In June 2017, Professor Ernesto Julio Calvo won the DSM Bright Minds Challenge for Inquimae. Traditionally, lithium - the lifeblood of battery technology - is available through one source and one source only: extraction from giant salt lakes or ‘flats. It’s a very slow process that wastes millions of gallons of water while releasing sodium chloride and magnesium sulfate waste into the air and soil. Or at least, it was. Ernesto’s revolutionary electrochemical method uses solar power to extract the lithium…but with zero environmental impact.
If you missed our Reddit /r/Science Ask Me Anything (AMA) with Paul Wyman, Senior Scientist at DSM, Peter Pasmans, PhD in physics, expertise in optical modelling, Damien Reardon, PhD in chemistry, expertise in sol-gel chemistry and thin film coatings and Ian Bennett, Expert in photovoltaic modules, do not worry. We have compiled some of the highlights for your viewing pleasure; so sit back, relax and enjoy this reading. Feel free to check out the whole AMA session here as well.
Paul Wyman is part of an extraordinary team of researchers at DSM, who are developing materials to improve the performance of solar panels. Their main focus at the moment are innovations targeted at lowering the cost of solar energy by providing solid, durable and sustainable materials. The team’s solutions include anti-reflective coatings, backsheets and an anti-soiling coating. Hats off to the DSM researchers!
The experts took the time to answer numerous questions and engage with thousands of Redditors about renewable industry and DSM’s solar energy solutions. The AMA was so popular that it was trending on /r/Science for a few days.
So, without further ado, here is a glimpse of our top content:
Q: Elon Musk's solar roof tiles - is it as amazing as he promises when he launched it, in terms of efficiency and cost?
A: Any technology that enables broader adoption of solar has to be good, so roofs that generate electricity and look nice are a great idea. Technically though, the fewer connections between tiles or panels, the more reliable the system, so big tiles might be better than small ones. As for cost vs efficiency, these systems have a dual function so are likely to be more costly. Efficiency, likewise, may also be a compromise. So, to answer your question, yes, I hope so!
Q: Transparent solar panels that double as windows - there has been some recent developments - any updates to whether this is possible?
A: Indeed, transparent panels that double as windows are an interesting addition, as are building facades, although these will inevitably be less efficient than non-transparent fully optimized solutions both due to their non-optimal orientation as well as the need for a certain amount of transparency.
Q: Solar roads - trials in France and the US have started - is this practical?
A: Nice idea, although soiling, damage and maintenance may make this difficult in practice. Placing panels next to or over roads would currently be more beneficial.
Q: Solar powered grid/ solar farms - there has been significant developments in the Middle East, Russia, China, India, and Australia - is this the future? Is our battery technology sufficiently advance enough to support this?
A: Large solar installations, I believe, will form a significant part of total energy generated in the future, and indeed this must be the case in order to fulfil global energy demand without an ever increasing reliance on fossil fuels.
Q: Thanks for doing the AMA. My question is regarding the availability of materials used to make the solar cells - do your products/research use 'critical materials', i.e. rare earth's like dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium, which we have short supplies/suppliers already, and if so, how do you plan to work with or around those restrictions?
A: Good question! It would be an awful shame to service our energy needs and meet CO2 emission targets by having “mined the whole planet” with all the associated consequential damage that would cause. I certainly believe we should reserve critical materials for critical applications and use them in a considered manner. If in the short term, in order to make progress in sustainable energy where these are needed, we should ensure that these are used sensibly or can be efficiently recovered. So yes, we occasionally use such materials in research, but strive to find sustainable alternatives before going to market, in line with the DSM company vision.
During the AMA, Paul Wyman highlighted, “solar is a very motivating and exciting area to be working in, with plenty of science still to do to address one of the big issues of this generation - and it’s great to be part of it. Lots of your questions are about energy storage, better, more efficient, solar capture and the additional benefits solar can bring to society, please do take a look at our current Bright Minds Challenge as these up-and-coming pioneers have the potential to really take things forward in this space.”
As many may know, the Bright Minds Challenge aims to identify leading renewable energy solutions designed to address one of the most important issues facing the world today – climate change. After 20 days of energetic voting, championing, campaigning and promoting, we are delighted to announce that you have chosen your top 10. Hip, hip, hurrah! These 10 impressive finalists will go before the judges on April 12 with a chance to win > $100,000 worth of expert support – to turbo-charge their solution and fast forward renewable energy progress.
But don’t let it stop here. The Bright Minds Challenge is not over and the revolution to create a world powered by 100% renewable energy continues.
- Take a look at the top 10 and follow their journey as they prepare for the judges. Offer help, support, inspiration or motivation!
- Follow all pioneers. Share words of encouragement, ask them about their next ventures, offer your on-going support you never know you could help inspire their next opportunity!
- Or explore other ways you can help drive the renewable revolution.
Join the renewable energy revolution NOW!