Actively harnessing everpresent solar power has promised to be a solution for clean energy since the first photovoltaic cell was invented in 1880. Since that time, the goal has been to make light-to-energy cells and batteries more efficient and less expensive so that they become useful and affordable for the average homeowner or business.
Passive solar technologies were employed by ancient Greeks and Romans who learned to construct buildings facing south to take advantage of sunlight for heat. And, every time someone hangs laundry out to dry, solar power is doing its work.
Experts calculate the total solar energy absorbed by Earth's atmosphere, oceans and land masses is approximately 3,850,000 exajoules per year. In 2002, this was more energy in one hour than the world used in one year. The amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the planet is so vast that in one year it is about twice as much as will ever be obtained from all of the Earth's non-renewable resources of coal, oil, natural gas, and mined uranium combined.
Wider use of solar energy depends the further development of technologies that make a practical part of our power supply. The UMass Dartmouth Materials and Textiles Department is advancing research in photovoltaic textiles, nanomaterials, and other technologies toward that end.
Capturing Energy from the Sun's Light and Heat
The Potential Power of Hot Pavement
A new kind of solar collector under development could turn roads and parking lots into sources of electricity and hot water. A collaborative research team including mechanical engineering Professor Sankha Bhowmick of UMass Dartmouth, Rajib Mallick, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Bao-Liang Chen, a PhD candidate at WPI, is investigating a method for capturing the solar energy that heats up asphalt and other paved surfaces and using it to produce electricity. This research was presented in 2008 at a conference organized by the International Society for Asphalt Pavements (ISAP).
Contact: Dr. Sankha Bhowmick, Mechanical Engineering, www.umassd.edu/engineering/mne/
Photovoltaic Textiles Using Nanomaterials
Nanomaterials, which package advanced functions into objects by building them at the molecular level, have strong prospects in the clean energy technologies. They are used in photovoltaics, fuel cells, and batteries. Imagine a tent with fabric that captures and converts solar energy into usable electricity. The Materials and Textiles Department at UMass Dartmouth has received a grant to work with Konarka Technologies on making photovoltaic fabrics for just such a thing for the U.S. Army. Solor photovoltaics could also be integrated into clothing and backpacks. Konarka, based in Lowell, is a leading developer of flexible solar power.
Contact: Chancellor Professor Yong K. Kim, Textiles Sciences Department, College of Engineering, www.umassd.edu/engineering/mtx/