A recent study published in the Journal of American Chemical Society entitled “Direct Electrodeposition of Crystalline Silicon at Low Temperatures” details how researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered a new method for producing crystalline silicon.
Crystalline silicon is used widely in the solar and tech industries and is often priced exorbitantly. While silicon is abundant because sand, the raw material of silicon, is plentiful, the process to transform sand into crystalline silicon is extremely complicated and requires temperatures as high as or higher than 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.
University of Michigan researchers developed a process to make silicon crystals at a temperature of only 180 degrees Fahrenheit and describe the process as similar to making rock candy from sugar. The only difference is that the silicon crystals require liquid metal instead of water and silicon instead of sugar.
A solution containing silicon tetrachloride is layered over an electrode made from liquid gallium and electrons then convert the silicon tetrachloride into raw silicon, which is then dissolved into liquid metal.
Researchers don’t have enough data to perform a cost/benefit analysis of their new method, but experts are optimistic that the process may lead to a less expensive and more environmentally friendly way of producing crystalline silicon.