224: Quantum Dots Quantumania


Matt and Sean talk about quantum dots, what they’re good for, and the future of solar panel technology. Are quantum dots really the best option?

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode How Quantum Dots Solar Panels Could Change Everything https://youtu.be/81JgczyzXy8?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi4dFnLD9622FK77atWtQVv7

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On today’s episode of Still To Be Determined, we’re talking about a small breakthrough in quantum dots. See what I did there? Yeah.

I see

what you did there. Welcome everybody to Still To Be Determined, where we do follow up conversations from the Undecided With Matt Ferrell channel. And with me as always, is that Matt from Undecided With Matt Ferrell, my brother, Matt Ferrell.

Matt Ferrell, how are you today? I’m good.

I’m doing good. I’m, uh, getting prepped to go to Canada this week. I’m going to be visiting a, um, wind farm that’s being built out and seeing the gigantic blades being brought in on trucks and put up on turbines and getting to talk to a bunch of the product managers and stuff like that to see what it takes to make this happen.

So I’m a little stressed Sean! There’s a lot to pack and to do.

What part of Canada are you going to?

Uh, it’s the place I’m going is the Bekavar Wind Energy Project and it’s in Saskatchewan. Okay. Which the exact town it’s in, I can’t remember off the top of my head, but it’s like directly north of North Dakota here in the US.

Right. So it’s

mid Canada. Yeah. Interesting. Yep. As for me, Matt, Matt’s planning for travel. And as for me, I am just recording right now from the middle of the devil’s armpit. That’s right. Where humidity is a balmy 15, 000%. Welcome to New York city, where when you walk around your home, the floors are hot.

Jeez. I’m


On now to our conversation, we always like to start off by visiting your comments from our previous episode. And this is from episode 223, in which we discussed heat pumps in apartment scenarios. There were a couple of comments from people pointing out that one of the issues with these new style of heat pumps.

These of course are the, as I can’t help but think of them, the flip phone heat pump style. Uh, somebody pointed out in the comments, it looks like they have a warranty of about two years at this stage. So there is, that’s a wrinkle that we hadn’t considered. We hadn’t talked about. And pairing that with this comment, I wanted to have a chat with you briefly about competing modes of sustainable tech.

And when two modes of tech are both like, Hey, that’s cool, but they kind of work counter to one another. George wrote in to say, I wonder if everyone in a city that heats water on an individual apartment level, not district hot water heating, would use heat pumps for their boilers, would that put a dent in the heat island

effect of the city as it is now. Not all the heat extracted from those apartments would be dumped on the streets, but instead channeled back into their own boilers. The same energy price cooling your home, you heat your water and keep the outside air cooler at the same time, which sounds like three birds and one stone in favor of the environment.

So my understanding is that these heat pumps would not be able to generate nearly the level of heat that would be required to heat water to the point where you’d be able to use it large volumes in your home.

There are heat pumps that can do that,

but not window mounted combo with the AC. Not window.

That’s the issue here. No. Yeah.


So at the one level that we’re talking for the AC slash heating units. We’ll just put those to the side. As you point out, there is the heat pump model that can be used within an individual home in order to heat water. But the comment brings up something, which then paired with my earlier reference to the comments of people saying like the warranties on these things doesn’t look like lifetime, George mentions the people who have district hot water heating.

And district heating is something you’ve mentioned in previous videos. We’ve had conversations about it, and it is a model that would go completely counter to the individual heat pump in your home model of, well, you’re doing it at such a scale that the price comes down and you’re able to manage an entire neighborhood as opposed to an individual home.

So, I wanted to get your sense of, are all these horses racing at the same time? And we’re just waiting for somebody to pull ahead. Or do you think that these are all models that could filter into different levels of success in different areas and different regions? In other words, are we talking again about not one tool for every job, but are we looking at one neighborhood might be district heating because it fits what the needs of that neighborhood and maybe then another town over they just have individual HVAC units in the windows because that fits there.

