In the very near future, recycling light energy may be easier than recycling any other item in your house.
Led by Shashank Priya, a team of mechanical and materials engineers and chemists at Virginia Tech, including post-doctoral researchers Xiaojia Zheng and Congcong Wu, as well as College of Science chemistry Professor Robert Moore and Assistant Professor Amanda Morris, is producing flexible solar panels that can become part of window shades or wallpaper that will capture light from the sun as well as light from sources inside buildings.
Solar modules less than half-a-millimeter thick are being created through a screen-printing process using low-temperature titanium oxide paste as part of a five-layer structure that creates thin, flexible panels similar to tiles in one’s bathroom. These tiles can be combined together to cover large areas; an individual panel, roughly the size of a person’s palm, provides about 75 milliwatts of power, meaning a panel the size of a standard sheet of paper could easily recharge a typical smart phone.
Most silicon-based panels can absorb only sunlight, but the flexible panels are constructed to be able to absorb diffused light, such as that produced by LED, incandescent, and fluorescent fixtures, according to Priya, the Robert E. Hord Jr. Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering.
“There are several elements that make the technology very appealing,” said Priya. “First, it can be manufactured easily at low temperature, so the equipment to fabricate the panels is relatively inexpensive and easy to operate. Second, the scalability of being able to create the panels in sheet rolls means you could wallpaper your home in these panels to run everything from your alarm system, to recharging your devices, to powering your LED lights.”
The panels, Priya said, can also be made to any design, so they could become window shades and curtains as well, absorbing sunlight through windows.
“The properties of the panels are such that there are really few limitations in terms of light source,” Priya said. “And the fact that we are dealing with an emerging technology, means we will be able to expand the utility of the panels as we go forward.”
Currently, the efficiency of the cells is nearly on par with the heavier, rigid silicon structures, but, Priya said, at panel-level there is some research required. Still, it is likely the new flexible panels will overtake their rigid cousins soon.
“Amorphous silicon is a fairly mature technology running at about 13-15 percent efficiency,” he said. “Our panels right now operate around 10 percent at the panel size. At smaller, less-useful sizes, the efficiency increases, and so we can see a potential for much greater energy collection efficiencies.”
The flexible panels, as they approach the conversion efficiency of rigid silicon and glass, can also be incorporated into products that the older technology cannot compete with – such as military uniforms and backpacks, items Priya’s lab is working on now with the U.S. Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center. By adding flexible panels to these items, soldiers will become their own recharging stations, resulting in reduction of the logistical footprint of a fighting force in the field, as well as the weight each individual soldier must carry on his or her back.
“Right now we are on the cutting edge of this technology,” Priya said. “Our edge is in the ability to fabricate large-area modules with high efficiency. We are actively working to integrate the product with the market and we see a wide variety of uses for the technology, from clothing to windows, to smart buildings to UAVs to mobile charging stations.”
The work of Priya and his team is detailed in the papers, The Controlling Mechanism for Potential Loss in CH3NH3PbBr3 Hybrid Solar Cells, published in the July issue of ACS Energy Letters, and Scaling of the Flexible Dye Sensitized Solar Cell Module, available online now in the journal Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells. The article will be published in the journal’s December edition.
By creating panels that capture a wide variety of light wavelengths, Virginia Tech engineers are opening a door to an entirely new area of light and energy recycling that could make saving energy as easy as hanging a curtain. Another paper demonstrating the stability of the cells will be published by ACS Energy Letters later in October under the title, Improved Phase Stability of Formamidinium Lead Triiodide Perovskite by Strain Relaxation.
A team that includes a Virginia Tech plant scientist recently used life sciences technology to edit 14 target sites encompassing eight plant genes at a time, without making unintended changes elsewhere in the genome.
The technology, a genome-editing tool called CRISPR-Cas9, revolutionized the life sciences when it appeared on the market in 2012. It is proving useful in the plant science community as a powerful tool for the improvement of agricultural crops.
The ability to alter several genes at once promises to advance researchers’ understanding of how genes interact to shape plant development and responses to environmental changes. However, a challenge of this technology has been identifying the impact of editing on genomic regions that were not targeted.
