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Amrita invents solar panels with inbuilt storage system

According to reports, if the Mata Amritanandamayi Ashram (MAM) is bracing up to adopt 101 villages across India and make them self-sufficient, the service-centric non-governmental organisation has also come up with a technological system that would guarantee them power supply even if the sun is not shining.

MAM, which is slated to launch its village adoption scheme on September 27 coinciding with the 60th birthday celebrations of spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi at her ashram in Kollam District of Kerala, notes that the state-of-the-art system would help solve a major handicap of solar panels: requirement of a separate system to store the electric power they draw from the sun.

“These storage systems are very expensive,” notes an MAM spokesperson. “Nonetheless, they are essential because without them solar panels would not work at night or indoors.”

Now, MAM’s Amrita University has succeeded in solving the problem. Amrita Centre for Nanosciences & Molecular Medicine, in a joint project with the varsity’s School of Engineering (Amritapuri Campus), has made use of nanotechnology which facilitates integration of the storage system into the solar panel.

“Thus there is need for separate storage systems,” the spokesperson reveals about the invention by the Centre’s Nano-Solar division. “The result is a more efficient, inexpensive solar panel.”

Dr. Shantikumar Nair, the director of the Amrita Centre for Nanosciences & Molecular Medicine in Kochi, says the nanotechnology-infused solar panels could also be used to charge other devices – whether or not the sun is shining.

The device consists of three components: a low-cost solar panel using a nanomaterial-based photo-voltiac cell, a pseudo-capacitor that provides both high storage and high power and uses novel nanomaterials, and an electronics interlayer that integrates the two systems within the panel itself.

“The system will work even with conventional silicon cell or conventional thin batteries,” notes Dr Nair, who worked for 31 years at the Mechanical Engineering Department of the University of Massachusetts in the US, before joining MAM. “However, the ability for repeated charging in such batteries may be limited.”

The prototype of this innovation has been completed and will be formally unveiled at Amritavarsham60 – the birthday celebrations of Amma, as the humanitarian leader is known worldwide. “It demonstrates all the required functions required for manufacturing a final product,” adds Dr Nair, whose co-inventor in the mission is Dr. Vinod Gopal, associate professor at the Amrita School of Engineering.

The cost of the system is expected to be low enough so that the public can use it to charge mobile phones, laptops and streetlights.

MAM will use the technology to also charge the tablets used in the afterschool tutoring and adult-literacy programs it plans to set up in the 101 adopted villages. It will also use them to provide proper night-lighting at the adopted village’s main junctions, the Math spokesperson says.

Dr. Nair is a recipient of the prestigious National Research Award from the Ministry of Science & Technology in 2011.

The research to develop this prototype was funded in part by the Government of India’s Department of Science & Technology and the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy.

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