Harvard wants your computer. The recently launched Clean Energy Project at Harvard University wants to use your computer (when idle) to find new materials for the next generation of solar cells and later, energy storage devices. By harnessing the immense power of the World Community Grid, Harvard researchers can calculate the electronic properties of tens of thousands of organic materials – many more than could ever be tested in a lab – and determine which candidates are most promising for developing affordable solar energy technology.
They are looking at using organic materials instead of polycrystalline ones (like silicon and germanium) which are expensive, require high energy to produce and are fragile. Solar cells made from organic materials will be cheaper, more flexible but will have a lower efficiency though they could use more of the light spectrum available. Their versatility and lower price could dramatically expand the number of people using solar cells for their own power generation.
The Clean Energy Project is looking for the best molecules to be used for organic photovoltaic to provide inexpensive solar cells, polymers for the membranes used in fuel cells for electricity generation, and how best to assemble the molecules to make those devices.
Harvard’s approach is to set up a massive number of computational chemistry calculations to scan through a huge collection of molecular candidates rather than testing and manufacturing the potential molecular materials, they will set. The results of these theoretical calculations will help Harvard to determine whether or not a particular molecule is a suitable match for its use in solar cell manufacture.
The World Community Grid organization harnesses volunteer computers to create a large public grid for projects that benefit humanity. Projects include Nutritious Rice For The World (might be important to check if Monsanto is involved in this project before signing up), Help Conquer Cancer and the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).