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Another "Green" Feature in Solar Cells

This could be a classic win-win solution: A system proposed by researchers at MIT recycles materials from discarded car batteries, a potential source of lead pollution, into new, long-lasting solar panels that provide emissions-free power.

The system is described in a paper in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, co-authored by professors Angela M. Belcher and Paula T. Hammond, graduate student Po-Yen Chen, and three others. It is based on a recent development in solar cells that makes use of a compound called perovskite, specifically, organolead halide perovskite, a technology that has rapidly progressed from initial experiments to a point where its efficiency is nearly competitive with that of other types of solar cells.

“It went from initial demonstrations to good efficiency in less than two years,” says Belcher, the W.M. Keck Professor of Energy at MIT. Already, perovskite-based photovoltaic cells have achieved power-conversion efficiency of more than 19%, which is close to that of many commercial silicon-based solar cells.

Initial descriptions of the perovskite technology identified its use of lead, whose production from raw ores can produce toxic residues, as a drawback. But by using recycled lead from old car batteries, the manufacturing process can instead be used to divert toxic material from landfills and reuse it in photovoltaic panels that could go on producing power for decades.

Amazingly, because the perovskite photovoltaic material takes the form of a thin film just half a micrometer thick, the team’s analysis shows that the lead from a single car battery could produce enough solar panels to provide power for 30 households.

As an added advantage, the production of perovskite solar cells is a relatively simple and benign process. “It has the advantage of being a low-temperature process, and the number of steps is reduced” compared with the manufacture of conventional solar cells, Belcher says.

Those factors will help to make it “easy to get to large scale cheaply,” Chen adds.

Battery Pileup Ahead

One motivation for using the lead in old car batteries is that battery technology is undergoing rapid change, with new, more efficient types, such as lithium-ion batteries, swiftly taking over the market. “Once the battery technology evolves, over 200 million lead-acid batteries will potentially be retired in the United States, and that could cause a lot of environmental issues,” Belcher says.

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USN to Test Lockheed’s Industrial Exoskeletons

Lockheed Martin has received a contract through the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) for the U.S. Navy to evaluate and test two FORTIS exoskeletons. This marks the first procurement of Lockheed Martin’s exoskeletons for industrial use. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

The FORTIS exoskeleton is an unpowered, lightweight exoskeleton that increases an operator’s strength and endurance by transferring the weight of heavy loads from the user’s body directly to the ground.

The objective of this effort is to mature and transition exoskeleton technology to the Department of Defense industrial base and perform testing and evaluation for industrial hand-tool applications at Navy shipyards.

“Ship maintenance often requires use of heavy tools, such as grinders, riveters or sandblasters,” said Adam Miller, director of new initiatives at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. “Those tools take a toll on operators due to the tools’ weight and the tight areas where they are sometimes used. By wearing the FORTIS exoskeleton, operators can hold the weight of those heavy tools for extended periods of time with reduced fatigue.”

The FORTIS exoskeleton augments the strength and endurance of maintenance personnel in the physically demanding shipyard environment. Because its ergonomic design moves naturally with the body and allows operators to maintain flexibility, operators are not hindered by the exoskeleton. This means operators can work longer and more effectively with reduced fatigue from overuse.

Lockheed Martin has been investing in exoskeleton research and development for more than five years, most recently through the NCMS Commercial Technologies for Maintenance Activities (CTMA) program. These investments have led to advancements in powered and unpowered exoskeleton systems for applications ranging from military to industrial.

“We are pleased that once again a technology advanced through our highly successful CTMA program will be put into commercialization,” said Rick Jarman, president and chief executive officer of NCMS. “The Lockheed Martin FORTIS exoskeleton contract is just another example of how collaboration around research and development speeds the time to market for these important innovations. We applaud Lockheed Martin for seeing the value in our CTMA program.”

About Lockheed Martin 

Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 113,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products, and services. The corporation’s net sales for 2013 were $45.4 billion.

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MakerBot, NASA JPL Name Mars Challenge Winners

MakerBot and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory want to bring 3D printing to the Red Planet. While Mars is not yet home to humans, 3D printing using materials on Mars or resources brought from Earth would likely help future Mars explorers survive. MakerBot and JPL teamed up to challenge the 3D printing and design community to come up with designs for a Thingiverse Mars Base that could theoretically support human life on the Red Planet: 228 original designs were uploaded to, MakerBot’s 3D design community for discovering, printing, and sharing 3D models.

The enthusiasm behind these contributions was out of this world, as detailed and scientific descriptions often accompanied the innovative designs. All of the submitted designs were 3D printed on a MakerBot® Replicator® 3D Printer and then reviewed by scientific and engineering staff at JPL, who used their expert knowledge and experience to help select the final three winners.

Winning Mars Base Challenge Entries

First place prize goes to Thingiverse user Noah Hornberger’s Queen B (Bioshielding) 2 Bedroom 2 Bath Mars Apartment. Noah’s solution approaches the harsh Mars climate without sacrificing the comforts of home, with a structure designed to protect its inhabitants from frigid temperatures and cosmic radiation. Noah chose to use the tessellating hexagon shape as a form factor, due to its compactness and modular potential. His description of the design includes radiation shielding, an underground heated water insulator, and an air purification system. Noah states, “This is quite a multifaceted challenge. I have tried to think through the theory of my design as much as possible and prove it with a printed model. I designed something that I would feel happy living in for a few years (at least).”

Second place is awarded to Thingiverse user Valcrow’s Martian Pyramid. This pyramid design focuses on multi-functional systems that ensure limited resources are reused as much as possible, with energy produced from a mirror-based solar collector. Valcrow describes his Martian Pyramid as taking inspiration from the pyramids on Earth, some of the most iconic, longest standing structures. Valcrow notes the pyramid’s stable triangular geometry has proven its durability through the ages in ancient buildings around the world and demonstrated its weather resistance in tent and teepee designs. This model is intended to be an architectural cutout view, where the generator room and water storage areas are clear to the viewer.

Third place is awarded to Thingiverse user Chris Starr (Cstarrman) for his Mars Acropolis, which incorporates ancient Greek architectural elements with modern research facility features. This futuristic structure draws energy from solar panels, includes three massive greenhouses, and is designed to ensure that limited resources are not wasted. Chris created his solution by taking cues from the ancient Greek Acropolis of Athens. The Mars Acropolis is a three-tiered structure. Its outer wall serves as a protective barrier. It’s foundation is built atop a mixture of soil from Earth and Mars. The habitat serves as a mass research facility to explore and develop means for additional colonization of the planet.

“We really loved seeing how the designs in the Mars Base Challenge were often inspired by structures here on Earth that have withstood the passage of time and harsh weather elements,” noted Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot. “It was challenging to select just three winners from the 228 entries. We were happy to have the experts from JPL on board to help with the judging process, as they took this challenge very seriously. Overall, this was a very inspiring challenge.”

JPL, in coordination with its Imagine Mars Project and IT Chief Technology and Innovation Office, evaluated the designs based on research done by participants about what it would take humans to survive in the extreme environment on Mars, general feasibility, and design thinking. MakerBot took those inputs into consideration, while testing printability, replicability, and other 3D design aspects to select the final winners.

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