Harnessing the power of the sun has been on the top of many scientists’ lists for quite some time. It’s just hanging out up there, making everything warm, so it’s a seemingly endless supply of wireless energy. The problem is, we haven’t been able to make them cheap, powerful, or light enough to make them economically feasible. A team of researchers believes they solved one of those problems as they’ve revealed a solar cell so light that it can rest on a soap bubble without popping it.
MIT, where the researchers reside, is certainly no stranger to developments affecting the construction industry, as made evident by their recent discoveries like reversible concrete, how concrete works on a molecular level, and visually capturing the motion of cranes. MIT professor Vladimir Bulovic, research scientist Annie Wang, and doctoral student Joel Jean published their report about the ultra-light solar cell in a journal titled Organic Electronics. The key, says Bulovic, is that the solar cell, the supporting substrate, and the protective layer over top of the solar cell are built all in one process. By doing so, external contaminants never have a chance to touch the solar cell, greatly increasing the time it will take to degrade, which increases efficiency and lifespan. Their discovery is only a proof of concept and will undoubtedly take several years to be produced commercially, if it ever does.
While the thought of a solar cell sitting on top of a soap bubble is impressive enough, quantifying the actual size is incredible. The final cell is just 1/50th the thickness of a human hair and 1/1000th as thick as comparable solar cells made with glass substrates. Despite its comparably tiny size, the researchers say it’s just as efficient as its other small counterparts. It’s not as efficient as heavier, typical silicon-based solar modules, but its wattage production by weight blows it out of proportion, producing almost 400 times more per kilogram.
Light solar cells are especially important in applications where weight is really important, light aerospace technologies, but the opportunities are endless for the construction industry. Our job sites require tons of power, from tools, to lighting, to equipment. If we could use the sun’s energy for those applications without increasing the weight, we could simultaneously charge our job site items, while also not increasing fatigue of our workers. Win-win.
Solar cells as light as a soap bubble | MIT News
There’s no shortage of company’s trying to improve the world’s roadways. Asphalt and concrete each have their own disadvantages, especially when maintenance environmental factors are taken into consideration. Plastic is a major problem for landfills, as well, as it can take an estimated 500 years to fully decompose. One UK company believes they can solve both maintenance and environmental problems through the use of recycled plastic.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is constantly researching ways to improve construction process and materials, like this material 10 times the strength of steel, or this solar cell that’s lighter than a soap bubble, or this “reversible concrete.” This time the Institute is showing off its autonomous robot that can spit out building structures on site within hours.
One of the most challenging issues with modular construction, of any kind, is the sheer size and weight of many of the components that need to be transported and lifted in place once onsite. That presents a specifically tough situation for jobsites that are not easy to get to. Arup, a design, engineering, and consulting team in the United Kingdom, has developed and successfully implemented what they say is the “world’s first modular glass-fiber, reinforced polymer bridge.” You may remember Arup from their testing of a “living wall” scaffolding cover that we wrote about last year.
Snow causes all kinds of travel nightmares and not just on the roads. Snow and ice can cause major airline delays and flight cancellations. Because of these issues (and the large amounts of money to be gained by solving them) several different groups of researchers have been hard at work figuring out ways to reduce and remove snow and ice from pavement without the need for chemicals and snow plows. The first technology to get a full scale test slab installed at an American airport, however, came from Iowa State University professor Halil Ceylan.
Maybe I’ve had my head in the sand for a while (forgive the pun right out of the gate), but I've recently found out that the world is suffering from a shortage of sand. The New York Times reports that the increasing demand of sand from manufacturing and construction in combination with rising sea levels and human development of shores is reaching crisis levels. Sand is used in plenty of construction activities, from mortar to concrete to brick and asphalt. We use a LOT of it. In fact, concrete production takes a whopping 80 percent of all the sand that is mined. So what can we do? One company says the answer is to drink more beer.
Solar roofs are an obviously popular choice for those interested in conserving energy, but traditional panels are extremely clunky and expensive. Tesla and CEO Elon Musk announced last year that they have solved that issue, which the impending release of Tesla Solar Roof, which look like a traditional roof shingle.
3D printing technology faces major issues when it is required to leave the shelter of a warehouse and step foot on a construction job site. 3D printers are extremely large, heavy, and rely on precise calibration for accuracy. Even the first 3D printed office building in Dubai, which was completed last year, had to actually have its components printed off site and assembled on site. But, Apis Cor, a 3D printing company, believes it has created the technology to print a full structure completely on site.
The concept of solar roadways has been in the news a lot recently. Using the millions of miles of roadways throughout the world to also create power seems like a no brainer, the asphalt and concrete we’re using now aren’t really accomplishing anything more than handling the traffic on the road. But, there’s also a very strong reason why those products are used: they’re strong, reliable, and relatively durable. Still, many researchers believe there is a lot of unharnessed potential for roads and the world now has a very strong test subject for the future of solar roadways in Tourouvre-au-Perche, France.
3D printed construction has been on top of the news the past few years, but we have yet to truly see many real world applications of the process. Last year, Dubai unveiled a completed 3D printed office building, which they say was built in only 19 days, but news has been pretty slow until the world’s first 3D printed bridge was completed recently.
It’s no secret that the United States dominates when it comes to LEED certified construction projects. The US actually has more total gross square meters and number of LEED projects than the the other top 10 countries combined, by almost 3 times, totaling 336.84 million gross square meters over 27,699 LEED projects! China, Canada, and India are ranked number 2, 3, and 4, respectively.
The US Green Building Council recently released their annual top 10 list of states for LEED construction in 2016.