Engineers are building solar balloons that float above the clouds for constant sun

Solar farms have been making headlines lately, and solar power options are gaining in popularity as their efficiency levels improve. But a new photovoltaic solution is going to bring solar farms directly to the skies in order to supercharge that efficiency. Since cloud coverage creates uncertainty around the effectiveness of solar farms, why not bring the solar cells themselves above the clouds? Using stratospheric balloons, it may be possible to source solar power from the open skies without any kind of environmental interference.

An international consortium is working on the idea, under the direction of French-Japanese scientific research lab, NEXTPV. The main tenet of the concept is that there are very few clouds floating around at an altitude of about 3.7 miles (6 kilometers). At an altitude of approximately 12.4 miles (20 kilometers), there is no cloud interference at all. Eliminating cloud coverage and light diffusion that occurs in the many close layers of the Earth’s atmosphere leads to a higher concentration of sunlight. In turn, this concentrated solar power leads to higher energy yields from photovoltaic solar cells.

Hydrogen is the other key factor in the plan to make this sustainable idea a reality. The logistical plans that describe launching these huge solar cell balloons into the sky also require a strategy for keeping them afloat. These floating solar farms would use the excess electricity generated during the daylight hours to recombine hydrogen and oxygen in a fuel cell. That fuel cell would release power regularly or as needed overnight. And the same source of hydrogen isolated through water electrolysis for the fuel cell would keep the balloons in the air.

The solution keeps costs low, and its only byproduct is pure water molecules. The balloons would be made of low-energy polymers, which are easy to mass-produce. Initiatives like Google’s Project Loon are already making use of the same conceptual balloon approach. The consortium of researchers and scientists hopes that the low cost of the solution and the space-saving approach will make solar farms more plausible in the future. As it stands, functional solar farms and renewable energy plants take up enormous amounts of space on land. That’s one thing in the desert, but it’s another issue entirely in a city like Paris, London, or New York.

Emerging Tech

Hear the sounds of wind on Mars from InSight’s latest audio recording

NASA's InSight craft has captured the sound of the wind blowing on the surface of Mars. The audio file was picked up by the air pressure sensor and the seismometer which detected vibrations from the 10 to 15 mph winds in the area.

5G’s arrival is transforming tech. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.

The Titan RTX graphics card is nearly here. Here's what you need to know

The Nvidia Titan RTX is arguably the most powerful consumer graphics card ever made, even if it's not really aimed at consumers. It bridges the 2080 Ti and RTX Quadro cards with boat loads of power.
Emerging Tech

The best solar chargers for your phone, tablet, and other battery-powered gear

Looking for a gizmo that can help you charge your phone while on the go? Here, we've outlined the best solar chargers on the market, whether you're looking to charge your phone once, twice, or three times over.
Emerging Tech

Scoot your commute! Here are the 9 best electric scooters on the market

Electric scooters are an affordable, convenient way to minimize your carbon footprint and zip around town. Check out 8 of our current favorites, whether you're working with a budget or have some cash to spare.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.

Has Columbus, Ohio raised its IQ yet? A progress report from the mayor

Two years ago, the city of Columbus in Ohio received $40 million to pursue smart city initiatives. So, what’s happened since then? We spoke with its mayor, Andrew Ginther, to discuss progress and what’s ahead.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

New experiment casts doubt on claims to have identified dark matter

A South Korean experiment called COSINE-100 has attempted to replicate the claims of dark matter observed by the Italian DAMA/LIBRA experiment, but has failed to replicate the observations.
Emerging Tech

White dwarf star unexpectedly emitting bright ‘supersoft’ X-rays

NASA's Chandra Observatory has discovered a white dwarf star which is emitting supersoft X-rays, calling into question the conventional wisdom about how X-rays are produced by dying stars.

Amazon scouted airport locations for its cashier-free Amazon Go stores

Representatives of Amazon Go checkout-free retail stores connected with officials at Los Angeles and San Jose airports in June to discuss the possibility of cashier-free grab-and-go locations in busy terminals.
Emerging Tech

Full-fledged drone delivery service set to land in remote Canadian community

Some drone delivery operations seem rather crude in their execution, but Drone Delivery Canada is building a comprehensive platform that's aiming to take drone delivery to the next level.
Emerging Tech

It’s no flying car, but the e-scooter had a huge impact on city streets in 2018

Within just a year, electric scooters have fundamentally changed how we navigate cities. From San Francisco to Paris, commuters have a new option that’s more fun than mass transit, easier than a bike, and definitely not a car.
Emerging Tech

Intel wants its fleet of drones to monitor America’s aging, unsafe bridges

Intel has signed a deal to use its Falcon 8+ drones to carry out bridge inspections. The hope is that these drones will be useful in spotting potential problems before they become serious.