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Materials discovered using the new cloud computing effort from Harvard and IBM could be used to create flexible organic semiconductor cells able to be printed and woven onto bags or clothing to provide power for gadgets.  (Source: Martin LaMonica/CNET Networks)
Joint project looks to exploit the power of computing clouds to discover new useful solar materials

The use of cloud or distributed computing models is well-established, but still a growing field.  Projects like Folding@Home have taken off, allowing researchers to gain the idle computing power of thousands of volunteers to help crunch the numbers on tricky problems.

In the realm of chemical research, one of the most active fields is solar power.  Much ongoing research is devoted to creating better chemical compounds for solar panel material and even developing organic semiconductors which could make flexible panels with good yields.  However, in order to pick the optimum molecule millions of separate molecules must be individually assessed for their potential capabilities.  This requires a vast amount of computing power, making such efforts prohibitive in the past.  Thus, past solar materials research has largely been a process of slow progress by experimentation.

A new IBM and Harvard University partnership aims to bring solar cell chemistry up to speed technologically.  The new program harnesses the power of grid computing to evaluate numerous organic molecules for their potential as organic semiconductor material in solar panels.  The program is part of IBM's World Community Grid project, an initiative which lends support to many non-profit projects seeking to answer humanity's most pressing problems.  The project already has ongoing cloud computing efforts to find new AIDS drugs and to develop more nutritious rice.

Organic cells are lighter than silicon cells or other inorganic semiconductor cells.  They are also flexible and could be printed cheaply using organic inks containing the semiconducting compound.  Also, some organic materials can absorb a broader spectrum of light than silicon-based cells, allowing them to produce power even indoors.  However, they currently are extremely inefficient and break down far too quickly for commercial use.

Harvard researcher Alan Aspuru-Guzik says the new project will use multiple volunteers' computers to cut down the computing time to analyze the simulated solar efficiency of various organic candidate molecules.  He said that without the cloud's help the project would take 22 years, but with the power of distributed computing, it will finish in just about 2 years.

He states, "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."

IBM itself is very much vested in solar research, too.  It has an ongoing program to research thin-film solar cells using CIGS (a combination of copper, indium, gallium, and selenide) and a program to build next-generation solar-concentrator cells.  It also has been developing smart grid power usage software for businesses and utilities.



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RE: Pay me for my CPU cycles
By jRaskell on 12/8/2008 1:09:21 PM , Rating: 5
You're paying your own electric bill, so in effect them using those unused CPU cycles is indeed costing you money, and it could be a lot more than most people realize.

1. I don't leave my home computer powered up 100% of the time. The difference between my current usage (which over-estimating is about 5 hours a day), and a situation where it's running near 100% 24/7 is almost 20 bucks a month.

2. Even if I did leave my home computer on 24/7, the difference between idle power consumption and 100% cpu usage power consumption still is not insignificant.

So, it currently is NOT a win/win situation, since those unused CPU cycles are by no means free at all. Whether the cost is worth it or not is a personal decision.


RE: Pay me for my CPU cycles
By Suntan on 12/8/2008 3:42:31 PM , Rating: 2
Well, I said I wished they “offered” a setup. I didn’t say everyone “should be required to use it.”

First, I have a media PC that is on from 5pm to midnight every night so it is available to record and playback TV shows. Neither activity takes all that much of the CPUs time. So it is there and available. I also have a laptop going a good portion of the time for surfing while watching TV, surfing web pages doesn’t take too much power either so it is mostly available.

As for added power consumption, yeah that’s there, but that would be part of them paying you for the access to your CPU cycles.

-Suntan


RE: Pay me for my CPU cycles
By Moishe on 12/10/2008 1:34:19 PM , Rating: 2
I'm basically in the same position as you. HTPC, multicores and other computers. Some always on. I'd sign up for that.

I actually did a test once to see what kind of power savings I could get. I went from 100% uptime napster or gaming box to just having it on when I used it and I saved $20/month.

Even recovering a portion of the electricity cost would be nice and science would get something out of it. I'd sign up for that.


"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007














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