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Purple Pokeberries Yield Cheap Solar Power 206

Posted by kdawson
from the poke-salad-annie dept.
separsons writes "Researchers at Wake Forest's Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials created a low-cost solar power system geared towards developing nations. By coating fiber-based solar cells with dye from purple pokeberries, a common weed, scientists created a cheap yet highly efficient solar system. Wake Forest researchers and their accompanying company, FiberCell Inc., have filed for a patent for fiber-based solar. Plastic sheets are stamped with plastic fibers, creating millions of tiny 'cans' that trap light until it is absorbed. The fibers create a huge surface area, meaning sunlight can be collected at any angle from the time the sun rises until it sets. Coating the system with pokeberry dye creates even greater absorption: researchers say the system can produce twice as much power as traditional flat-cell technology."
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Purple Pokeberries Yield Cheap Solar Power

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  • by Pojut (1027544) on Friday April 30, 2010 @12:29PM (#32045746) Homepage

    I can't decide if I should make a pokemon joke, or a your mom joke.

    Your mom poked my berries? I guess? I got nothin'.

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday April 30, 2010 @12:33PM (#32045810) Journal

      I can't decide if I should make a pokemon joke, or a your mom joke.

      Your mom poked my berries? I guess? I got nothin'.

      Go with a modified classic quote: "I eated the purple pokeberries. They taste like solar energy."

      • by pavon (30274) on Friday April 30, 2010 @12:54PM (#32046152)

        Your car is run by hamsters and your roof smells of pokeberries!

    • by Ironchew (1069966)

      They think they have the answer to cheap solar power now, but the Berry glitch will get them. Just wait another 100 hours...any minute now...

      • Um... They're seeking a patent. They envision cheap solar power in about 20 years. ;-)

        • by Golddess (1361003)
          I think GP was trying to make a Pokémon joke, though I am unfamiliar with what the "Berry glitch" may be.
          • Google search for "berry glitch" [google.com]

            Even on Google, the entire first page is relevant links.

            HTH.

            BTW, the "TL;DR" of it is that it's a game-time-related glitch.

            Sort of like patenting an invention to make sure less developed countries get something cheap is generally a time-related glitch of about 20 years or so.

            IOW, it's a meta joke about his joke and also a dig at the researchers.

            Again, HTH.
            HAND.

            Oh, and just in case you missed it....

            *whoosh*

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Gertlex (722812)

      I can't wait til PokéBerry evolves into Pokéium and we can put him nuclear reactors!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Snarf You (1285360)

      An upcoming Ask Yahoo question:

      Someone poked my berries and they have now turned purple, should I be worried????

    • by Tetsujin (103070)

      I can't decide if I should make a pokemon joke, or a your mom joke.

      No, not a pokemon joke, just a type of berry...

      Honestly, though, it's hard to imagine coming out ahead. I mean, to cultivate the berries you have to fly from town to town, finding small patches of soil where you can plant a berry or two, then you need to keep coming back every few hours to water the damn things or the soil will dry up and the berries will die. All this and maybe in a couple days that berry you planted will sprout into a bush with, what, two or three berries on it? And then as soon as you

    • Mooseberries [wikipedia.org].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2010 @12:34PM (#32045834)

    Weeds are only weeds because we don't want them. If this solar technology takes off, the Pokeberry will cease to be a weed. Horrors!

  • by millia (35740) on Friday April 30, 2010 @12:37PM (#32045894) Homepage

    And abandoned fields across the American south became the new gold fields of the Yukon.

    That stuff pops up everywhere, and grows like you wouldn't believe. I can't imagine how well it would do if you fertilized.

    And of course, you can use the leaves for poke salad. With a lot of boiling...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Sometimes the best thing to do is benign neglect.

      • by causality (777677)

        Sometimes the best thing to do is benign neglect.

        If it's truly benign then I would not call it neglect. Sometimes doing nothing and leaving well enough alone is truly your best option (not that politicians want to understand this). The wisdom to know when this is the case versus situations you really should be taking direct control over is also not what I would call neglectful. Neglect would be failing to consider these things and act accordingly.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Actually poke gets toxic as it gets older. By the time it has berries, you'd best not eat it.

      Now shut up and start doing the hokey pokey!

