This week Harvard University presented the scientific community with the gift of an open-source database containing information on 2.3 million carbon-based materials, some of which could eventually replace silicon as the main ingredient in solar cell production. Using IBM’s World Community Grid, which uses volunteer computers’ processing time to increase calculation speeds, a team of researchers was able to complete one of the largest sets of materials science data ever assembled — nearly 400 Tb — in a fraction of the time. It’s part of the Materials Genome Initiative, a project designed to speed up the development of advanced materials and which also celebrated its two-year anniversary this week.
What’s the Big Idea?
If an organic material exists that could match or improve on the efficiency rate of silicon, solar cell production could ramp up considerably, and the costs would be much lower. However, a great deal of additional research is needed in order to find and then test such a material. Fortunately, the database is open to all interested researchers, and two major universities — the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Georgia Institute of Technology — have announced that they will create material innovation programs with the help of $15 million in funding.