Could 3D Printing Utterly Change Solar Panel Technology?
The sun is a gargantuan, constant, free source of clean energy and in the era of climate disruption caused by greenhouse gas emissions, the sun’s energy promise is glowingly exciting.
The sheer amount of energy available from the sun presents the unique challenge of how and where to store it all. Current solar panel technology has serious shortcomings, which has had a “chilling effect” on the industry; something we can’t afford. According to The Guardian, John J. Licata, chief energy strategist at Blue Phoenix, the developing technology of 3D printing may change this.
3D printing, sometimes known as additive manufacturing (AM) is the process by which an automated printer follows a digital design to create a tangible, three-dimensional (3D) object by repeatedly laying deposits of materials like glass, silicon, plastic, resin or ceramic on top of each other until completion. The fact that AM works off of a digital design instead of an assembly line—like traditional manufacturing—represents tremendous savings in shipping because the product, in this case 3D solar panels, can be created anywhere there is a 3D printer.
The 3D photovoltaic (PV) solar panel can produce more energy than conventional flat panels. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it may be able to capture up to 20 percent more sunlight. 3D PV can do this because its use of copper, indium, gallium and selenide makes it more efficient. It’s also less complex and weighs less. These advantages may be enough to turn PV energy doubters into believers, therefore encouraging the investment of additional resources into the project.
Some raw materials used to make flat solar panels include glass, polysilicon and indium. These are expensive and they end up costing more when a significant fraction of them are lost as “waste” in traditional manufacturing. The radically more efficient and precise 3D printing manufacturing method could cut production costs by as much as 50 percent. These savings can then be passed on to the consumer, making the switch from fossil fuels to solar energy more appealing than ever.
Licata believes that 3D printing of PV cells can help expand its market beyond home energy, the use most popularly associated with solar.
Licata explained, “[It’s] my view 3D printing can produce extremely thin solar cells which can be printed on untreated paper, plastic or fabric rather than expensive glass. Therefore the advanced ability to create flexible solar panels at a lighter weight could have bigger positive implications for wearable hi-tech clothing, radios and future electronics.”
3D printing’s potential for PV is paradigmatic. It’s possible that tomorrow the eyesore of flat PV panels will be gone and a whole new energy infrastructure will be in place as ubiquitous as digital technology has become today.
Trafigura and Yara International explore clean ammonia usage
Reducing shipping emissions is a vital component of the fight against global climate change, yet Greenhouse Gas emissions from the global maritime sector are increasing - and at odds with the IMO's strategy to cut absolute emissions by at least 50% by 2050.
How more than 70,000 ships can decrease their reliance on carbon-based sources is one of transport's most pressing decarbonisation challenges.
Yara and Trafigura intend to collaborate on initiatives that will establish themselves in the clean ammonia value chain. Under the MoU announced today, Trafigura and Yara intend to work together in the following areas:
- The supply of clean ammonia by Yara to Trafigura Group companies
- Exploration of joint R&D initiatives for clean ammonia application as a marine fuel
- Development of new clean ammonia assets including marine fuel infrastructure and market opportunities
Magnus Krogh Ankarstrand, President of Yara Clean Ammonia, said the agreement is a good example of cross-industry collaboration to develop and promote zero-emission fuel in the form of clean ammonia for the shipping industry. "Building clean ammonia value chains is critical to facilitate the transition to zero emission fuels by enabling the hydrogen economy – not least within trade and distribution where both Yara and Trafigura have leading capabilities. Demand and supply of clean ammonia need to be developed in tandem," he said.
There is a growing consensus that hydrogen-based fuels will ultimately be the shipping fuels of the future, but clear and comprehensive regulation is essential, according to Jose Maria Larocca, Executive Director and Co-Head of Oil Trading for Trafigura.
Ammonia has a number of properties that require "further investigation," according to Wartsila. "It ignites and burns poorly compared to other fuels and is toxic and corrosive, making safe handling and storage important. Burning ammonia could also lead to higher NOx emissions unless controlled either by aftertreatment or by optimising the combustion process," it notes.
Trafigura has co-sponsored the R&D of MAN Energy Solutions’ ammonia-fuelled engine for maritime vessels, has performed in-depth studies of transport fuels with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and has published a white paper on the need for a global carbon levy for shipping fuels to be introduced by International Maritime Organization.
Oslo-based Yara produces roughly 8.5 million tonnes of ammonia annually and employs a fleet of 11 ammonia carriers, including 5 fully owned ships, and owns 18 marine ammonia terminals with 580 kt of storage capacity – enabling it to produce and deliver ammonia across the globe.
It recently established a new clean ammonia unit to capture growth opportunities in emission-free fuel for shipping and power, carbon-free fertilizer and ammonia for industrial applications.