David Haak, an assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, developed a bioinformatics program using deep sequencing data to test whether the team’s editing of the genome of the Arabidopsis plant was both efficient and specific in its targeting.
The team’s finding that CRISPR-Cas9 is a reliable method for multi-gene editing of this particular plant species was published in PLOS ONE on Sept. 13.
“We were surprised to see that we had targeted gene editing efficiencies ranging from 30-85 percent with no detectable off-target editing,” said Haak, who is also affiliated with the university’s Fralin Life Science Institute and the Global Change Center.
“The ability to edit gene function in a specific manner using CRISPR-Cas9 has the potential to really change how we study plants in the lab and improve crop efficiency,” said co-author Zachary Nimchuk, an assistant professor of biology at the University of North Carolina. “But, there have been concerns about the potential for undesired off-target effects. We tested this in plants, targeting 14 sites at once, and found no off-target events in a large population of plants. Our data expands on previous work to suggest that, at least in Arabidopsis, off-target events are going to be extremely rare with Cas9.”
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, popularly known as Virginia Tech (VT), is a public land-grant, space-grant, and sea-grant university with the main campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, with other research and educational centers throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, the National Capital Region, and international locations in Switzerland and the Dominican Republic.
Founded in 1872 as an agricultural and mechanical land-grant college, Virginia Tech is a research university with the largest full-time student population in Virginia and one of the few public universities in the United States that maintains a corps of cadets. The university is one among a small group of polytechnic universities in the United States which tend to be primarily devoted to the instruction of technical arts and applied sciences.
The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.
The Latest Updated Research News:
Virginia Tech research articles from Innovation Toronto
- Scientists develop way to upsize nanostructures into light, flexible 3-D printed materials – July 18, 2016
- Scientists discover way to potentially track and stop human and agricultural viruses – February 19, 2016
- Can CRISPR help edit out female mosquitos? – February 18, 2016
- Frost-controlling chemical pattern creating frost-free zones could lead to serious energy-saving applications – January 24, 2016
- 3D-Printed Guide Helps Regrow Complex Nerves After Injury – September 19, 2015
- Research Could Lead to Protective Probiotics for Frogs – July 31, 2015
- New discovery may be breakthrough for hydrogen cars – April 7, 2015
- If Robots Drove, How Much Safer Would Roads Be? – June 11, 2014
- New proactive approach unveiled to detect malicious software in networked computers and data – June 8, 2014
- Plastics to dust — a dream about to come true – May 14, 2014
- US Navy tests robotic fire-fighters
- A battery that runs on sugar, is cheap, has an unmatched energy density AND is environmentally friendly
- Breakthrough in hydrogen fuel production by Virginia Tech researchers could revolutionize alternative energy market
- As Smart Electric Grid Evolves, Virginia Tech Engineers Show How to Include Solar Technologies
- Drug patch treatment sees new breakthrough
- Wireless “Smart Skin” Sensors Could Provide Remote Monitoring of Infrastructure
- Research team creates potential food source from non-food plants
- 3 Ways UAVs Could Transform America’s Food System
- Researchers Unveil Large Robotic Jellyfish That One Day Could Patrol Oceans
- New communication systems would allow vehicles to ‘talk’ with roadways
- Shared Transportation System Would Increase Profits, Reduce Carbon Emissions
- Can Nature Parks Save Biodiversity?
- Machine Counterpart: Nature’s New Creatures
- Ocean-powered robotic jellyfish could theoretically run forever
- SAFFiR robot could be putting out fires on Navy ships
- Modified Android system keeps smartphone data from leaving specified physical locations
- Joseph DeSimone, The Inventor Of Clean Teflon, On Invention In The 21st Century
- AnatOnMe projects patients’ insides onto their outsides
- Heating Nanoparticles to Kill Tumor Cells
- Could Battery Advances Mean a Better Robot?
Scientific Reports, an online journal from the publishers of Nature, the researchers describe how they used photolithography to pattern chemical arrays that attract water over top of a surface that repels water, thereby controlling or preventing the spread of frost.
The inspiration for the work came from an unlikely source — the Namib Desert Beetle, which makes headlines because it lives in one of the hottest places in the world, yet it still collects airborne water.
