This Week in Sustainability: Doubling the Power of Solar Cells and New Sustainable Design Software

| Josh Henretig

sunThis week, MIT Technology Review wrote a piece outlining an innovative new design that can double the power of solar cells. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign used a thin sheet of dyed plastic to gathers sunlight and concentrate it onto a gallium arsenide solar cell. In other words, when the rays of sun hit the plastic, the dye absorbs the light and then reemits it inside the plastic where it then goes to the solar cell. Why is this research so promising? The plastic would essentially create a flexible solar panel, which could expand the use of solar energy to many different areas. As the piece points out, the military could use it on soldiers’ helmets to power their electronic gear or it could be attached to the wings of small drones in order to increase flight times, both exciting possibilities for the future.

In other sustainable design news, The Guardian Sustainable Business looked at one California-based software firm that is using sustainable design software to encourage startups to be more sustainable. The firm, Autodesk, harnesses big data along with cheap computing power and storage to enable designers to compile information about the “lifecycle impacts” of the materials they use. They are also using “systems thinking and modeling to design” so designers can have an inside look into the environmental, social and economic consequences of all decisions. Even more encouraging, Autodesk’s director of sustainability, Lynelle Cameron believes “design is the act of intentionally shaping the world” by building “ecological intelligence into our software.” Whether designing new technology to double the power and uses of solar panels or designing software to make building design more sustainable, current innovations are paving the way for a more sustainably designed future.

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