    • by ehrichweiss (706417) * on Friday April 30, 2010 @12:58PM (#32046204)

      Poke doesn't become non-toxic regardless of the amount of boiling. I had to look it up a few years ago when I was considering harvesting some from our backyard.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fifedrum (611338)

      the first time I saw this stuff pop up in my yard, I really couldn't believe it. The first day there was a sprout, it was purple. The second day, it was knee high, purple. At least this is the way it seems. It really did look like a cartoon drawing of an alien plant, I expected seed pods in the front yard, each capable of implanting a crab shaped alien baby for incubation in human host. After a few weeks it was 2 meters, bright green with little hard green berries sprouting, I don't remember the flower stag

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by St.Creed (853824)

        ... I don't remember the flower stage. I had to kill it with fire. Not joking.

        The flower stage is when the sprouts spread to unsuspecting humans and enter their brains through the nose, making them forget it happened in the process.

        Have fun :)

  • PokeBerries (Score:5, Funny)

    by mvidutis (1258378) on Friday April 30, 2010 @12:46PM (#32046022)
    Gotta catch 'em all!
  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Friday April 30, 2010 @12:52PM (#32046126)

    "Wake Forest's Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials"

    Seriously? That's a little bit too long. MacGyver Photonics has a much nicer ring to it.

  • What kind of solar panel is this? PV? Solar Thermal I guess would make more sense. Why would they not just spray the dye on at the factory? Does the dye degrade? Wash off in rain? If it's good for Africa, is it also good for everywhere else? It sounds like they were clinging to straws to tie in the manufacturing of the product with something local in Africa.
    • by Amouth (879122)

      It very well could be the specific chemical compound that gives the berries their color which is what is effective.. something with he same color might not be the same compound and might not have the same specific effect.

      there are a lot of substances that go into manufacturing things - and if we can get them pre-made from a plant and it is easier to extract it from the plant to to make it our selves then it is advantages to do it.

    • by FooAtWFU (699187)
      Solar-thermal is most effective for a big plant. But big plants don't solve the power problems of developing third-world nations. Small plants without miles and miles of power-line infrastructure are more effective.

      If you look at the history of the developed world you'll see a lot of small (non-electric) power sources bootstrapping the process. Long before you had big centralized power plants, there were plenty windmills and water mills, at first just for agriculture but later for things like manufacturin

  • Great... (Score:3, Informative)

    by ProdigyPuNk (614140) on Friday April 30, 2010 @12:58PM (#32046200) Journal
    Most of the "Developing nations" out there are still having trouble with clean water, roads, and reliable power. So we're going to stick them with solar ? First, who is going to pay for it ? Second, if they aren't getting reliable power through more traditional means (like coal), how is this REALLY going to help them at all ?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by FooAtWFU (699187)
      A small local solar generator may be more reliable than a large distant coal plant if there's likely to be interruptions in the power grid or political/economic turmoil which shuts the coal plant down or topples power lines. It's not "run a huge factory and light your home at night" but it could run some small agricultural equipment (a small mill, perhaps) or provide power for some communications equipment (radio, television, charge a cell phone) and things like that.
      • But I want a huge local coal plant!
        Where else would I burn up fallen enemies and minions.
        Also it will make my volcano lair look even more realistic!

        I guess I’m just an oldschool Evil Overlord...

        Ming the Merciless [movievillains.com]

    • Re:Great... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gstoddart (321705) on Friday April 30, 2010 @01:19PM (#32046480) Homepage

      Most of the "Developing nations" out there are still having trouble with clean water, roads, and reliable power. So we're going to stick them with solar ? First, who is going to pay for it ? Second, if they aren't getting reliable power through more traditional means (like coal), how is this REALLY going to help them at all ?

      Well, solar can be hooked up directly to the building you need to power, so you could get power into a school, for example, without needing any infrastructure.

      And, I can see someone using this to run one of those UV water sterilizers. Imagine that -- a method of actually getting them sanitary water.

      Getting cheap power to remote places facing the problems you identify might actually help them to try to alleviate some of the problems. I bet there's loads of examples that people can identify that if you can provide power, you can do something. Having power is better than not since you get more options.

      Cheers

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by chronosan (1109639)
      Clean abundant energy can solve a lot of problems. Being able to run a sizable desalination plant would solve one of those listed.
    • by b0bby (201198)

      I read an article the other day about some villagers in a remote corner of Afghanistan. There was a large generator which had been given to them years before which was lying unused. Apparently they had used the gas that came with it, calculated that it would cost 20 cents per house per night to run it, and never fired it up again. They couldn't afford the gas, which anyway would have been difficult to transport. A donated solar panel installation, on the other hand, might actually do them some good.

