ATM strikes back

Hot foam may soon send criminals running if they damage ATM. ETH researchers have developed a special film that triggers an intense reaction when destroyed. The idea originates from a beetle that uses a gas explosion to fend off attackers.

Its head and pronotum are usually rusty red, and its abdomen blue or shiny green: the bombardier beetle is approximately one centimetre long and common to Central Europe. At first glance, it appears harmless, but it possesses what is surely the most aggressive chemical defence system in nature. When threatened, the bombardier beetle releases a caustic spray, accompanied by a popping sound. This spray can kill ants or scare off frogs. The beetle produces the explosive agent itself when needed. Two separately stored chemicals are mixed in a reaction chamber in the beetle’s abdomen. An explosion is triggered with the help of catalytic enzymes…

The researchers use plastic films with a honeycomb structure for their self-defending surface. The hollow spaces are filled with one of two chemicals: hydrogen peroxide or manganese dioxide. The two separate films are then stuck on top of each another. A layer of clear lacquer separates the two films filled with the different chemicals. When subjected to an impact, the interlayer is destroyed, causing the hydrogen peroxide and manganese dioxide to mix. This triggers a violent reaction that produces water vapour, oxygen and heat. Whereas enzymes act as catalysts in the bombardier beetle, manganese dioxide has proven to be a less expensive alternative for performing this function in the lab…

While protective devices that can spray robbers and banknotes already exist, these are mechanical systems, explains Stark. “A small motor is set in motion when triggered by a signal from a sensor. This requires electricity, is prone to malfunctions and is expensive.” The objective of his research group is to replace complicated control systems with cleverly designed materials.

Clever, yes? Effective, very likely? Likely to be instituted in the United States? Doubtful – we have enough lawyers and politicians dedicated to making the work environment as safe for criminals as we do for protecting victims.

G.E. ready to build the largest solar panel factory in the country

General Electric plans to select a location in about three months for a U.S. solar-panel plant that may be the country’s largest.

With the new facility, the total investment in the solar business will exceed $600 million, Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE said today in a statement. The plant will employ about 400 people and power 80,000 homes annually.

The tipping point in expansion was boosting the efficiency of cadmium telluride-based thin film panels to a record 12.8 percent, said Victor Abate, who runs solar, wind and renewable energy units at GE, the world’s biggest provider of power- generation equipment. The increase is also a key factor in bringing down costs, he said.

“Before you scale, you have to be a technology leader,” Abate said in a telephone interview. “By reaching this milestone with the most efficient technology, we believe we’re ready to scale…”

GE became the world’s second biggest maker of wind turbines within a decade of its purchase of Enron Corp.’s operations following its 2002 bankruptcy. Abate said he thinks the company can build the solar business in a similar way…

GE expects to increase the efficiency of the panels, Abate said. “We’ve moved the efficiency from where we started investing with the team at PrimeStar at about four times the rate of the industry, and we expect to continue to do that…”

Solar photovoltaic system installations will almost double to 32.6 gigawatts by 2013 from 18.6 gigawatts last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates. Manufacturing capacity worldwide has almost quadrupled since 2008 to 27.5 gigawatts, and 12 gigawatts of production will be added this year…

The decision on where to locate plant will be based on criteria including proximity to GE’s research centers, available factory space, and incentives from state and local governments. GE expects to make a decision before the end of the year, at the latest, Abate said.

I’m not surprised – and anyone who follows the scale of the industry shouldn’t be surprised either.

If Governor Bill was still in charge of New Mexico, we’d probably stand a chance at getting that factory. With our new Republican Susana running the state, we stand a better chance at manufacturing buggy whips and boot laces.

Solar sail hybrid launches from Japan

Japan hopes to turn the wildest fantasies of science fiction into reality today with a “space yacht” that will draw on the power of the sun to take it to Venus and, perhaps, far beyond.

A Mitsubishi H-2A rocket carrying Ikaros (an acronym for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun) is set to blast off from Tanegashima island in south-west Japan at 6.44am local time. [Launch has been weather-delayed approximately to this Friday, 21st May] If it is successful, Ikaros will be carried through deep space at high speed with the help of a 20-metre sail, propelled by the pressure from solar particles.

The flexible membrane sail, which at 32.5 micrometers is about half the thickness of a human hair, is covered with thin-film solar panels that will create a hybrid of electricity and pressure, according to Jaxa, the Japanese space exploration agency…

“This will be the world’s first solar-powered sail craft employing both photon propulsion and thin-film solar power generation during its interplanetary cruise,” Jaxa said on its website…

After passing Venus, Ikaros is expected to continue its voyage for three years towards the far side of the sun, although contact is likely to be lost after a year.

Rock on – Ikaros! Safe journey.

Sanyo Electric and Nippon Oil announce joint solar venture

Sanyo’s Solar Ark solar generator
Daylife/AP Photo by Katsumi Kasahara

Japan’s Sanyo Electric and Nippon Oil announced they would collaborate to produce thin-film solar cells for large-scale power generation. The 50-50 joint venture will spend roughly 20 billion yen (226 million dollars) to build a factory in Japan that can annually produce enough solar cells to produce electricity worth 80 megawatts.

The venture should have capacity of one gigawatt by March 2016 and two gigawatts by March 2021, when the companies estimate the solar cell market will be worth 10 trillion yen.

“The solar power market is showing temporary flat growth for now due to the global slowdown, but we expect the market to grow significantly in the medium- to long-term,” Sanyo president Seiichiro Sano told a news conference.

The venture will initially target markets in Asia, the Middle East and Oceania. They will include the United States in their goals if and when Congress and the White House ever get beyond panicking over the economy.

The current global economic crisis should not pose significant problems, as the venture focuses on long-term projects, Nishio said. “The current economic situation will eventually improve. We are not concerned about the effects of the current economic condition on the management of this company,” he said.

Ain’t it something to hear from some of the Big Boys outside the U.S.? Instead of whining about the next two quarters of Wall Street crumbling, they’re focusing on how to make long-term money from manufacturing sensible infrastructure products.

Konarka starts cranking out “Power Plastic”

Thin-film solar startup Konarka has opened its new manufacturing plant in New Bedford, Mass., which will have a production capacity of 1 gigawatt per year. The 250,000-square-foot plant was previously an advanced printing facility for Polaroid, so Konarka has retrofitted much of the old printing equipment for solar fabrication and hired the technology and process engineering teams from Polaroid.

The printing press is already humming and commercial production of Lowell, Mass.-based Konarka’s branded organic photovoltaic “Power Plastic” will begin in earnest in the first quarter of 2009, the company tells us. Konarka’s special sauce lies with its organic solar panels, which it says are able to absorb a much wider spectrum of light than other thin films, allowing for higher efficiencies and even indoor applications…

Between the market crash and the projected end of the silicon shortage it could be harder for thin-film players to get project financing for big, expensive manufacturing plants, potentially giving those like Konarka and Nanosolar who have now gotten their plants up and running an important lead.

I know this area well. In fact, I wasted a morning in that same plant – back in the day – trying to sell computerized systems to Polaroid management who didn’t see any need to change the way they did anything.

Nice to see folks getting back to work. Terrific seeing the plant doors open to new technology, a valuable addition to the American industrial base.