Freezing the Future: Exploring the Role of Technology in Ice Cream Production

Who doesn’t love ice cream? It’s a global favorite that has come a long way, thanks to some nifty progress in the food and beverage world. Back in the 1800s, folks were cranking out this frosty treat by hand – but we have stepped it up since then! Nowadays, cutting-edge technology keeps our taste buds satisfied with high-speed production lines.

Advanced chillers for the food and beverage industry play a starring role in modern-day ice cream making. These things are like the backbone of all that mouthwatering goodness we enjoy today. They’re pivotal when it comes to ensuring smooth operations and keeping everything cool as can be.

Technological Progress in Ice Cream Manufacturing

Making ice cream these days is like a delightful dance between technology and science. It all starts with mixing together milk, cream, sugar, and flavorings – but we can’t forget about the pasteurization step! That’s where harmful bacteria get zapped to keep things safe.

But wait – there’s more! After that sterilizing process comes homogenization. It sounds fancy, but it just breaks down those pesky fat particles, so our scoops come out smooth as silk every time.

Thanks to some seriously impressive computerized systems entering the scene, everything has become way snappier and spot-on precise than ever before. These microprocessors take charge of controlling temperature and pressure levels to craft that perfect mix for your taste buds’ enjoyment!

With such automated awesomeness taking over behind-the-scenes work now, too, productivity has soared through the roof while quality remains top-notch. So go ahead—indulge yourself with another scoop knowing each one will be an absolute treat!

The Critical Role of Freezing in Ice Cream Production

Let’s talk about the freezing phase of making ice cream because it makes a huge difference! Getting that perfect texture is all about rapid freezing.

If the mix freezes too slowly, you end up with big crystals and a grainy mess – definitely not what we want! But when things freeze quickly, it creates these tiny little crystals that make your ice cream smooth and creamy – just how we like it!

Here comes technology to save the day once again in this stage. Modern continuous freezers are rock stars at churning out gallons upon gallons of pure deliciousness every single minute. These things keep everything at a steady temperature while simultaneously spinning that mixture around, adding air to our sweet treat so it becomes lighter and tasty.

All those precise controls during freezing have opened up an entire universe of options for dessert enthusiasts. From classic soft serve to luxurious gelato treats, with advancements like these, there’s no limit to the wonderful world of frozen delights awaiting us!

Embracing the Future: Technological Innovations in Ice Cream Production

As we dive headfirst into the 21st century, technology keeps surprising us with its incredible impact on the ice cream scene. Nitrogen freezing has burst onto the stage as an innovative way to freeze that creamy goodness in a snap—talk about instant satisfaction! The result? An incredibly smooth treat that’ll have your taste buds dancing.

Artificial intelligence is making waves by lending a helping hand in quality control throughout production lines. Machine learning is stepping up and forecasting demand like nobody’s business. Also, robots are swooping in to take care of all our packaging needs. It’s official—the next frontier of ice cream creation is here!

There’s another important factor shaping things behind-the-scenes, too: sustainability. It’s become quite a hot topic within the industry lately. So guess what? Technological innovations are tackling this challenge head-on!

They’re focusing their genius minds on developing energy-efficient freezers. They’re also brainstorming strategies left and right to cut down the waste along every step of our sweet journey from manufacturing to indulging.

Final Thoughts

The future of ice cream manufacturing is brimming with possibilities! Just imagine all the incredible advancements yet to come—what a thrilling thought. Our beloved frozen treat has so much more in store for us beyond just a plain old scoop of pure joy.

A Fat Girl’s Confidence – Must Read

In a time where society has declared that skinny is good and fat is bad, Patrice Shavone Brown has written a must-read for every girl who has or is struggling with weight. In A Fat Girl’s Confidence, Brown proclaims that being healthy and confident no longer equates only to being skinny. She provides you with the tools necessary to build self-esteem and confidence, to find beauty from within as a fat girl.

Having been labeled as obese at the age of 30, Brown writes from personal experience. She both learned to manage her weight and accept the shape of her body. She also acknowledges that throughout her journey, it was not easy to learn to love herself amidst all the hurtful comments from family members.