      • I read an article the other day about some villagers in a remote corner of Afghanistan. There was a large generator which had been given to them years before which was lying unused. Apparently they had used the gas that came with it, calculated that it would cost 20 cents per house per night to run it, and never fired it up again. They couldn't afford the gas, which anyway would have been difficult to transport. A donated solar panel installation, on the other hand, might actually do them some good.

        The prob

        • by b0bby (201198)

          Batteries require maintenance. Sure it's not hard but someone would have to do it.

          True, but the ongoing cost of maintaining a bank of lead acid batteries is significantly less than the cost of providing fuel for a generator. These villagers were an extreme - they're poor even by Afghan standards - but I imagine that even they would see the value in it.

  • by Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) on Friday April 30, 2010 @12:59PM (#32046212)
    This page [fibercellinc.com] indicates that indium tin oxide is still used in the solar panel. Indium has got to be removed because it is an extremely expensive, worth over $500/kg, and it is rare and unsustainable. It's used to make transparent conductors. If we could make some kind of plastic as a transparent conductor, that would be helpful.

    Or we could skip the solar panels and build a steam engine.
    • I don't know where you got $500/kg from... It's considerably more than that. I've got a piece of 99.99% pure indium wire in my desk drawer and a 36" piece cost me $300. It can't be but maybe 5 grams.
  • my tech is extremely advanced

    what i do is a store the construction information for a prefab nanoscale solar cell set up in a small protected sphere. with a little coaxing, the information stored in the sphere will begin assembling the solar array in a progressive manner that scales well in a fractal pattern that also maximizes solar exposure, including proprietary feedback mechanisms that is highly sensitive intellectual proerty. the solar assemblies are also plant based like the pokeberry mentioned one and are easily configured to various 3rd world climates

    the solar technology i employ even cleans up greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and converts it into oxygen, water, and an energy storage compound which also happens to taste delicious. this solar product can be utilized as an energy source by 3rd world peoples in a variety of ways, including direct reconstitution to carbon via a high energy oxygen based deconstruction process that also produces a form of heating, or- get this, this is the part i'm most proud of- the 3rd world residents can consume the solar arrays DIRECTLY and their own bodies can utilize the energy storage medium for biological sustenance

    how come nobody thought of this tech before?

    • Have you considered getting some seed capital and commercializing that one?
    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      this solar product can be utilized as an energy source by 3rd world peoples in a variety of ways, including direct reconstitution to carbon via a high energy oxygen based deconstruction process that also produces a form of heating, or- get this, this is the part i'm most proud of- the 3rd world residents can consume the solar arrays DIRECTLY and their own bodies can utilize the energy storage medium for biological sustenance

      how come nobody thought of this tech before?

      So the "3rd world residents" are also trees? If we could convince all the people in the 3rd world to just turn into trees, that would be great! You have to go public with your technology!

    • But you hid the catch: It does not work without lots of water or the proper composition of chemicals at the construction site. Which it uses up, so you can’t do it forever. And creating electricity from it is extremely inefficient. Also it takes lots of space.

  • by EriktheGreen (660160) on Friday April 30, 2010 @01:07PM (#32046318) Journal

    I expected reading this article to call this hype... there are many new discoveries reported here on Slashdot, especially with regard to optical technologies like solar cells and LCD displays, that are interesting and potentially useful... if they were at all practical or near market ready.

    This looked like another one, except upon reading what there is of the article and web page it just looks like the company building these has no PR or web staff, and seems completely focused on technology. Their web page looks like it was made by an intern, and they don't seem to have supplied much in the way of exciting facts or sound bites to the reporter, leaving them to provide some basic facts and fill in some boilerplate hyperbole: "Could Provide Low-Cost Solar for Developing Nations".

    From the looks of the technology, the basic principles were discovered prior to 2007 and a patent filed about then. Likely the patent was just granted. The company that is researching this stuff formed then, got a round of funding, and started delivering prototypes and test types.

    As of now they seem to be creating and testing whole assemblies, IE solar panels you can put outside and use for electricity.

    This is interesting because it means this isn't a lab curiosity.. they haven't demonstrated an effect in the lab, they've actually managed to develop it into a form that is nearing mass production capability.

    So why is this interesting for those of us not in the third world? Well, that bit about "developing nations" is an attempt to get people to relate to what the tech is good for.... possibly because wide implementation of solar power needs more than just good cells to work, it requires a massive change in infrastructure to distribute power or a major change on a per home basis to store and use the power in your own house. That's not as much of a problem in third world countries which have no reliable power anyway, and where people would be happy to have solar during the day.

