Harvard and IBM are combining to revolutionize solar energy research. On Harvard’s end, the Clean Energy Project is using distributed computing techniques to research millions of molecules that could be used in polymer solar cells. IBM supplies the network. Created two years ago, IBM’s World Community Grid is a revolution in Internet volunteerism. Most home computers sit idly while still connected to the Internet and have an incredible amount of unused processing power. IBM is using these idle times, and the owner’s computer, to solve several number crunching projects that on a single computer would take many years to complete, but spread across thousands of computers, that time span is nearly erased. Some projects already utilizing the WCG involve cancer fighting drugs, the protein structure of rice, and preventing AIDS by analyzing HIV protease, the infectious enzyme that causes the disease. Clean Energy Project’s goal is twofold:
- Discover new organic PV solar cell materials and
- Research possible polymers for the membranes in fuel cells.
Success here could lead to flexible, plastic solar cells that compete in efficiency with traditional, inflexible cells. Without the WCG this research would pose an incredible barrier to progress, with over a million molecules to study. Thanks to the grid, however, research that would otherwise take at least 20 years to complete may be done in as little as two.
Because modern PCs can perform billions of calculations per second, there is typically much more capacity than a homeowner needs. With that in mind, IBM is asking computer owners to volunteer time and function when their computer sits unused. The program would not upset personal use in any way, says IBM. The software involved actually acts sort of like a screensaver. That is, the program only begins work when the screensaver kicks on. The program also contains security features to protect personal computers.