We live in a time where everyone feels the need to make snap judgements and seemingly innocent remarks such as, “You look like you’ve lost weight!”. These comments often come at a time when we do not want them and certainly do not need them. Instead of promising instant progress or gratification from reading her book, she recognizes that confidence must be built and strengthened through repetition. If you continue to always look to others for a stamp of approval, it will be very hard to give yourself permission to be confident.

A portion of A Fat Girl’s Confidence is dedicated toward a seven-day workbook of exercises meant to boost the beauty and self-love everyone can find within. Each day begins with a positive affirmation, inspirational wisdom, and then finishes with an activity to help you feel comfortable and confident in your body. The first few days focus on loving and being happy with who you are, while convincing yourself that you are more than enough. The last few days acknowledge the strength that can be found from associating with other fat girls, complete with a final affirmation of confidence.

The second half of the book stresses the importance and benefits of journaling. Brown insists that writing down your thoughts is a great way to monitor your overall mental health and wellbeing. In doing so, you can not only track patterns of positive or negative thoughts, but also reduce stress and feel as if you vented to a close friend. Taking this a step further, she also reminds readers that they are not alone. Sharing stories and supporting other fat girls can be a fruitful learning experience for all.

Depending on what stage of confidence you are at, you may find some parts of this book more helpful than others. Perhaps the daily activities will be the most crucial in starting your fat girl journey off on the right food. Or maybe the participation in daily journaling groups with other fat girls will unlock new doors, new areas of self-actualization. Either way, you will feel a sense of great accomplishment when you reach the end. The final pledge will, without a doubt, solidify the dedication needed to unleash the bold, beautiful, confident fat girl within you. Order your copy on Amazon now!

5 Must-Have Home Security Technology Systems

The security of your home is a crucial component of its living value. You want to be able to leave your valuables at home without feeling overly anxious and sleep tight at night. Protecting your home from the pros may be a challenge, but you need to take measures anyway because most people trying to burglarize your home may be amateurs. With the right home security technology, both professionals and small-time thieves will have a hard time breaking and entering. A student housing architect will agree that home security system will also serve several other functions, including warning you of any emergency. Look through this list of home security systems and determine the most crucial ones for your home.

Monitored alarm system

Monitored alarm systems are enhanced versions of the commonly encountered electric alarm. They come with a monitoring service in addition to the alarm, where in case the alarm is tripped, a company agent available 24/7will call to confirm if it was a false alarm or a break-in. In case the latter has happened, the authorities are notified, and the police arrive in minutes. These alarms also monitor carbon monoxide and fires to ensure the safety of your home and those staying inside.  

Burglar alarm systems

A burglar alarm is arguably the most important component of a home security system. Such a system comes with motion sensors and is wired to the doors and windows. In case any of the detectors are tripped off, the entire system is connected to a primary control system that sets off a loud alarm and notifies the police. These systems also come with signs that you attach to your doors and windows to ward off intruders. Installing such a system can make significant reductions in your home insurance.

Medical alarm system

If you are living with an older person or someone with a severe medical condition at home, then this is a perfect system for you. This system essentially connects an emergency option that they can reach to your primary home alarm system. With this system, your security firm is notified of any emergency and can quickly send assistance.

Smoke alarm systems

Fire is a real threat to a home’s security, and a smoke alarm system is designed to protect a house’s inhabitants from fire and smoke. Such a system consists of wireless or hardwired smoke detectors distributed all around the house and strobe lights. You can also install a full fire alarm system with a heat detector, smoke detectors, and a sprinkler.

Critical alarm systems

These alarms protect your home and property from all kinds of leaks, even the ones that would usually go undetected, such as LPG or carbon monoxide. With such a system, property damage in the case of a plumbing accident or a severe malfunction with your heating system is highly reduced. 


The systems above are the most preferred for their effectiveness at improving security and functionality in the home. Stay ahead of any disaster or emergency with any of these home security technology systems.

7 Ways to Plug Into Renewable Energy

According to the National Solar Jobs Census, one in every 50 jobs added in the US in 2016 were from the burgeoning solar industry. Through the use of solar energy subsidies and growing demand in the market, more suppliers have entered the industry creating about 93,000 solar related jobs in the past seven years.

