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
Concrete is an extremely strong building material, but has a notoriously weak tensile strength. In order to resist tension, bending, and shear forces, steel rebar or other reinforcement materials are added either prior to the placement or into the mix. Even with reinforcement, concrete is still extremely rigid and prone to cracking. In the event of a major earthquake, the uneven and horizontal forces can cause structures to crack and, in the worst case, cause failure.
Concrete can adapt to any shape its formwork calls for while it’s being placed. While it’s POSSIBLE to make intricate designs with the material, it’s not always easy or practical to do so. Researchers from ETH Zurich have designed a new method of forming and placing an ultra-thin, curved concrete roof system that they plan on installing on a construction project next year.
As electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular around the world, researchers are trying to find ways to adapt the technology to heavier duty applications. Due to the large size of projects and amount of money in the industry, the mining industry has seen its fair share of technological advancement. Several manufacturers, like Komatsu, have developed and released driverless dump trucks for mining operations in the past few years. A team of companies in Switzerland is now working on a gigantic battery powered dump truck that will be tested for 10 years.
Rapid growth and the industrialization are the major contributors to China’s noted air quality issues. 4 years ago, the Chinese government issued a “war on pollution” aiming to improve air quality and reduce other environmental hazards, such as land and water contamination. Air quality is at its worst in the winter months across the country, due to households relying more on coal power to heat residents’ homes.
Asphalt is one of the world’s most popular pavement materials. Because of that, researchers and scientists are constantly looking for ways to improve upon it. Additives have been included in some asphalt mixes for years to improve strength, but recently researchers have been getting pretty clever with the types of additives they’re testing.
As great as a product as asphalt is, there’s no doubt that there is room for improvement. Scientists all over the world are trying to solve its most common issues, such as potholes, cracking, ice build-up, and storm water drainage. Los Angeles is now tackling another issue with the material: heat island effect.
In March of this year, Elon Musk announced that Tesla would begin taking orders on their Solar Roof Shingle concept. Tesla Solar Roof is a solar power roof system that eliminates the need for bulky solar panels installed over top of traditional roof materials. Instead, the shingles themselves, which come in a variety of different styles, are the solar panels.
At the company’s second quarter earnings report, Tesla announced that the first solar roof installations have been completed.
Standard vertical elevators have had it too good, for too long. After the first cable dependent elevator was unveiled in 1857, not much has changed in the elevator industry. They’re still using cable systems and still only going up and down. But not anymore. ThyssenKrupp has officially made a multi-directional elevator a reality.
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.