It’s going to be a mix. There’s, there’s no one technology and approach that’s going to kind of dominate the market and make all the others redundant. Same thing for batteries. Most of the technologies I talk about, it’s this case. Um, for instance, uh, in Framingham, Massachusetts, they just installed a district geothermal system for a section of the town as an experiment.

I think it’s covering like a hundred residences or something like that and businesses in the area. Massive project. Millions of dollars to make it happen. And it makes sense for that area and it’s a test bed to show if it will work or not. And if it does work, you’re going to probably see this happen in more and more places across Massachusetts and the country.

But that’s not going to work in New York City. Like, I can’t imagine them doing that in New York City. It’s like, you’re going to drill down into what? A subway station? You’re not going to be able to do that easily. And on top of which, You’ve got buildings that might be historical landmarks that you can’t do massive retrofits to because it would, you can’t, it’d be damaging the structure and it’s not allowed.

Or it’d be too costly in the permitting and all the labor costs versus an air source heat pump system that’s easier to kind of retrofit in versus doing some kind of geothermal district heating system. So, You’re going to have to pick the, pick the solution that works for your specific needs. So there’s no one technology I see kind of winning out.

It’s going to be, some will be more prevalent in more areas because it’s just cheap and easy to roll out in those areas and other ones, like a district heating system is going to make way more sense.

I’m curious, what is a good metric, do you think, for being able to evaluate these technologies? What do you see in your research as far as how do, how do communities evaluate these things against one another?

How do, what are some of the metrics that go into the equation of, is a district system proper for us, or should we build a solar farm, or is wind the solution? You in your videos often talk about energy output per day, year, like metrics like that. Is it simply that or is it something else that also feeds into those equations?

Oh, you’re talking about

something that engineers and other experts are going to be doing heavy calculations for, like the levelized cost of energy. It’s like, how much is it going to cost to install this thing and maintain it and then tear it down at the end of 25 years or replace it in 30 years?

What’s the total cost going to be? And the town has to evaluate, can we afford that? Does it make sense for how much money we have? And there’s like so many different factors that go into calculating what’s going to work and evaluate that. There’s no, there’s no easy answer for that one, Sean. I typically, when I’m looking at this stuff, I always try to put it, look at it through the lens of who’s the intended user of this.

And so it’s like, when I’m talking about the Rheem heat pump water heater, that’s obviously meant for a homeowner like myself, when I’m looking at something like a thermal energy storage system, that’s not me. That’s utility scale. That’s industry. That’s I’m having to look at it for what the intended use case is.

Um, but there’s a lot of complications that go even beyond that. Uh. local permitting requirements, uh, local government. Uh, if people don’t want that built in their backyard, the nimbyism of it all, like there’s so many factors that politicians and local people have to factor in to all these calculations.

It’s a, it’s a thorny mess. Yeah.

I just wanted to like get a sense and share with our listeners a sense of It’s not quite as easy as saying, this is new, therefore it’s better, or this is going to cost this much, therefore it’s better, or this is going to put out this much, therefore it’s better. It is the number of calculations and permutations that go into the calculations of overall impact and overall cost and overall benefit are the debate we see

is real, in other words, and that there is some pushback against these technologies, which is a knee jerk response to change, or in some cases, individuals who are beholden to a certain industry, and therefore defend change because they want to hold on to the old industry. There is that, so I’m not saying the debate is Across the board, honestly done, but there is a lot of questions, a lot of question marks lurking in this, and I think it is part of the conversation that we are always having of these are not the final solutions.

We’re not providing final solutions to anybody. And when we put something out there for discussion, it’s not us putting a stamp on it and saying. And now we’re done.


Not even close. On now to our discussion of Matt’s most recent, this would be how quantum dot solar panels could change everything from June 18th, 2024.