This has also lowered prices for solar panel and other renewable equipment installs, allowing more people to access this technology. The switch to renewable energy supplies may seem obvious- free utility bills and no damage to the environment- but there are still barriers that exist. From large up front costs to inconsistent electrical supply, renewable energy still remains in its infancy.

Still, renewable energy installations really are a great long-term investment and can begin delivering an ROI in over a decade. Here are seven ways you can plug into renewable energies and begin saving the environment.

Solar Panels

According to one source, the average cost for a 5kW solar panel install would run customers anywhere from $25,000-$30,000. Of course, the average American household only consumes around 1kW of electricity per hour so you can find smaller installs that cut this price in more than half.

The benefits of installing a solar panel only extend as far as your geographic location. For cities like Albuquerque that experience over 300 days of sunlight, solar panels are a no brainer. In areas like Pittsburg that only get around 5-6 hours of sunlight a day, the cost savings may add up, but it will take years longer before the solar panels effectively pay for themselves. Of course, there are also other solar appliances that you can purchase from solar powered ovens to solar powered smartphone chargers that can cut your reliance on the grid.

Solar Thermal Collectors

Solar powered water heaters are another smart investment that you can make to help cut money on utility bills. Solar thermal collectors are cheaper than most PV cell installs and don’t require as much sunlight to add cost-savings. Think of it, you don’t use as much hot water as you do electricity.

Solar thermal collectors work in conjunction with existing boilers or immersion heating systems to reduce your reliance on grid powered hot water heaters. With a low install cost, these can be installed on both rooftops and in your yard for maximum effectiveness.

Rainwater Collection Systems

Rainwater collection systems are a cheap investment that can help you practice conservation in your home. These attach to your existing rainwater equipment and store rainwater to be used for non-potable water purposes. This could include flushing the toilet or watering the lawn. Installs cost as low as $50 and may go as high as a few hundred.

Solar Air Heaters

Some experts estimate that solar air heaters can save you up to hundreds of dollars a month during the winter on heating bills. Solar air heaters are glass panels that fit in existing windows to provide space heat to the surrounding area of the room. They use a heat vent to circulate heat from the sun’s rays and transfer it into your house. They don’t require a high upfront cost or a complicated installation.

The Tesla Powerwall

The powerwall is a massive battery that fits inside your wall and stores multiple kWh of energy for later use. While this not a renewable energy source, these can be used in conjunction with one to store clean electricity. They can save customers hundreds of dollars a year on utility bills and help reduce electrical waste in the household.

Wind Turbines

Wind turbines are not a good investment for everyone for obvious reasons. Wind turbines are also less popular in residential neighborhoods because they make a lot of noise. If you have the space, a wind turbine may be a great way to power your home. With greater energy storage than most renewable energy applications, wind turbines can make your homes entirely energy independent.

Energy Credits

Finally, if you can’t afford to purchase a huge solar panel installation or wind turbine, there are energy credits available. Beyond this, many businesses are required to purchase renewable energy credits to offset their carbon footprint. If you produce renewable energy, you can actually sell extra load back to the electrical grid and be reimbursed. Talk to an energy broker about ways to make the most out of your energy usage and find ways to save using renewable energy.

How Driverless Cars Will Transform the City and Your Home

City planners are now thinking about how emerging technologies will integrate into so-called smart cities, and driverless cars are set to become a crucial component of that infrastructure. You’ve probably heard a lot about how self-driving cars will change your experience on the road, but the changes to come go much deeper than that. Autonomous vehicles will fundamentally alter our cityscape and architecture to conform to the new patterns of transportation that will come about.

The fact that Uber is investing big in self-driving cars indicates the industry desire to transform the personal automobile culture into a shared, service-oriented model. No longer will people own their own cars and drive them around. Rather, they’ll call up a robo-taxi for a ride and get picked up within minutes.

Urban planners know that cars today sit parked 95% of the time, but that will change when the cars drive themselves. Even if someone owns their own self-driving car, they can put it to profitable use by loaning it out when it would otherwise sit unused. Fewer cars hanging around parked most of the time means fewer cars in general and a much lesser need for parking space.

Existing parking lots and garages will be relocated outside city centers, and space they formerly occupied will be repurposed for things like parks, shopping centers and high-density residential and business buildings. Space currently used along streets for parallel parking can be turned into more lanes for self-driving cars or bicycles, or changed into walkable green spaces.

