Spain, for example, is trying pretty hard to be in our graces: ignorant of its shaky economic status, the country continues to encourage its Catalonia Institute for Energy Research (IREC) to come up with something better. In this sense, the IREC will give the start of a new research project: for 3 years, the scientists involved will be looking at IBM’s approach of replacing rare elements in the production of solar cells with more accessible ones.
The breakthrough happened a couple of years ago, when IBM came down with this innovative idea of using kesterite materials (zinc, copper, iron, tin, and selenium) instead of indium and cadmium. The goal was to find a cheaper, more accessible alternative, that could still offer a decent conversion efficiency.
And so it happened that these new thin-film solar cells of IBM reached an initial 9.6% level of efficiency, or even 11%, just like the more expensive ones. The company carried on improving the process by making it compatible with high-volume production.
Today IREC is taking the project another level. Its most recent project – Scalenano – introduces nanoparticles into a liquid to facilitate the affordable printing processes. It wants to transpose IBM’s technique and transform kesterite-based printable solar cells into a commercial product. So it’s all in the name of allowing you, the buyer, install some solar cells on your roof.
This is something commercial partners like Merck, UK company IMPT, the metrology firm Semilab and NEXCIS will watch out for. Meanwhile, let’s just hope they’ll manage to squeeze out some more efficiency.