years without subsidy thanks to plummeting costs, industry leaders say.

We are also seeing big breakthroughs in battery and grid technology that will could greatly expand energy storage capacity:

Researchers at MIT have developed a radically new approach to the design of batteries that could provide a lightweight, inexpensive alternative to existing batteries for electric vehicles and the power grid…

One important characteristic of the new design is that it separates the two functions of the battery — storing energy until it is needed, and discharging that energy when it needs to be used — into separate physical structures.

This new design should make it possible to reduce the size and the cost of a complete battery system, including all of its structural support and connectors, to about half the current levels. The researchers said that this dramatic reduction could be the key to making electric vehicles fully competitive with conventional gas- or diesel-powered vehicles. This means a ten-fold improvement in energy density over present liquid flow-batteries, and lower-cost manufacturing than conventional lithium-ion batteries.

Now, because I think climate change is an urgent problem that requires immediate action, I think Congress ought to take back the subsidies they keep giving to oil and ethanol, and use the money to restore the cuts to solar subsidies. Even if you don’t care about climate change and want to see a free market prevail here, propping up dirty energy industries while cutting support for clean energy industries has nothing to do with a free market. It’s picking winners.