Fleets of shared self-driving cars will be in high demand, and if optimized appropriately, will have little need to park. They’ll simply go to their next job or hover a short distance outside the city center.

You will no longer need a garage near or attached to your home. More people will turn their garages into an extra bedroom, living room or a rental unit. Driveways will become more yard space or covered paths to the street for pickup and dropoff. In general, the new residential architecture will return to the garageless styles of the pre-automobile era.

With the ability to work or sleep while moving down the road, commute distances will increase, which opens up new relocation possibilities. Small, quiet bedroom communities 100 miles or more outside cities might become the new exurbs.

Automobile safety has long been a major concern. “Millions of Americans are injured or killed annually in car accidents,” says Newsome Melton Law Firm. Proponents of driverless cars say the rate of accidents will drop when computers rather than people dominate the road, but the roads themselves could also change to help reduce injuries and fatalities. When the vast majority of vehicles on the road are self-driven, streets might be transformed into dedicated, walled-off corridors for safety, with intersecting pedestrian bridges and tunnels.

City planners typically design with 30-year projections in mind, which puts them squarely in the timeframe of a fully driverless society. If planners aren’t thinking about the driverless city now, the results will be less than ideal because ready or not, the self-driving cars are coming.

Miniature Electric Motors in Aerospace Engineering

It is difficult to imagine how life would be without miniature motors. These days, these little wonders of modern engineering can be found in a spectrum of modern devices, from powered surgical tools and infusion systems to industrial power tools and household appliances.

Because they come in compact sizes, miniature motors are not exactly what people might think of when they hear about huge modern machineries, particularly the enormous aircraft and spacecraft that ply the atmosphere. However, make no mistake; these miniaturized rotary electrical machines, diminished though in size, are an important component in many applications of aerospace engineering. Here are some of the uses of miniature motors in aerospace engineering.

Seat Motion Systems

Airline passengers are expected to sit for long hours on end, especially for long-haul flights, where jetliners cross continents and oceans to reach their intended destinations. As such, it is important for aerospace engineers to have people’s comfort in mind when designing aircraft seats. Seat actuation is one area in which miniature electric motors can really make a contribution, since many aspects of aircraft seat motion can be streamlined by micro brushless motors and brush motors. These include the movement of the footrest, the leg rest, and the backrest, which can all be made more efficient by mini motors while ensuring low power consumption and meeting high torque output requirements.

Window Shade Automaton

The ability to raise the windows of airplanes, especially during takeoffs and landings, is very important.  This is because keeping a good view of the outside enables airline crew members to assess emergency situations in the blink of an eye, allowing them to quickly plan for an evacuation, if necessary. The ability to view the outdoors also helps passengers to quickly inform crew members if they spot something peculiar or potentially dangerous outside the aircraft. As such, automated window shades must meet rigorous operation parameters—a goal that can be achieved with help from high-quality mirco motors. At the same time, these window shades must meet passengers’ expectations when it comes to simply providing them an enjoyable view of the outside.

Aircraft Valve Actuation

High-quality valves perform vital functions that enable aircrafts to operate properly, and this can only be made possible with help from motion solutions that are equally high-performance. Miniature motors that enable valve actuation can be used in a variety of applications in aircraft engineering, including the management of liquid coolant flow, controlling the stream of fuel into the engines, and ensuring proper airflow into the environmental control systems. These are often demanding applications that require robust micro motors, engineered to meet the requirements of extreme environmental conditions.

Airborne surveillance and photography

One of the most important modern applications of aviation is airborne surveillance and photography, with both manned and unmanned aircrafts performing this function today for a range of applications. Aerial videography and photography are carried out for many purposes, including military surveillance, art photography, agricultural spectral imagery, archeological surveys, land use planning, movie production, and many more.

Because airborne surveillance and photography equipment have to withstand harsh environments, the motion solutions that allow optics to zoom, pan, and tilt must also be robust and highly efficient. Modern coreless brushless DC motors are designed to survive such severe conditions while providing the efficiency needed in a lightweight package.

