IBM and Harvard search for organic solar power using cloud computing

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IBM and Harvard search for organic solar power using cloud computing

Boston (MA) – Researchers from IBM and Harvard will team up to create the World Community Grid (WCG) project. This project will be comprised of over 413,000 members in 200 countries, each of which will donate their idle compute cycles to a massive cloud-based computer of more than one million cores. The effort will look for organic materials capable of producing low-cost, easy-to-manufacture solar cells which, according to WGC’s stated goals, could help reduce man’s contributions to global warming by reducing the amount of fossil fuels burned.

According to IBM, the software will be programmed to “…discover and isolate organic molecules that when combined can convert more sunlight into electricity and thus produce solar cells much more inexpensively.” Stanley Litgow, IBM’s vice president of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs, and the president of the IBM International Foundation, said “IBM believes that this important new study powered by World Community Grid could provide the planet with a smarter solution to the problem of low cost solar technology. This project marks an expanded direction to help our society by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels to make a lasting impact by hopefully finding new sources of clean energy.”

The team’s effort will be capable of computing “in 2 years what would’ve taken 22 years to run on a regular scientific cluster,” according to Alan Aspuru-Guzik of Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. The software will investigate “thousands of compounds for electronic properties without the power of World Community Grid,” said Guzik. Each iteration will require approximately 100 days of computing time.

Like other distributed computing efforts, the WCG is looking for users to donate their spare computing cycles as well. Desiring users can visit and install a “free, small, secure software program onto their computers. When computers are idle, data is requested from World Community Grid’s server. These computers then perform the computations, and send the results back to the server, prompting it for a new piece of work. A screen saver will tell individuals when their computers are being used.”

Solar research

In the past two months several advances in solar power have been published. Ohio State University announced a solar absorbing material that absorbs 100% of the light spectrum by using phosphorescence instead of fluorescence. Phosphorescence allows light to stay in the material at a position where it can be converted into electricity for nearly two million times longer than previous materials which only fluoresce.

A recent MIT finding has also increased solar cell efficiency by 50% using a similar process which reflects light between two surfaces, keeping the light in a position where it can be converted into electricity for longer periods of time. They also recently developed a related process which allows solar cells to receive more of the sun’s direct light energy without requiring servos to reposition them relative to the sun’s location.

Plastic solar cells have also been developed and are coming down in cost, and increasing in efficiency. Reports from as recently as a year or so ago indicate that 15% efficiencies in plastic-only solar cell solutions may soon be available (current limitations are around 7% efficient). And there are additional alternative energy solutions (and here) coming, some of which may hold promise.