Materials constitute a big percentage of a solar cell’s price, and since the most abundant material in the most efficient solar cells is the silicon wafer, then the next time you buy a solar panel you’ll mostly pay for the silicon, and not for the active ingredient.
CalTech researchers discovered a new way to make silicon solar cells that not only use 1 percent of the material needed to make conventional cells, but which are also thin and flexible, making them suitable for a much larger palette of uses in all kinds of applications. And let’s not mention the fact that the price will be considerably lower, respectively.
They used conventional silicon configured into micron-sized wires, instead of using brittle wafers. Then, they encased the wires into a flexible polymer that can be rolled or bent.
Michael Kelzenberg, one of the scientists who worked on the study published on Sunday by Nature Materials, reported to Reuters that “The idea is it would be lower cost and easier to work with by being more flexible than conventional silicon solar cells.”
Making silicon solar cells cheaper reduces costs and also associates the efficiency performance of standard silicon cell, yet unequaled by those who develop other kinds of photovoltaics, using organic materials. They combine the flexibility of the new organic or carbon-containing films with the efficiency of silicon, which is heavy and stiff, and the result might just be the best thing ever to happen to the solar industry.
The efficiency of the newly developed flexible silicon cells would be, as Kelzenberg says, from 15 to 20 percent, matching the efficiency of standard solar cells you see mounted on roofs to heat the buildings.