Miniature motors are among the most useful machine components available today. With their high motor efficiency, great motor power density, rugged built, and long service lives, they are perfect for many demanding applications, including those of aerospace engineering.

Innovative Technology from Quincy Jones Makes Learning Piano Fun

piano keys

The language of music can be spoken by anyone, whether a professional musician or someone just beginning to learn to play the piano. Hans Christian Andersen, the famous author of children’s fairy tales, once said, “Where words fail, music speaks.” Rock star Marilyn Manson put it a little differently: “Music is the strongest form of magic.”


The Many Benefits of Playing the Piano

Today’s technology makes it possible to learn to play piano and play almost anywhere, extending the potential benefits of piano playing to anyone with a computer and a keyboard.


1) Being able to play the piano increases self-confidence.

2) Depression and loneliness can be lessened while playing a piano.

3) Today’s innovative piano learning software makes it easy for anyone to develop a musical talent. Self-discipline and creativity develop in children and adults, necessary for success in any endeavor.

4) Playing a piano requires focus, reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. Playing for even a few minutes is beneficial.

5) Playing and creating music stimulates the brain, increasing cognitive development.

6) Piano playing develops both fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination.


Portable Keyboards Changed the Game for Pianists

Most musical instruments are small enough to be easily carried from place to place, unlike pianos. Previously, many pianists had to limit their playing to churches, bars, auditoriums or wherever else a piano could be found. The introduction of portable keyboards now makes it possible to play a piano just about anywhere. Practice and playing time is at the musician’s discretion, not limited to the availability of a “real” piano.


Go Online and Learn to Play the Piano,

Deciding to learn to play piano online is much less expensive and much more convenient than taking private lessons locally. Many students taking online piano lessons progress faster because they control their sessions, repeating a troublesome part until they nail it and playing whenever they choose. This doesn’t change the fact that it takes just as much dedication to become skilled, but the entire process is easier.


Playground Sessions – Quincy Jones and David Sides

David SidesQuincy Jones wanted to extend his love of making music to all people, ultimately resulting in Playground Sessions online piano lessons, an innovative way to learn piano by playing your favorite songs. David Sides is a multi-talented YouTube musical sensation with more than 175 million views, successful albums and performances worldwide. He loves to teach, making music theory concepts understandable, demonstrating how to play the chosen song and then inviting the student to play along with him.


The piano software from Quincy Jones gamifies learning to play piano and makes learning fun. Students learn to play the songs they love, including rock, pop, traditional and classical pieces. As the student’s playing advances, they move from rookie to intermediate and advanced levels. Playground Sessions’ video tutorials, practice sessions and easy-to-read charts let students know how they’re progressing and where more practice is needed.


Anyone who has ever wished that they could play the piano can learn, privately and at their own pace. Enjoy all of the benefits of playing the piano for yourself and enjoy them for a lifetime.


Screens are Taking a Toll on America’s Eyesight

Most of us think of our eyes as a tool to get the job done, and many of us accept deteriorating eyesight as a fact of life. Now, more than ever, our eyesight is getting worse. What are the causes and what can you do to maintain healthy vision?

The Problem

Our eyes have been fine-tuned over millions of years to catch prey and see both in the short range and the long range.

Enter the modern world –  our eyes no longer do what they were designed for. Instead, we now use our eyes to stare at screens, close and far away, large and small. This results in a few problems:

Light Sensitivity

Our eyes are built to react to the variety of natural sunlight. When we sit at a screen all day, we’re getting too much light from a single, fixed source. There’s no variety, no random reflection. This affects our vision, giving us light sensitivity.

Too Much Up Close Time

Our eyes are designed for a variety of ranges. Long vision, distances, and up very close. When we are focused on a mobile screen or computer screen, we’re spending lots of time in one fixed field of vision.

Not Enough “Far Away” Time

The flip side to this is that whilst we’re concentrating for ten hours a day on close up vision, we’re not practising long-distance vision either. Our eyes were designed to find possible obstacles and prey (and predators!) on the horizon line. Not practicing at this distance is like sitting on a sofa all day and expecting your legs to work in the same way a long distance runner’s do.

The Cures

This problem is a societal one, and there’s not much you can do about fixing society so that we don’t have to sit and work on computers all day. But you can make the difference in your own life. Here are our top tips.