And just for a quick summary, Matt, of quantum dots, let’s imagine you’re in the graduate and you sidle up to Dustin Hoffman and you whisper in his ear, quantum dots. Not plastics, quantum dots. Yeah. What are you referencing? What is just kind of like a elevator pitch of quantum dots are go?

Oh my God. Uh, it’s an artificial atom.

It’s, uh, it’s, oh man, Sean, it’s, it’s something that’s super tiny that can be used in many, many different ways. You can basically manipulate wavelengths of light to do what you want them to do. It’s essentially that’s what it is in a nutshell. It’s definitely not me leaning over and saying, instead of plastic, saying quantum dots.

Plastics, as bad as we’ve discovered as they are, that revolutionized the world. For good and bad. Quantum dots I would not say it’s on the level of plastics, but yeah, it’s artificial atoms that you can manipulate to wavelengths of light to do whatever you want. Creating television sets, uh, better screens for your phones to generating electricity from the sun.

So it’s like, it’s got a lot of potential, uh, in that simple, simple little artificial atom.

I really love the irony of you saying it’s an artificial atom. But it won’t revolutionize the world the way that plastic did. I know it’s, there’s something about that that just strikes me as so funny. It’s like in New York City, just a few years ago, they changed the laws in the city so that plastic bags from shopping centers, like you go to the grocery store, you get plastic bags.

They, they banned them here in the city, thankfully, because it really, we’d had literally tumbleweeds of plastic bags that would just blow down the long avenues here in the city, they would get caught in trees. They were everywhere. It was awful. And to think like, Oh, that is more impactful than an artificial atom makes me, makes me laugh.


just think about how plastics changed everything. It made it so that you could like the phones in our pockets. It’s like plastic isn’t everything in our lives and it’s made things affordable for the masses, easy to produce, cheaper manufacturing. It’s like, there’s so many ways it has benefited society in a wonderful way.

And now we’re kind of coming to grips with, yeah, and you remember all those good things? Well, there’s, uh, some really, really bad stuff that comes with this. So we’re, we’re trying to grapple with that, but it’s, The benefits of plastics, uh, changed everything over the past, was it 60, 70 years? Yeah. It became really mainstream.

So, on the quantum dot discussion, there was some interesting mixture of responses to the video. And I wanted to share this one to start off with because this is somebody who had actually been involved in researching in quantum dots. And I found this both funny and upsetting at the same time. So from Ghost FS, Ghost writes in to say one lab anecdote on quantum dots.

We were testing different synthesis conditions to produce quantum dots to obtain higher quantum yield, how much they glow if exposed to light. One day we obtained an incredibly good result. It was not even necessary to shine a UV lamp on the vials to make them glow. They were glowing intensely, even with the ambient light from the lab.

So I called my boss, very excited to show him the results. It was amazing. So as usual, we tried the UV light to see how much it glowed, and it was horrifying. All the chemical hood, all the glass, all my clothes were glowing. The vapors of the synthesis solvent were carrying about the room and the quantum dots were deposited everywhere.

Not even the chemical hood was enough to protect us, but we were a startup with not enough money for a glove box. So glove box being, it looks like an aquarium and you put your hands into the gloves and keeps everything contained. I’m sorry, but this is just like something out of a, I mean, to me, it seems like almost a kids in the hall sketch.

It’s that kind of like, Oh, look at these positive results. And then somebody clicks off the light and everything is glowing.

Um, when you, that’s a, that’s a, that’s a horrifying and funny story, but I got to say, Sean, when I was looking into this initially, it’s like, you can find on YouTube how to make your own, like, this is not in some cases, rocket science.

It’s like, if you get the right ingredients. On your home stove and stuff, you can make a little vial of quantum dots for yourself. For your home use. I actually contemplated what if I just made some of my own and I could hold it up on screen and show it glowing and do all that kind of stuff. And I was like, I don’t think I want to be messing with this on my own because I’m not a chemist.

