A UK university has hailed a major breakthrough in solar technology, saying it has found a way to use chemicals found in tofu to make solar panels cheaper and safer.
Liverpool University’s has discovered that the chemical used to make tofu and bath salts could also replace a highly toxic and expensive substance used to make solar cells.
Cadmium chloride, a key ingredient used solar cell technology, is highly toxic and expensive to produce, requiring elaborate safety measures to protect workers during manufacture and then specialist disposal when panels are no longer needed.
Liverpool University has found that this compound can be replaced with magnesium chloride, extracted from seawater, and is already used in products such as tofu, bath salts and for de-icing roads.
Safe and at a fraction of the cost – $0.001 per gram compared to $0.3 – it has also been shown in the study to be as effective as the expensive and toxic alternative.
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.
Physicist, Dr Jon Mayor, from the University’s Stephenson Institute for Renewable Energy carried out the research saying, “if renewable energy is going to compete with fossil fuels, then the cost has to come down. Great strides have already been made, but the findings in this paper have the potential to reduce costs further.”
Another bonus that this new compound offers is its efficiency. Currently cadmium telluride, used on the cheapest solar panels, convert less than two per cent of sunlight into energy where as cadmium chloride increases efficiency to over 15 per cent.
Liverpool research, however, has shown that magnesium chloride can achieve the same boost to efficiency.
“We created solar cells using the new method on a bench with a spray gun bought from a model shop.”
“Cadmium chloride is toxic and expensive and we no longer need to use it. Replacing it with a naturally occurring substance could save the industry a vast amount of money and reduce the overall cost for generating power from solar.”
The study was funded under a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the University of Liverpool.