Buy quality glasses

Something you must do is wear quality glasses. According to ExpressGlasses purchasing quality glasses means that you’ll suffer less from the deleterious effects of too much close-up time. This can make all the difference between keeping your eye strain at a reasonable, workable level and having to lose productivity due to headaches and other negative effects of this unnatural condition.


Take time away from the screen


Just like stretching your legs should be considered mandatory for anyone working at a computer screen, so should taking a break for the sake of your eyes. Every fifteen minutes or so, reset your vision by looking into the distance.


Don’t use screens late at night, or use something like f.lux


F.Lux is a great software. It’s free to use, and it takes away the brightness from your screen. This helps tremendously when you absolutely have to use a screen late at night.

Of course, the best thing you can do is switch off your screens late at night. This will limit eye strain and help you sleep better.

Driverless Cars Are Coming. Here’s What to Expect

Imagine commuting to work while catching up on your favorite TV show, reading the paper, or checking email. Millions of people do this daily while using public transportation to commute to work.

Now, imagine all the multi-tasking — along with luxuriant coffee drinking — inside the peace and quiet of your own car. You program your destination, your car chooses the least congested route, and you skip the stress ulcers from dealing with traffic.

Driverless cars aren’t science fiction anymore. They’re already on the road. In the U.S., Google has long been developing and testing driverless cars. Apple and Tesla, according to Time Magazine, may develop their own driverless cars, too.

How They Work

A car without a driver needs four components to safely navigate traffic: a GPS system, external sensors and cameras, a central computer, and connected vehicle technology.


Today’s GPS systems, whether they’re part of a car or within our smart devices, enable drivers to input a destination and determine the optimal route. The same technology humans already use creates a plan of action for driverless cars. GPS can also update the planned route in real time based on changing traffic conditions.

External Sensors and Cameras

Driverless cars use video cameras to read road signs, detect stoplights, notice other vehicles, and avoid pedestrians. They also use sensor technology to adjust to dynamic road conditions:

  • Radar sensors. Radar monitors the position of nearby vehicles. If you buy a car today that features adaptive cruise control, it’s using the same radar technology as a driverless vehicle.
  • Lidar sensors. By bouncing pulses of light off the car’s surroundings, lidar sensors detect both lane markings and road edges.
  • Ultrasonic sensors. Ultrasonic sensors come in handy when driverless cars attempt to park. They detect both curbs and other vehicles to avoid parking-related collisions.

Central Computer

The CANbus (controller area network) analyzes all GPS and sensor data. It then interprets data to control steering, braking, and acceleration. Cars have had central computers for decades to analyze vehicle status, so driverless cars simply build on existing computer systems in today’s vehicles.

Connected Vehicle Technology

Car manufacturers are building the framework for connected vehicle technology, which essentially makes cars able to communicate with one another. The U.S. Department of Transportation expects big improvements to safety, emissions controls, and congestion thanks to intelligent tracking systems in cars.

  • Intelligent tracking systems will help both traditional and driverless cars avoid accidents. They’ll warn of merging vehicles, sudden braking, or vehicles hidden in a driver’s blind spot.
  • Eliminating unnecessary stops and starts thanks to communication between cars will improve fuel efficiency.
  • In addition to helping cars find optimal traffic routes, intelligent tracking systems will help drivers identify last-minute ride sharing opportunities and detect open parking spaces. Best of all, transportation officials can use the swarm of data connected vehicles generate to understand traffic patterns, improve roads, and make travel more efficient.


Right now, the biggest obstacle to driverless car adoption is what it’s trying to replace: human drivers. Driverless cars follow the letter of the law. They stop for pedestrians and patiently wait their turn at four-way intersections.

Unfortunately, humans aren’t always the best drivers, and they don’t always follow the rules. When driverless cars stop at crosswalks, they get rear-ended. When no one completely stops at four-way intersections, driverless cars don’t know when to go.

Also, driverless cars swerve to avoid collisions in ways that seem unnatural to human drivers. One Google driverless car, for example, approached a red light and detected an oncoming car traveling over the speed limit. The Google car jerked to the right to prevent a crash, but the oncoming car stopped in plenty of time. These unusual and unnecessary swerves can cause chain reactions because human drivers don’t expect them.

