In 1984, the space shuttle will carry a ten-story-tall solar array wing that — remarkably — will be only four inches thick when folded in the craft's cargo bay, but when extended will measure 105 feet long and 15 1/2 feet wide. The structure, which consists of printed-circuit solar cells "welded" to a super-lightweight plastic film, will produce 12.5 kilowatts and is considered a first step toward the still ecologically questionable large-scale ·generation of electricity from sunlight in outer space.
Three different "breakthrough" techniques for putting sunlight to work to extract hydrogen from water, for use as a fuel and for fertilizer and plastics production, were announced within the span of a month recently. But the proliferation of reported advances may be as much a reflection of intense competition among researchers as an indication of significant steps forward. Hydrogen produced by solar water splitters isn't cost competitive with fossil fuels just yet ... but, says one scientist, "the gap is narrowing."
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