When solar became one of the significant players in the energy sector around the world, no one believed that it can grow so fast in such a short time. Initially, when the numbers started going up, it just looked trendy, cool, and exclusive to those with lots and lots of money, but this changed very fast, especially after solar panel makers introduced great deals on lease purchases. Two major problems still remain though, one is the issue with energy storage, and the other is the cost of materials used as part of the manufacturing method of making efficient solar cells.
Thankfully, scientists never stopped working on solving these, and while the solution to energy storage is still saved as a draft on some genius’s hard drive, the key to solving the cost of materials issue is now out. The journal Nature released the findings of a study by researchers at Liverpool University, who found that a compound found in bath salts is a cheap alternative to the toxic elements used in making solar cells. The authors demonstrate that this breakthrough has the potential to even out the cost of solar with the cost of fossil fuels.
In more detail, the team looked for an alternative to what is considered the most toxic and dangerous ingredient for the making of thin and light cadmium telluride solar cells, the competitor of the popular silicon solar cells. The alternative, magnesium chloride, however, is far away from dangerous. On the contrary, it does not even require protective masks when handled in the lab. The compound costs close to nothing in comparison to cadmium chloride, it is found in bath salts and it is even used in the process of making tasty tofu. And we do not even mention the huge difference in price associated with waste disposal.
According to the team from Liverpool University, the efficiency of the new solar cells is just as good, however the cost is much lower. Specialists in the field comment that this discovery is likely to change the entire economics of solar energy. Finally, there is a method that can bring down the cost of solar to the level of fossils, making it the obvious choice for power generation.
Well done to the team. Their revolutionary discovery deserves all admirations that it received from the attendees at the ESOF conference in Copenhagen, and from the rest of the world, of course.
Image (c) Liverpool University