A breakthrough in the production of solar cells will make the next generation of solar panels cheaper and safer, and promises to accelerate the development of solar energy over the next decade, scientists said
‘A technical advance based on an edible salt used in the manufacture of tofu could revolutionise the production of future solar panels to make them less expensive, more flexible and easier to use than the current models seen on millions of roofs across Britain.’
Researchers believe they have found a way of overcoming one of the most serious limitations of the next generation of solar panels, which are based on toxic cadmium chloride, by simply adding magnesium chloride, an abundant salt found in seawater.
A study has shown that the solar cells produced with magnesium chloride (which is also found in bath salts as well as used to coagulate soya milk into tofu) work just as efficiently as conventional cadmium cells but at a fraction of the cost and with much lower toxicity.
“We certainly believe it’s going to make a big change to the costs of these devices. The cost of solar is going to match fossil fuels eventually but this is going to get us there quicker,” said Jon Major of the University of Liverpool, who led the research.
“Magnesium chloride is incredibly low-cost and it’s simply recovered from seawater. It’s used to de-ice roads in winter and it’s completely harmless and non-toxic. We’ve managed to replace a highly expensive, toxic material with one that’s completely benign and low cost,” Dr Major said.
About 90 per cent of the solar panels currently in use are made of photovoltaic cells composed of silicon semiconductors, which convert sunlight directly into electricity. However, silicon is not good at absorbing sunlight which is why the next generation of PV cells will be based on a thin coating of cadmium telluride, which absorbs sunlight so well that it only needs to be about one hundredth of the thickness of silicon