    Third world comments aside, if the efficiency curve they're measuring is correct, these cells are a disruptive technology for the solar cell business. They're cheap to produce, relatively environmentally friendly, flexible, light... basically an excellent solar cell technology that everyone can use everywhere it's sunny.

    If these work out and get into mass production (the technology company making them is partnered with a couple manufacturing firms already) then you'll see a lot of them around everywhere, because they'll remove a couple major barriers to wider solar cell use... cost and the fragility of existing cells.

    Of course, odds are this is another cool announcement that won't go anywhere, but at least there are indications of some substance here and there...

    Erik

    • by jasenj1 (575309)

      They look like a great acquisition target for GE, Shell, BP, or any of the other energy giants. Who could then lock these guys up in a lab forever doing "feasibility tests" and further research.

      - Jasen.

      • by St.Creed (853824)

        They look like a great acquisition target for GE, Shell, BP, or any of the other energy giants. Who could then lock these guys up in a lab forever doing "feasibility tests" and further research.

        - Jasen.

        Just like Activision tried to do with infinity ward? Yeah, that'll work out really well. Don't wait to see if they ever get funding: make SURE they get funded. Good move. And then drive them out to form your nightmare competitor. Good move again. Not to speak of the publicity, which would by itself account for a huge amount of damage. That's not even taking into account the fact they patented the stuff so it's out in the open and no longer a secret.

  • The actual article (Score:5, Informative)

    by xilmaril (573709) on Friday April 30, 2010 @01:12PM (#32046386)

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100429141430.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily+(ScienceDaily%3A+Latest+Science+News) [sciencedaily.com]

    The summary link is to a blog, which gives a short not too useful summary and then links to this Science Daily article.

    I like how Science Daily includes APA and MLA citation information at the bottom of their articles. Also, it seems like the fiber-based solar cells this article is about are the development, and the purple pokeberries are one of many possible natural or artificial dyes which could be used.

    It's a shame that the article tells us nothing about how the fiber-based solar cells work. Here is some information on that:
    http://www.fibercellinc.com/Technology.html [fibercellinc.com]

    The patent is with the EPO (european parliament patent office), so if anyone could find that, it'd be rad.

    • Thank you for this. Every time I click on an Inhabitat article I facepalm myself because there is next to no interesting information anywhere in the entire damned, 'article.' I really wish that people would submit articles with some actual technical information rather than a few sentences on some blog claiming how cool something is. It's getting frustrating.
  • Longevity? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Locke2005 (849178) on Friday April 30, 2010 @01:18PM (#32046470)
    Current photovoltaics are expected to last for 30 years; what is the functional lifetime of this device? It seems to me that plastic and pokeberry dye won't last anywhere near as long as silicone.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by InakaBoyJoe (687694)
      Mod parent up. What happens when you leave an inkjet printout in the sun? Those dyes fade pretty quickly, and natural dyes are probably even more prone to fading. But if they can get the technology cheap enough to be disposable, or maybe reprintable, maybe there's still a useful niche.
    • by G00F (241765)

      I would expect the dye to fade quickly, I'm more concerned over the rest of the unit. I would hope/expect one can reapply the dye themselves every few years for cheap.

    • If it's sufficiently cheap and easy to install, it could half the life of silicon and still be a better investment. But you raise a good question.
  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Friday April 30, 2010 @01:21PM (#32046530) Homepage
    Zero technical information. The obvious question is HOW does device create electricity from sunlight. Is the dye just a booster, or does it actuallly create the electricity? They need a better writer, one who has some curiosity and perhaps a science degree.
  • This is not good news for weed killer spray companies. Anti-weed-killer environmental protest in 3... 2... 1...
  • by Bender_ (179208) on Friday April 30, 2010 @01:53PM (#32046978) Journal

    This sounds very much like a Dye-sensitized solar cell [wikipedia.org], also known as Graetzel cell.

    Unfortunately that means that the new invention does probably share the same (unsolved) long term stability problems.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If the big problem with DSSCs is that the dye breaks down, and this dye comes from a source that's as common and easy to cultivate as pokeweed, I don't see why a dye-flush couldn't be performed on the cells when it reaches the end of its lifetime.

      More stable dyes would be great, but something that can be cheaply recycled/refreshed might be just as good.

  • Just when... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mpdolan37 (675902)
    I declined to invest in a pokeberry startup... sometimes life just mocks those who don't take risks
  • Really? Pokeberries? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Stick32 (975497)
    With a name like that they are just begging people to condecingly dissmissing [xkcd.com] their reserch. Also, obligitory xkcd reference met...

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