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December 2006 - [Sustainable Concepts] Eco-Friendly Holidays and Thin-film Solar Cells
Sustainable Concepts )
Design Forward Newsletter December 2006, vol. 45
in this issue
  • Thin-film Solar Cells
  • Tips for an Earth-Friendly Holiday Season
  • Feedback


    Welcome to the December 2006 newsletter from Design Forward. Please take some time to enjoy this month's features.

    Quote of the Month: "Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you."
    - Frank Lloyd Wright

    Lisa A. Swan

    Thin-film Solar Cells

    Energy from the sun—available everywhere, for everybody—has motivated research on solar-energy technologies for about three decades. The U.S. Photovoltaic Industry Roadmap, intended to guide companies in developing solar-energy systems, takes a more prosaic but realistic view of the next three decades. It aims for solar energy to provide 10% of U.S. peak generation capacity and supply a considerable share of foreign markets by 2030.

    Most photovoltaic (PV) solar technologies rely on semiconductor-grade crystalline-silicon wafers, which are expensive to produce compared with energy from fossil fuel sources. However, potentially less costly thin-film alternatives may make major inroads in the world market in five years, suggests Franz Karg, research manager at the Shell Solar facility in Munich, Germany. Or maybe not. Thin-film solar panels are hard to mass-produce cost-effectively because of the difficulty of coating large areas of glass. “It is my opinion that crystalline- silicon technologies will dominate for at least the next 10 years,” says Jeffrey Mazer of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Solar Energy Technologies (Washington, DC).

    Thin-film alternatives to standard PV solar cells are already available or in development. Amorphous silicon, the most advanced of the thin-film technologies, has been on the market for about 15 years. It is widely used in pocket calculators, but it also powers some private homes, buildings, and remote facilities. An amorphoussilicon solar cell contains only about 1/300th the amount of active material in a crystalline-silicon cell. Amorphous silicon is deposited on an inexpensive substrate such as glass, metal, or plastic, and the challenge is to raise the stable efficiency. The best-stabilized efficiencies achieved for amorphous-silicon solar panels in the U.S. PV program are about 8%. The goal is to produce a stable device with 10% efficiency. United Solar Systems Corp. (Troy, MI) pioneered amorphous- silicon solar cells and remains a major maker today.

    Article © Ineke Malsch, The Industrial Physicist. Picture © The Industrial Physicist.

    Tips for an Earth-Friendly Holiday Season

    1. Email or post online holiday cards or newsletters.
    2. If you want to send cards - Use recycled paper or recycle paper products to make new cards.
    3. Purchase a live Christmas tree with roots and plant it after the holidays.
    4. Be creative with you gift giving – give homemade food items, recipes, memberships to an organization or planting a tree in someone’s honor.
    5. When shopping for gifts, try the local farmer’s market or good will for more eco-friendly, recycled gifts.
    6. When it comes time to wrap up your gifts, look to the materials that you already have lying around – old magazines and newspapers (especially the comic pages), make colorful gift wrap.
    7. Wrap your gifts in items that have their own use – try towels, pillowcases, dishcloths, sheets, scarves, bowls, cloth bags, or purses.
    8. Donate leftover food to a local charity or food bank.
    9. Compost your dinner scraps
    10. Decorate your home with plants of the season. Holly, Mistletoe, fir sprigs, pine cones and poinsettias make nice natural and biodegradable decorations.

    Article © Lisa A. Swan.


    Design Forward works toward promoting Sustainable Design. If you know of a project that should be featured, please contact us. Let us know why you think it should be featured and give us a basic intro to the project, the sustainable elements and any websites or contact information.

    If you would like to submit a fun and/or entertaining quote about architecture, building, the environment or such, send it in! If it at all possible, include the author.

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    Revised June 1, 2010