Volume 8, Number 45 -- December 16, 2008

IBM Seeks Organic Solution to Power Systems Challenge, Global Warming

Published: December 16, 2008

by Alex Woodie

IBM and a team of Harvard university researchers launched a new initiative last week to develop and deliver power systems that utilize more efficient solar technology. The Clean Energy Project--the newest project to join the World Community Grid--seeks to tap into the computing power of millions of idle PCs and servers to crunch scientific data in the hopes of speeding the discovery of organic chemical compounds that have better electric properties than silicon, the main--but inefficient--ingredient in today's solar panels.

Current silicon-based solar cells are only about 20 per cent efficient and cost about $3 per watt of electricity generated, according to IBM. Researchers are developing a newer form of solar cells that are built with plastic at the core, which is more flexible, lighter in weight, and less expensive to make. If a sizable breakthrough could be made in solar technology, people would be more inclined to invest in solar energy, and the world could reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and the global warming that many fear is the result of burning fossil fuels.

It would take us about 100 days of computational time to screen each of the thousands of compounds for electronic properties using traditional computing methods, says Alan Aspuru-Guzik, the principal investigator and a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard. "Yet with World Community Grid's free computing power, augmented by cloud computing, the project is estimated to complete in two years. It was estimated to have taken 22 years to run on a regular scientific cluster."

IBM already has more than a million computers hooked into the World Community Grid, representing more than 413,000 members across 200 countries. The grid has been used to search for answers to many pressing problems since it was launched by IBM in late 2004, including researching cancer, AIDS/HIV, climate change, human proteins, agriculture (specifically rice production), and various viruses, including dengue fever, hepatitis C, West Nile fever, and Yellow fever.

The client-side software that processes work units and coordinates results with the World Community Grid was developed by the University of California, Berkeley, and runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS. Unfortunately, IBM Power Systems servers will not be able to assist in the search for more efficient power systems.

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Editor: Alex Woodie
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik,
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