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By Samuel R. Avro on Dec 8, 2008 with no responses

Harvard, IBM Using Computers to Research Solar Technology

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The idea is to harness volunteers’ computers around the globe to shorten their research by 20 years.

Harvard University and IBM have struck up a joint project which will tap into thousands of computers in an effort to discover new solar storage materials.

The project will make use of IBM’s World Community Grid, which uses the power of volunteers’ computers around the globe to run major calculations, may shorten the research time from 22 years to just 2 years.

The Clean Energy Project has two goals: finding new organic photovoltaics to provide inexpensive solar cells, and then researching possible polymers for the membranes used in fuel cells.

The researchers are looking to make use of up to 1 million idle computers to achieve their task.

“Grid technology harnesses unused cycle time – the computing time – of individual PCs, and groups of them together form a virtual supercomputer,” Stanley Litow, IBM’s vice president of corporate affairs told the Financial Times.

Traditional solar cells, made with silicon, are usually heavy and inflexible. Organic solar cells have the potential to be much cheaper, flexible, and lightweight.

However, they are not nearly as efficient as traditional cells, and their working life is shorter.

The lead researcher behind the project – Professor Aspuru-Guzik – said that currently solar cells using organic molecules have an efficiency of between 5 and 6%, but that an efficiency of 15% was required to make them commercially viable.

The task is to perform chemical calculations on tens of thousands of organic molecules to determine which show the most promise, utilising the CHARMM molecular mechanics package developed by the Karplus group at Harvard University.

“It would take us about 100 days of computational time to screen each of the thousands of compounds for electronic properties without the power of World Community Grid,” he said.