The insect has a bumpy shell and the tips of the bumps attract moisture to form drops, but the sides are smooth and repel water, creating channels that lead directly to the beetle’s mouth.
“I appreciate the irony of how an insect that lives in a hot, dry desert inspired us to make a discovery about frost,” said Jonathan Boreyko, an assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering. “The main takeaway from the Desert Beetle is we can control where dew drops grow.”
Working at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the researchers developed their beetle-inspired, frost-controlling chemical pattern on a surface only about the size of a centimeter, but they believe the area can be scaled up to large surface areas with thirsty, hydrophilic patterns overtop of a hydrophobic, or water-repellant, surface.
“We made a single dry zone around a piece of ice,” Boreyko said. “Dew drops preferentially grow on the array of hydrophilic dots. When the dots are spaced far enough apart and one of the drops freezes into ice, the ice is no longer able to spread frost to the neighboring drops because they are too far away. Instead, the drops actually evaporate completely, creating a dry zone around the ice.”
– consider the water that forms and freezes on heat pump coils or the deicing with harsh chemicals that has to take place on wind turbines or airplane wings.
“Keeping things dry requires huge energy expenditures,” said C. Patrick Collier, a research scientist at the Nanofabrication Research Laboratory Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a co-author of the study. “That’s why we are paying more attention to ways to control water condensation and freezing. It could result in huge cost savings.”
The journey of frost across a surface begins with a single, frozen dew drop, the researchers said.
“The twist is how ice bridges grow,” Boreyko said. “Ice harvests water from dew drops and this causes ice bridges to propagate frost across the droplets on the surface. Only a single droplet has to freeze to get this chain reaction started.”
By controlling spacing of the condensation, the researchers were able to control the speed frost grows across surfaces, or completely prevent frost.
“Fluids go from high pressure to low pressure,” Boreyko said. “Ice serves as a humidity sink because the vapor pressure of ice is lower than the vapor pressure of water. The pressure difference causes ice to grow, but designed properly with this beetle-inspired pattern, this same effect creates a dry zone rather than frost.”
Research could help more than 200,000 people annually who suffer from nerve injuries or disease
A national team of researchers has developed a first-of-its-kind, 3D-printed guide that helps regrow both the sensory and motor functions of complex nerves after injury. The groundbreaking research has the potential to help more than 200,000 people annually who experience nerve injuries or disease.
Nerve regeneration is a complex process. Because of this complexity, regrowth of nerves after injury or disease is very rare, according to the Mayo Clinic. Nerve damage is often permanent. Advanced 3D printing methods may now be the solution.
In a new study, published today in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, researchers used a combination of 3D imaging and 3D printing techniques to create a custom silicone guide implanted with biochemical cues to help nerve regeneration. The guide’s effectiveness was tested in the lab using rats.
To achieve their results, researchers used a 3D scanner to reverse engineer the structure of a rat’s sciatic nerve. They then used a specialized, custom-built 3D printer to print a guide for regeneration. Incorporated into the guide were 3D-printed chemical cues to promote both motor and sensory nerve regeneration. The guide was then implanted into the rat by surgically grafting it to the cut ends of the nerve. Within about 10 to 12 weeks, the rat’s ability to walk again was improved.
“This represents an important proof of concept of the 3D printing of custom nerve guides for the regeneration of complex nerve injuries,” said University of Minnesota mechanical engineering professor Michael McAlpine, the study’s lead researcher. “Someday we hope that we could have a 3D scanner and printer right at the hospital to create custom nerve guides right on site to restore nerve function.”
Scanning and printing takes about an hour, but the body needs several weeks to regrow the nerves. McAlpine said previous studies have shown regrowth of linear nerves, but this is the first time a study has shown the creation of a custom guide for regrowth of a complex nerve like the Y-shaped sciatic nerve that has both sensory and motor branches.
“The exciting next step would be to implant these guides in humans rather than rats,” McAlpine said. In cases where a nerve is unavailable for scanning, McAlpine said there could someday be a “library” of scanned nerves from other people or cadavers that hospitals could use to create closely matched 3D-printed guides for patients.