Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hariyali Express. Solar Technology Innovators

The World Economic Forum meeting in Davos last month was teeming with business and political leaders. Lost in all the glitz were the technology innovators. So it is Hariyali Express to the rescue!

Several companies were recognized as innovators. Five among them , for leading the way on solar energy technology. Let us take a look shall we?

1) ClimateWell. When you think of solar energy, salt is probably the last thing that comes to mind. ClimateWell's solar powered indoor climate system is all about hygroscopic salts and of course the Sun.
A chemical heat pump is based on the principles that water molecules bind more efficiently to certain hygroscopic salts than to other water molecules. As a consequence, when using two separate bowls – one containing water (evaporator), and the other containing hygroscopic salt (reactor) - in a confined space, water will evaporate to the salt that absorbs the water. When the confined space is in a state of vacuum the water transport will be so high that the water will start boiling in order to produce vapour at the same speed as it is absorbed by the salt. Such evaporation requires energy. If the energy is not supplied from outside the system it will be taken from the water itself, which as a consequence gets colder

ClimateWell uses this principle to cool. To heat, solar energy is provided to the absorption process. Simply Brilliant isn't it ? Check out the interview with CEO Per Olofsson here. The modular design makes this suitable for hotels and offices. Which is why I am surprised that ClimateWell's current business model is aimed at large scale installations and not individual homes. This would be a boon (if economically viable) for the Indian summer.

2) Flisom. I always wish electronic gadgets would come with device integrated solar cells. From the looks of it, it will become a reality. Flisom is involved in doing just that. They have developed a copper-indium-gallium-selenide brew that gets great light-to-electricity conversion efficiency. Even better, it can be etched on to extremely thin plastic, thinner than a sheet of paper! Cell phone surface could be a potential application. The high conversion efficiency means lesser material and hence lesser cost. CEO and founder Anil Sethi expects this to become a mass technology. Mr Jobs, you listening ?

3) Nanosolar. You probably have heard of them before. Nanosolar generated a lot of buzz when Google founders decided to invest in them. Their mission is simple, "A solar panel for every building". They have used Nanotechnology to achieve miniaturization, high conversion efficiency, durability and the ability to print solar cells into extremely thin rolls. Imagine rolls of toilet paper and now imagine rolls of solar cells! (very different uses, of course!)

Roll printing is much easier and faster when compared to conventional solar modules. Plus it provides for quick volume scalability. Makes solar energy more cost effective, scalable and an everyday technology. Find it hard to believe? Watch this CNN footage.

4) Seahorse Power Company.

Theirs is a solar powered trash compactor and is named BigBelly. I have mixed feelings about this product. On one hand it can compact trash and hold up to 6-8 times more than a regular trash bin. This essentially reduces the number of trips needed to pick up and clear trash, thus reducing diesel consumption. How many times have we seen trash overflow and wished the municipality would quickly clean up the mess.

On the other hand, compacted trash results in landfill mummification. Trash gets preserved for an eternity. I think these compactors should be deployed alongside recycle bins. Stuff that can be recycled should be recycled period

5) Advent Solar Inc. Again solar cells. The central idea again is ... go thin, use less material, higher conversion efficiency and be cost effective. Advent uses a proprietary back contact technology whereby all electrical contacts are on the back of the cell (unlike present day grid like solar cells). This allows for greater light absorption and better aesthetics.

There you have it. Five companies taking us closer to a future when everything will hopefully be powered by the Sun. Imagine the day when you can walk out of a store buying a gallon of milk, gallon of solar paint, rolls of toilet papers and rolls of solar cells!

Curious about Hariyali Express? Head over here

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