So it’s like, I decided not to use that It sounds like

the beginning of a great Cronenberg film. Matt makes his own quantum dots and pretty soon he’s quantum dot man. He’s body horror. From Simon Spoke simon drops a question. Could a semi translucent quantum dot sheet be laid over an existing pv sheet so you could essentially upgrade your existing panels?

And there was a lot of discussion in response to this along the lines of no, because you’d have to somehow wire it into the main solar panel unit. So you’d be dealing with layers of like soldering and connecting and it would be too complex and too complicated. But there is at the starting point, the question of translucence and being able to apply that in ways that might surprise us.

Are we looking at the potential for quantum dot adhesive sheets that might in fact be able to be used to retrofit like office building windows, converting office building windows into a source of electricity?

Hmm. I don’t see that happening. I just don’t. It’s what you just said. It has to be integrated in the, at the manufacturing point, like when you’re making whatever the panel is, that’s when you’re applying it and doing it and wiring it all together.

There’s no retrofitting here. I don’t, I don’t see that ever happening. Um, from what I was reading, there are companies already making this kind of stuff now, um, we didn’t touch on it in this video. I’ve touched on them in a previous video about translucent solar cells, um, I’m blanking on their name right now, but they make this kind of translucent, it has a color to it, so it looks kind of yellowish, orangish, and it’s meant for like greenhouses.

So you’d be putting it for whatever plants you’re growing, and so it’s like some plants require different spectrums of light to be, to grow more, to grow better. Right. So imagine having this translucent solar cell that’s helping to not only filter the light so that the plant’s getting the light that it needs the most, the wavelengths it needs the most, and then the wavelengths of light that it doesn’t need are getting captured and turned into electricity.

Yeah. It’s, it’s kind of like, whoa, kind of awesome. Um, those are actually already being made and tested and used, um, around so that that’s not a future technology. That’s a technology that’s kind of happening right now. Um, But you’re not going to do that like layering a film on an existing window or on an existing solar panel to give it more oomph.

That’s not going to happen. I just don’t see it happening.

And so that feeds into what you were saying before about this isn’t to the level of plastics, which once again sounds like a ridiculous thing to say, but it is, you’re, you’re looking at a technology that, as you’re pointing out, it has to be embedded from the very beginning.

This is not something that’s going to be an add on that’s going to be super easy to do. You won’t be able to go buy a sheet of quantum dots to add to the top of your electric vehicle and then plug that into your electric vehicle system in some way. This is something that the electric vehicle manufacturers would have to say, like, we’re going to build this car with quantum dots in the paint that will then feed electricity from the sun into the battery, that kind of thing.

Yeah. Yeah. Whatever they’re doing, what kind of panel or technology they’re doing, it has to be incorporated from the beginning. This question from

Meower68, it’s more of a metaphor, and I just wanted to get your thoughts on does this metaphor work. An article I read some years ago described solar energy as if it was coins raining from the sky.

You get a lot of pennies, fewer nickels, even fewer dimes, and even fewer quarters. You can catch one of these. A collector has a limited band gap only able to collect one band. If you can collect multiple types of coins, multi junction cells covering different band gaps, you get more money, but it costs more to make slash acquire such collectors.

Quantum dots can essentially make change on the larger coins. So you can collect pennies, maybe nickels and quantum dots can break down the quarters into nickels and pennies giving you more of those to collect. Curious, does that seem to you to be a metaphor that is useful when talking about this?

Or is it an oversimplification?

It’s an oversimplification, but it works. You know what I mean? Like, that metaphor, it’s like, it doesn’t, It’s not one to one. It doesn’t, it doesn’t match, but it at least gives you kind of, it lets you wrap your head around. Oh, I get it. Um, I might say panning for gold. You know what I mean?

Like you’ve got your little sieve and you’re shaking it and things are falling through and you’re, you’re basically left with the biggest stones while you’re losing all the finer stones. And there’s like, right. Sometimes you’re sifting into a different pan that sifts into a different pan that sifts into a different pan.

