Going green is the in thing these days.
Whether it is through recycling our trash, conserving our resources, or pursuing renewable energy, everyone -- from large multinational companies to your average Filipino -- is being asked to chip in to help save the state of our environment.
But it isn’t always easy going green. Sometimes, price can be prohibitive, as in the case of solar cells. While a great option for those looking to get into renewable energy, prices for solar cells on buy and sell site Sulit.com.ph range from P3,500 to P8,000 -- far from the reach of most Filipinos.
That may not soon be the case if Napoleon Salvador B. Antonio, a BS Chemistry with Materials Science and Engineering student at the Ateneo de Manila University, has anything to say about it.
Antonio won third place at the BPI-DOST Best Project of the Year Awards for his research titled “Towards Affordable Solar Cells: Fabrication of Photovoltaic Devices Incorporating Doped Graphene from Graphite and Doped Carbon from Pyrolyzed Glycerol.” The project aims to lower the cost of making solar cells by replacing the gold used in its manufacturing with the cheaper graphene.
Because of his work, Antonio was awarded P10,000 in addition to the P25,000 he received by being one of the competition’s 30 finalists.
“During the event and presentation itself, at first, I was a bit nervous but eventually I got my momentum. My mindset was simply to share and discuss my study,” he says. “I personally want my research to grow and be utilized, whether or not I win the event. Winning was not my first priority.”
CREATING SOMETHING NEW
Antonio says that he was curious even as a young child, and his fascination with the way the world works would often lead to “experiments” in the bathroom.
“I often read about ‘How stuff works’ books or the mechanisms behind the everyday things we observe. That curiosity paved the way into exploring different concepts, whether they were new or odd ideas,” he recalls. “I do remember clearly when I was a toddler that I often mix shampoos, conditioners, soaps, or anything I find in the bathroom; mixed them together and then used them.”
This interest in creating something new would stay with Antonio, which is how he found himself trying to find a way to create cheaper solar cells as his research project for his BS Chemistry course.
“Although I really like fabricating and inventing stuff, this topic posed as a challenge because this material, graphene, was difficult to handle, and the methodologies for fabricating this carbon-based cell utilizes very advanced instruments, which our laboratory does not have,” he says.
Aside from the lack of advanced instruments, Antonio says there were other difficulties he had to contend with, such as the limited time with which to do the research, the different environmental conditions here in the country that were far from those prescribed, balancing this project with extracurricular activities, and the lack of some materials and chemicals.
Fighting for the spot to represent Ateneo at the BPI-DOST Science Awards would prove to be equally demanding work.
“In my university, each department nominated their candidates, which would be screened by the professors. Since this happened early in the school year, I spent days and nights -- including my weekends -- in order to produce results. I had to work around my class schedule and sacrificed a lot of extra-curricular activities,” he recalls.
CHEAPER AND CLEANER
After his win, Antonio says he continued working on the project, or had other people work on it with him.
“I am very willing to continue my project; in fact, I am inclined to share my ideas so that people realize the opportunity and possibility of having affordable and cleaner solar cells,” he says. “I am willing for other people to look into my research. The input of other people -- from chemists to engineers, from businessmen to economists -- all contribute to the same advocacy of providing access to a cheaper and cleaner energy resource.”
Antonio hopes that competitions like the BPI-DOST Best Project of the Year Awards continue to fan the flames of curiosity in young Filipinos’ minds, cash prize or not.
“This competition provided opportunities for young scientists to share their ideas and to make an impression in the community; but this, honestly, does not limit Filipinos in conducting research for the prize, pride, or fame,” he says. “A competition is important for awareness; it is not to prove your research is better than the other. Research should be oriented towards the hunger of curiosity, the call of need of the society – it should basically answer a certain question.”