By Chris Clarke, Rewire:
Though prices of photovoltaic (PV) panels have been dropping like a stone the past few years, they still aren’t cheap. Part of the reason for that is that a few of the semiconducting ingredients used in making the newer generation of thin-film solar cells are somewhat rare. The tellurium in cadmium telluride thin-film cells is about as rare as platinum, and the indium and gallium used in copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) PV cells aren’t exactly thick on the ground either. In order for PV panels to become cheap enough to shingle your roof with them, scientists are going to have to find a way to build them out of elements that are far more common.
According to Caltech physicist Harry Atwater, that work is well underway.
Atwater gave a presentation this week at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Philadelphia in which he unveiled some startling advances in efficiency in solar cells made out of what he calls “earth-abundant” materials. These more abundant materials are cheaper and less likely to become the subject of politically restricted markets, as has happened with the Chinese rare earths industry… Read more