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Finding the Organic Solar Needle in the Molecule Haystack
You don't have to look into a crystal ball to see that solar power has a bright future. But before it can start to really take over a large fraction of our civilization's electricity generation, it has to fall down in price further so that choosing to deploy solar panels stops being the "green choice" or the "subsidized choice" but rather the "default choice" because it simply makes economic, as well as environmental, sense. One way to make solar prices drop - at least on the photovoltaic side - is to find ways to make solar cells from cheaper organic materials rather than from inorganic ones like silicon.
Seeking the Best Material for Organic Solar Cells
The problem is that there are millions of potential candidates, and screening them all with traditional methods would take too long. That's why the Clean Energy Project (CEP) was created! Using computing power donated by volunteers who run IBM's World Computing Grid software on their computers, CEP's software screens molecules for the right characteristics and hopes to find materials that could take organic solar panels to 10-15% efficiency and useful lifetimes of over 10 years.
"Roughly, every 12 hours of donated free CPU time will result in a new molecule added to our database of candidate organic materials for solar cells," said Alán Aspuru-Guzik of Havard, who is one of the project's leaders. The database isn't only looking for the best organic solar molecules, but it is also teaching scientists some new things about the screening process itself, so that the tools will also get better over time and can potentially help find materials for other uses.
The reference database will be made public in 2012, so that if you do donate computing power to this project, your work will be optimally leveraged and won't just be in the hands of one group of researchers.
Wait, There's More!
If distributed computing interests you and you would like to donate some of your CPU's cycles to science, there are many other projects that you can join. Wikipedia has a handy list of distributed computing projects. Of those, my personal favorites are Rosetta@home and Folding@home because they have huge medical potential and could save many lives and reduce the suffering caused by many diseases. They're also operating at a fundamental enough level that the things they find can be used by many other researchers to build on their research, so the leverage effect is high.
Via The Clean Energy Project, Physorg
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