And so you’re getting smaller and smaller things that you’re filtering through. And so then you’re left with different piles of different amounts. And so it’s like, I would probably say that might be a better metaphor, but even that is a gross oversimplification of what’s actually happening. Um, but yeah, I mean, it, it works.

It does help you kind of wrap your head around it.

Right. Finally, this one from the cornucopia project. Cornucopia wrote in to say, I saw an offer the other day for solar panels at 28 cents per watt, but you had to buy a 31 panel batch. With the price coming down so hard, innovation will be having a harder time to become competitive.

The real benefit of quantum dots in the end will be much smaller panels with traditional output. It could make solar on vehicles be much more powerful, but for rooftop installation costs, it will be a greater factor. Do you see that in your research that the price of solar panels is dropping to a point that new competition, new tech coming in is going to actually struggle to find a foothold?

Or do you think that once again, this will be a place where once quantum dots where the rubber meets the road and somebody develops a quantum dot panel, it will just be so much more effective that it will quickly insert itself into the, uh, sphere of, of available products.

Yeah. It it’s that it’s, it’s, it’s 28 cents per watt because that’s a technology that has been in the making for 30 years.

And the manufacturing has gotten so easy to do that they can produce it for that amount of money. So it’s flooded the market. A newer technology comes in, is always going to be more expensive up front. And depending on what the materials are that go into it and the manufacturing process, how much you can refine it, it, will it potentially hit that 28 cents per watt line?

I don’t know. You’d have to kind of evaluate that technology, but many new technologies have pathways to get to a similar price point at some point. It just needs the time to get there. The question is, does that new technology offer some kind of major benefit, whatever that benefit is, that makes it so much better than the old technology that some people are willing to pay the premium to get it, to get that benefit.

If that’s the case, those deep pockets that are going in over there are going to basically give the seed money for that technology to perfect the manufacturing, to drive its cost down, to make it trickle down, get cheaper so more people can afford it. It’s like, just look at, I always use the example of cars.

It’s like luxury cars come out with a new fancy tech in their vehicles and then five, ten years later, that tech is now everywhere in every car. It just takes a while for that technology to kind of trickle down in costs. It doesn’t mean that that new technology isn’t going to happen. It just, it has to have a benefit.

And for something like perovskites and quantum dots, there’s a reason why people are still chasing it, even though panels are not 28 cents per watt, because some of those technologies bring a benefit that is going to trump whatever’s in existence today. Cause like you’re talking about 20 percent efficiency, here’s a panel that’s 50 percent efficient, which means instead of putting 20 panels on your roof, you only have to put 10.

You know what I mean? It’s like, if it’s that more, much more efficient at producing energy, it’s more expensive per watt, but you need fewer panels. So it’s like, it’s the cost is not going to, the cost may end up being the same, but you need fewer panels. So it’s kind of like if this system costs you 15 grand and this new system takes half as many panels, but still costs you the same exact amount of money.

If you have a tiny roof, you’re going to be like, give me that thing. It’s you know what I mean? It’s like, it’s. There’s benefit that comes with it that will allow it to kind of catch up or find its own niche, its own part of the market. So I don’t think it’s going to hold it up at all. And economies of scale

being what they are, once the ability to drop manufacturing drops even a little bit, it starts to look more enticing and adoption becomes faster and faster.

So thank you everybody for your comments. As you can tell, they really do drive the conversation here and they help shape the conversation at Undecided with Matt Ferrell. So jump into the comments now, let us know what you think about all of this. Do you think we missed something or was there something that occurred to you that you would like to bring up.

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You’re allowed to throw some coins at our heads just this once, and maybe again next month. And once the bruises heal, we sit down to have these conversations. Thank you so much, everybody, for joining us. And we look forward to talking to you next time.

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