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Decade of discovery: doubling carbon-based solar cell efficiency
22 Oct 2014   


To mark our 10th anniversary, we’re looking at key scientific discoveries of the last decade. This week, we’re driving the search for organic solar cells through The Clean Energy Project in partnership with Harvard University. So far, we’ve helped researchers identify over 35,000 compounds with the potential to double carbon-based solar cell efficiency. With your help, we can explore thousands more.

Solar cells are traditionally made from silicon, which is expensive and rigid. Constructing them from carbon-based materials is a cheaper and more flexible alternative. Harvard researchers are working to discover carbon-based compounds that can efficiently generate electricity from sunlight. Dr. Alán Aspuru-Guzik of Harvard University, lead researcher of The Clean Energy Project, explains that this technology could act “as a cheap power source for more than two billion people worldwide without access to electricity.”

Dr. Asparu-Guzik explains, “Unlike their silicon-based cousins, organic solar cells are far cheaper and easier to produce – some can even be printed in a process similar to that used by inkjet printers. The flexible, lightweight cells can also be molded into virtually any shape, and then rolled up and easily transported.” They could be painted on roofs and walls, or even woven into clothing.

Since launching on World Community Grid in 2008, The Clean Energy Project has screened more than two million organic molecules, with the help of our volunteers – the most extensive investigation of quantum chemicals ever performed. These results were made available to other researchers and the public last summer as part of President Obama’s Materials Genome Initiative – a public-private collaborative effort to double the pace of high-tech materials development. The White House praised The Clean Energy Project and highlighted the crucial role it plays in advancing materials science.

So far, more than 35,000 of the compounds analyzed on World Community Grid show the ability to perform at approximately double the efficiency of most organic solar cells in production today. Before this initiative, scientists knew of just a handful of carbon-based materials that were able to convert sunlight into electricity efficiently. The Harvard team – who so far have been provided with the equivalent of 17,000 years of computing time – continues to investigate the most promising candidates for use in cheaper, more efficient and flexible solar cells.

Projects like this require a massive amount of computing power – and the more volunteers we have contributing, the faster this vital research can be completed.

Get competitive for good with our 10th anniversary challenge!

To celebrate a decade of discovery, we invite you to participate in an exciting community-wide competition to introduce new volunteers to World Community Grid. The most successful volunteer recruiters will win special limited-edition prizes!

Learn more here and get started today by inviting your friends to help power the search for affordable clean energy.

Here’s to another decade of discovery.

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