When They’re Coming

Even with these glitches, Google predicts driverless cars will be on the road by 2020. Research from Boston Consulting Group suggests 1 in 5 drivers would pay $4,000 extra for driverless car technology, and 44 percent of U.S. consumers would purchase a driverless car within the next 10 years.

Still, consumers often say they’re enthusiastic about new technology, but old habits die hard. Case in point: electric and hybrid vehicles account for only 0.8 percent of new car registrations.

Scientists Have Found a New Way to Transform Sunlight Into Power

Researchers from Rice University have developed a new way to extract more energy from solar radiation, potentially making photovoltaic cells more efficient than ever before.

Their setup harnesses the power of hot electrons, which are highly kinetic electrons created when photons from the sun strike material within a photovoltaic panel. Hot electrons usually decay within trillionths of a second after photons strike the panel, but Isabell Thomann, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and of chemistry and materials science and nanoengineering at Rice, has found a way to slow their decay and harness their energy.

Getting Power From Hot Electrons

The biggest challenge with capturing hot electron energy is how quickly these excited particles return to their lower energy levels. They jump out of a lower energy level to a higher one, leaving holes behind. To keep them from returning right back to the lower energy level, Thomann put more distance between these excited electrons and the holes they left behind.

Along with a team of graduate students, Thomann constructed a three-layer setup. The base consisted of a thin sheet of aluminum topped with a transparent layer of nickel oxide. On top of the nickel oxide, the team dropped light-activated gold nanoparticles in discs about 10 to 30 nanometers wide.

When sunlight hit the gold nanoparticles from the top or reflected back up from the aluminum base layer, the photons received a quick supercharge from the nanoparticles, releasing hot electrons. Essentially, the nanoparticles and nickel oxide acted as a filter, letting electron holes through and leaving hot electrons sitting on the nanoparticles. Aluminum drew the electron holes back down, leaving the hot electrons with nowhere to go, which made them available for chemical reactions.

Thomann’s team then covered their materials with a thin layer of water to test whether hot electrons could split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms. When measuring the current generated by their technique, Thomann’s team reported current efficiencies consistent with far more sophisticated — and expensive — PV technologies.

Solving Frustrating Efficiency Problems

Historically, the biggest obstacle to widespread solar power usage has always been cost. Innovation and government subsidies have made photovoltaics cheaper than ever before, putting solar within the hands of homeowners. Thanks to tax breaks, the U.S. has seen many entrepreneurs form LLCs dedicated to installing solar panels and photovoltaic systems. Even so, solar installations are still costly, and increased adoption depends on making solar cheaper.

When sunlight makes it to Earth’s surface, it’s already lost about one-third of the energy it had when it left the sun. Earth’s atmosphere reflects some light back into space, and it also absorbs some of the energy, which the atmosphere and creates wind currents. One of the best ways to get more from existing PV cells is to make them more efficient. Current solar technology, however, manages to harness between only 5 and 25 percent of the sun’s energy.

Hot electrons dissipate from most current PV cells in the form of heat loss. By capturing these particles and keeping them from going to lower energy levels, Thomann’s team extracts more energy from the sunlight. It’s impossible to say when or how the Rice team’s findings could be incorporated into PV cells, but their research has enormous potential to make solar power less expensive — and more attractive to everyday consumers.

Keeping Costs Down

At MIT, graduate student Qiong Ma has used graphene and hexagonal boron nitride with similar effects to Thomann’s nanoparticle sheet. Her experiments pair sheets of graphene with top and bottom electrodes of different sizes, with a top gate made from dielectric boron nitride.

Electrons from the sun are slow to bond with graphene’s lattice structure, keeping electrons at higher energy levels for a longer period and extracting more energy for electricity. Unfortunately, it costs a lot to isolate graphene from graphite and turn it into usable material. According to the International Business Times, some U.S. vendors sell copper foil covered with a layer of graphene for $60 per square inch.

The Rice University team’s method uses more cost-effective materials, although Thomann readily admits their methods need further study before widespread implementation. Even so, it’s a promising solution that could make solar more affordable, reducing the world’s dependence on fossil fuels.