Bright days for Solar- New Investment fuels promising energy research at MIT

Anny | Jan 06, 2021

research at MIT

Tonio Buonassisi finished his Ph.D. in 2006 from the University of California, he aimed to go out of academia and cover all the roofs of the world with solar panels which will offer clean and carbon-free energy for this and future generations. An available cash-strapped university research program was not available to convert this plan into a practical solution for solar energy. But there were enough dollars available to invest in solar energy production and research at MIT. This amount was doubling with time over a couple of years.  As a grad student having “lived through times of famine” Tonio took a decision to take an appointment and went for working in Marlborough, MA which was dealing with solar panels.

Tonio Buonassisi is optimistic that innovations in labs will make solar energy affordable and in reach of every individual to make use of this renewable energy resource. After three years working with solar panel manufacturers, he went back to join the academia as a mechanical engineering assistant professor at MIT. He had seen the new growing surge of solar research with efforts of MIT research projects and growing student energy club members’ research results. According to Buonassisi while talking about solar energy research at MIT, they were just a few touch holders who were wandering in the caves of darkness. But this dead period was ended when the world started failure from huge consumption of petroleum and worldwide solar research communities interests in some alternative energy resources, as told by Tonio in mid-1980s.

Now the world is adopting a complete reusable energy approach through cheap solar cell production and all the credit goes to the establishment of the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable energy systems MIT where he is working as scientific director. Now thousands of millions of dollars of projects have been started for solar research by this institute with private and government sectors funding. There are nearly about 20 researchers at MIT who have diverted their attention to research for solar energy as the best alternative energy available for an infinite period to fulfill our energy needs.

Buonassisi tells that potential of solar energy is enormous because just in one hour the energy received from the sun is enough to meet the world’s needs for five years. But this is still an expensive energy production because the solar panels used for the production of solar energy are still much expensive and not efficient. These solar panels are currently producing the energy which is fulfilling the demands of the world only 1 percent. This will hit the high target if our planners have the aim to cut the carbon dioxide emissions and meet the energy growing needs in the future. So an estimate of 10 million megawatts of energy will be required to cut down the carbon and return our green world back to 2050. Most of this energy will probably come from solar energy along with new solar energy technologies that will be developed in the future.

Solar energy

Solar energy growing requirements

Solar energy will need to continue its rapid growth in the next 30 years to provide 10 million megawatts of energy. While solar power is currently providing only 10,000 megawatts of energy. Some of the researchers who are working at MIT will play a vital role to take part in solar energy innovations and giving the world for which they will be remembered for years. Buonassisi is among those who can improve the price and efficiency of solar cells. Usually, the silicon semiconductors as cheap and dirty components used. These cells convert solar energy into electricity through solar panels and store them in these panels.

In each solar panel, there are many cells that are packed with each other through frame and electronics. Other projects may take a much longer time to complete but their results may be good than this. One of the researcher's group is working to concentrate sun rays with luminescent paints which will be developed for our future generations. This technology will help to decrease the use of silicon chips which are much expensive and not excellent for light storing with huge power. A professor is working to develop a catalyst that will help to imitate the photosynthesis process and will use solar energy for chemical fuel to produce. This research will solve one of our great problems today, which is storing solar energy and there is no good way available yet to store it.

Cheap and Dirty Silicon

In spite of its great use, the silicon material is lousy in many ways to use for solar cells and scientists are searching for some good alternatives to use for enhancement of solar cells and great storage of converted energy. Silicon material cannot absorb the light completely as well as other semiconductors which if used instead of it. To overcome this difficulty, researchers use a thick slab of silicon to generate much amount of electricity. But a problem is associated with the use of silicon thick slate to use. When a solar cell made from silicon absorbs light, energy will free many of the electrons, which will go to the outer boundary to escape. But if we use a thick plate here, it will make it difficult for electrons to escape.

solar cell made from silicon

This escaping of electrons through a thick slab will cause impurities in material and trapped by many of the defects. So the major efforts required by researchers are for making silicon material defectless. But if solar energy is adopted for widespread, then the use of silicon cells is the right choice. The first reason for using silicon cells is their abundance and found much after oxygen in the earth's crust. Current alternatives which should be used are available rarely and if we depend on these limiting resources, will be at a great disadvantage.

So Buonassisi and his research fellows are developing the techniques which should overcome the shortcomings of silicon. Currently, more than 1366 such technologies have been under research by Sachs who is based in MA, and will forward his advancement for silicon cells being more efficient for their use in solar cells in the future. Current researches from Buonassisi are figuring out the weaknesses of silicon cells and trapping electrons to make them efficient. We are hopeful for many such technologies to reveal and solar cells will be efficient enough to provide the energy requirements to our whole planet.

About Author



Anny spent most of her time dwelling on useful things, and she drives all her research visible through her articles. Most of her unique and challenging topics include product reviews and descriptions of eco-friendly products and technologies. 

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