Big Blue boffins hatch dirt-cheap solar cells
'Earth abundant' materials
IBM researchers have developed a new class of solar-powered electricity-generating cells that they claim will bring photovoltaic cells closer to cost parity with conventional energy sources.
The researchers from IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York have published their findings in a paper entitled "High-Efficiency Solar Cell with Earth-Abundant Liquid-Processed Absorber," available here (PDF).
The materials used in the new cell are copper, zinc, tin, selenium, and sulfur - the latter two "earth-abundant" materials being in a chalcogenide compound, key to the photovoltaic properties of the cell.
The use of these materials bypasses problems inherent in the more-common components of solar cells. The heavy metal cadmium, for example, has toxicity complications, and indium and tellurium (also a chalcogen) are rare and therefore unable to support, as the paper says, more than "a small fraction of our growing energy needs, which are expected to double to 27TW by 2050."
Another advantage of the new cell is that it's manufactured using a simple, non-vacuum process based on what the researchers call a "slurry-based coating method" that allows the photovoltaic layer to be applied by printing, spraying, spin-coating, or other liquid-based techniques.
The efficiency of the new experimental cell is currently at 9.6 per cent, which approaches that of most commerically available solar cells today. IBM's research, however, is still at an early stage, and the new "earth-abundant" cells may very well match or surpass current - relatively expensive - cells and do so at a lower cost and with higher availability. ®
Here Here / Hear Hear!
Solar, wind and tidal are great for providing large amounts of fairly intermittent power. There are industries where the availability of such power could actually be quite useful, (if it were cheap enough.) Similarly, “smart appliances” could take advantage of a power grid with fluctuating supply.
Unfortunately for the “all eco-friendly renewable” crowd, there will *always* be a need for a reliable base power load. This is where Hydro, geothermal and most importantly Nuclear shine. Geothermal tech hasn't seen nearly enough investment, and so is really just getting started. Hydro causes massive environmental damage, and may not be viable in the long term due to the looming freshwater issues.
I personally do believe that (with the exception of admittedly fairly expensive quick-response plants,) we need to see the backside of hydrocarbon power generation. Phasing this technology out globally over the next 50-100 years should be obtainable, if we can just coach the NIMBYs past their Nuclear paranoia. I think that there are simply far more important things to use coal, natural gas and oil for than burning it for electricity. (Or transportation, but that’s another rant.)
Nuclear is the cleanest, safest and cheapest way to go for base load power generation; especially if we can perfect fourth generation plants that can re-use some of our nuclear waste. Good solar tech will help...but not as much as properly educating the populace on the real (lack of) risks associated wiht nuclear.
Thanks for the interest in this work! If anyone would like to know more about the science behind this story, we've set the original research article as free to access; you can find it through the link in the story, or here: http://www.materialsviews.com/matview/display/en/1412/TEXT
(IT? because I've lurked on the register so long I couldn't resist it :) )
I'll buy 5
my fucking electric bill is ridiculous.