A team of researchers at Liverpool University have discovered a way of replacing the toxic element in the manufacturing process of making solar panels. This could mean cheaper solar energy. The key: a material that is found in bath salts or tofu. Their aim: to make solar panel manufacture cheap enough to compete with conventional power generation.
The Science Behind The Discovery
Here’s the science part: 90% of all solar cells are made from silicon and at least 7% are made from cadmium telluride. The cadmium telluride cells are thinner than the silicon panels and are more popular due to the cheaper manufacturing costs. However what they save in pennies and pounds is poured back in resources cost. They use the toxic material cadmium chloride which is expensive, a limited resource and very rare, and needs to be disposed of as contaminated waste product in current manufacture. Using the non-toxic alternative, magnesium chloride which is extracted from seawater, could work instead. It is completely safe, creating no chemical/contaminated waste product, and is typically found in bath salts.
The Simplified Version
By using the alternative chemical (magnesium chloride) to make solar panels we could cut out a lot of the waste and also cost! There would be no contaminated waste product which requires special procedures and disposal. This would mean a lower cost of disposing the waste and a lower cost for the planet. As a double whammy the cost of extracting the chemical (magnesium chloride) is also cheaper.
Physicist, Dr Jon Major from the University’s Stephenson Institute for Renewable Energy, carried out the research. He said: “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.”
The Future: Cheaper Solar Energy
Your future solar panels could be (and possibly should be) manufactured using a chemical that is obtained from seawater. Hopefully, if researchers continue to make these ground-breaking discoveries, the world could generate all of its energy from the sun and for a lot less! I look forward to when our entire range is manufactured with this new panel technology.