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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 Suntan on 12/8/2008 3:36:32 PM , Rating: 2
Could you imagine the administrative nightmare of keeping track of the thousands of users who help them?

Could it really be any bigger than the financial nightmare of keeping track of all the customers that use their internet connection?

Any harder than the phone company billing you per long distance call made? Cell phone company tracking all your minutes as well as your individual texts? Cable company tracking each one of theose PPV movies?

An itemized bill of services is an itemized bill, whether there are credits on it or not.


RE: Pay me for my CPU cycles
By Bruneauinfo on 12/8/2008 4:16:37 PM , Rating: 2
the only reason your broadband service would undertake such a project would be if they could make a substantial profit from it. they are a business and not a charity.

RE: Pay me for my CPU cycles
By Denithor on 12/8/2008 11:33:19 PM , Rating: 2
Same for IBM, which is exactly why I said I would want to get paid for my crunching in a commercial venture like this looks to be. I cannot fathom IBM searching for a more efficient solar panel composition out of the goodness of their corporate hearts...more likely they want the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the solar panel rainbow. And it's a mighty big pot, too, as much interest as there is in solar energy these days.

RE: Pay me for my CPU cycles
By Suntan on 12/9/2008 1:08:14 PM , Rating: 2
From what I wrote, where did you get the impression that I ever thought the ISP would make no profit from it?

The ISP charges Spacely Sprokects X dollars to run its simulation of its newest sprocket. It then farms the workload out to the customers that have signed on to the plan, at the end of the month it credits those customers for the compute cycles they used and keeps the leftover from X as profit.

Pretty much the same thing that certerlized "supercomputer" centers do to generate revenue.

The business side of it isn't that hard to unsderstand here guys. You've never rented anything from someone before? When you only needed it for a limited amount of time? you don't buy a $20,000 bobcat when you only need to move dirt for one weekend, you rent it. Same thing here.

The only difference is that the ISP does not directly "own" the computers it is renting out. Instead it is an intermediary that rents out access to it customer's computers and trades its customers a reduced internet bill in excahange.


RE: Pay me for my CPU cycles
By Bruneauinfo on 12/9/2008 3:11:22 PM , Rating: 2
from what i wrote where did you get the idea that i thought you thought your ISP would not make money from it?

my point is that i don't believe your ISP would make money from it because i don't think IBM would pay them for it because i don't think IBM's customers would have the money to pay for that kind of service.

it is because folding@home is 'free' for us to download and use that it makes economic sense for research. otherwise they would spend their research dollars elsewhere. the cost of running a supercomputer of equal power would be very cost prohibitive. for example: the folding@home grid supercomputer constantly updates itself with newer and additional hardware, when a node goes down the IT department doesn't have to fix it, no power bill to operate the computer or to cool the server farm, no buildings necessary to house the computer, no taxes on the computer... i'm sure there's more....etc

that the computer is constantly upgrading itself is reason enough that they could never afford to purchase such a machine. a petaflop computer today already costs a great deal to build and operate, much less update with new hardware every few weeks. a grid computer will constantly upgrade itself which is very costly to replicate.

you want to say "well, that 'very costly to replicate' warrants my ISP and IBM getting in bed." however it doesn't, because IBM's customers can't afford to pay the alternative cost in the first place. the cost of keeping a super computer is cost-prohibitive. a free grid computing system on the other hand makes economic sense - makes things economically possible.

for example: say a 50,000 unit system grid at 1 cent per day paid to each participant. do the math. it would not be cheap. folding@home is larger.

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