Graphene is considered wonder material for the 21st century. It is extracted from graphite and comes in the form of a tightly-bound hexagon. It is 200 times stronger than steel and more conductive than copper.
Graphite itself has benefited industrial fields and has been used extensively in ever-expanding manufacturing centers like China.
But graphene has capabilities that extend beyond industry. It has been used to cloak Israeli missiles, and it could even be the key to forming invisibility cloaks.
It is also a great storage device that, when converted into strip form, can store a greater amount of data than personal computers.
As research progresses, scientists and researchers have found other uses for this material, and now the capabilities of graphene extend to the solar industry.
Professor Yun Hang Hu and a team of Michigan Technological University researchers have a found a way to produce 3D graphene, a honeycomb-shaped graphene material that is highly conductive and can replace platinum – an expensive commodity carrying a cost $1,500 an ounce – in solar cells.
How Does it Work?
The aim is to produce cost-effective yet highly efficient dye-sensitized solar cells.
The process begins by combining lithium oxide with carbon monoxide, resulting in a honey-comb made of lithium carbonate. Afterwards, this honeycomb is covered in acid, which then leaves graphene. The lithium carbonate is key, as it not only makes the graphene more manageable when converting it into thin sheets of paper, but it also prevents the formation of graphite.
The researchers discovered 3D graphene only has a .2% differential when converting sunlight into electricity. Graphene was able to convert solar into energy 7.8% of the time versus 8% for platinum.
The early stages revealed that the quality was 2.5% below platinum standards, but research can improve graphene's efficiency over time. And a 2% dip is not a bad number to start with.
The high conductivity rate within graphene also means it can be used in the energy storage field, which is an additional benefit to solar, since storage is vital to the industry.
The costs will not only lower for manufacturers, but savings will be passed on to consumers such as residents, utilities, schools, government projects, etc.
Solar companies are already offering cost-effective deals and promotions, but the lower price of solar cells will make solar power a more accessible option.
And this is great news for utility companies that are making investments in solar power to provide more energy to a given populace.
Now, it should be noted that graphene has a long way to go before it can be fully implemented in the commercial sector. But its potential is nearly boundless as it reaches multiple fields.
From an investment standpoint, graphene-based solar panels are not necessary right now. The solar world is still going through the excess of cheap solar panels from China. But since solar demand is spiking in Asian counties like China and Japan, the glut that has plagued the solar industry will likely fade away sooner than expected.
Afterwards, prices will go up. But if graphene can be harnessed and be fully ready for market consumption, manufacturers can easily incorporate graphene into their panels.
Graphene is certainly a thing to keep an eye as investor. I would watch how this plays out after the panel glut has run its course. When the solar industry is on better footing, it will be interesting to see how graphene will contribute to the solar energy field.
Graphene has already proven that it can be useful in so many other industries, and I think solar will be another field that can benefit from graphene's amazing properties.
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Virtually every solar company that manufactures solar cells can benefit from graphene technology.
One particular company that comes to mind is SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY), as the company's chairman is Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) CEO Elon Musk. Musk is always on the prowl for the latest forms of alternative energy technology. Graphene could very well be a conduit for more efficient energy storage, and it could save Tesla and other automakers a bundle in battery manufacturing.
Other solar companies like Canadian Solar (NASDAQ: CSIQ) and Jinko Solar (NYSE: JKS) have been busting capacity to cater to high demand in Asia. A graphene-based manufacturing system would allow these companies to cut manufacturing prices while still maintaining quality.
U.S. companies like SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) and First Solar (NYSE: TSL) have been big suppliers in the U.S. during the last quarter, and they could benefit from this technology as well.
In China, where many companies are suffering from a cut-off of credit and incentives from the Chinese government, solar companies could also stand to benefit. Yingli Energy (NYSE: YGE), the largest panel maker in the world, could adopt graphene in its manufacturing system, and other smaller Chinese companies could follow suit.
And the Chinese already have a vast dominance over the graphite industry, producing nearly 70 percent of the world’s supply. It would not be difficult to imagine the nation directly converting graphite into graphene for solar modules.
Your imagination can run wild with the introduction of graphene into the solar field, and it is one area of development you should follow if you have any interest in solar.
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