In science’s quest to develop less polluting sources of energy, hydrogen gas has often been used as an example as a potential replacement for fossil fuels: aside from being the most abundant substance in the universe, it is also the most combustible natural substance known, and only produces pure water when burned with oxygen. Unfortunately, the chemical instability of its gaseous form means that storing it is inherently hazardous, and the extraction of the gas from hydrogen’s more stable forms, such as water or petroleum products, can be highly energy inefficient, or produce a disproportionate amount of waste pollutants.
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An engineering research team in Japan has developed a new solar cell that may be able to raise the efficiency of photovoltaic cells above 50 percent, and theoretically as high as 63 percent under certain conditions. This is important as consumer-grade cells are hindered by a lower maximum efficiency of around 26 percent, with most cells on the market only boasting an efficiency of 12 to 18 percent. If that value can be improved, it will make for greater accessibility for consumers looking toward renewable energy sources, and drastically improve the output of commercial solar farms.
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As our culture makes the shift away from carbon-intensive energy sources, alternative sources like solar energy from photovoltaic cells are becoming an attractive option. However, while the cost of producing solar cells has been decreasing steadily in recent years, they still require a great deal of resources to make: the silicon crystals that solar cells use not only require hazardous solvents for their production, they also need to be baked at high temperatures — 1,000ºC (1,832ºF) — to attain the purity required for their use, an energy-intensive process that can increase the final product’s carbon footprint.
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