It’s only common sense that plastic is the go-to ingredient when overtaking new scientific vistas in energy conservation and storage. It’s not solely for their physical properties that certain types of plastic are being used to advance the way we explore our energy resources. Affordability plays a big factor in developing plastic prototypes that allow us to cross scientific horizons in solar, wind, and hydro power, just to name a few examples.
Plastic Instrumental in Designing More Efficient Solar Cell Prototypes
Storage capabilities have always been an obstacle in the mainstream embracing of solar energy. While the environmentally-conscious aspects of solar power are attractive enough, solar cells aren’t able to hold a charge of solar energy long enough to strongly compete against mainstream energy sources. However, a team of chemists from UCLA have been closely analyzing photosynthesis in organic plant life to determine a way to recreate a similar nanoscale blueprint for solar cells molded from specific types of plastic. Scrutinizing the process of photosynthesis to tackle snags in solar power storage isn’t a new approach in itself. However, this team of chemists focused on segregating molecules with negative charges from molecules with positive charges to create a much more effective plastic solar cell. The structure relies on a donor (forged from a polymer) and a fullerene receiver.
Commonly, solar cells were capable of storing a charge for mere seconds. Now, thanks to this parallel structure, a solar cell can hold a charge for weeks. This poses a significant response to the inevitable looming challenges of nights and overcast days. While silicone-based solar cells are common, the team found that using types of plastic in the creation of their solar cell prototypes was much more cost-efficient.
Placid Plastic Cuts Noise Pollution in Wind Turbines
While solar energy contends with the night, wind power finds its main adversary in a markedly different arena. Noise pollution is a prominent challenge to any potential popularity of wind power but nature may again have the answer. A group from the University of Cambridge collaborated with teams from Virginia Tech and Florida Athletic Universities to develop a prototype that could eliminate the excessive noise of common wind turbines. After carefully studying the near-silent power of owl wings, the teams used types of plastic to create 3D-printed prototypes that paralleled the structure of an owl’s wing.
When attached to a wind turbine, these prototypes were found to cut the noise by 10 decibels while leaving the performance of the turbine unhindered. While the prototype has yet to be used in the field, the team estimates that use of the prototype would drastically reduce noise while saving an average windfarm several more megawatts of energy.
Company Uses Types of Plastic to Create Solid Hydrogen
English energy company Cella Energy have been looking at types of plastic for a chemical reaction that would allow for easier portability of hydro power. The concept of hydro power as a physical commodity may seem like science fiction but Cella Energy has already succeeded in making it a reality. Fusing a hydrogen-rich substance with a plastic polymer, Cella Energy was able to produce solid hydrogen pellets safe enough to be physically handled without harm. The plastic material melts away at 100°F releasing the hydrogen energy. The portability and lightweight nature of the hydrogen pellets may find solid hydrogen replacing heavier lithium-ion batteries in military operations.
It seems that wherever scientific ingenuity exists, different types of plastic are being utilized to provide the physical body or frame that carries out the dream. While we’ve touched on 3 types of energy relying on the versatility and affordability of plastic, all energy resources use plastic materials in their processes in some way or another. While scientists continue to fill our modern world with brilliant ideas, plastic will continue to be there to present those ideas in an affordable package.