Sometimes the simple ways are the best, but who’d have thought we could cut the cost of solar technology with the poke of a stick?
That’s exactly what scientists at The Australian National University hope to do after creating a vastly improved material for solar cells, literally by poking the existing stuff with a “hard tip”.
ANU Professor Jodie Bradby says the method brings about a change in the crystalline structure of silicon, the primary material used in constructing photo-voltaic cells.
“We have proved that we can easily make this new kind of silicon — previously thought unobtainable under normal room temperature and pressure — which could be used for making more efficient solar cells and lead to cheaper energy.”
In this case, the “stick” is something called a precision indenter, a tool used to test the properties of materials.
The ANU team found they could change atoms in the crystalline structure of silicon from a square to a diamond-like shape, improving its capacity to convert light into electricity.
It is hoped the technique will further reduce the cost of renewable energy, cutting carbon emissions and helping slow global temperature rises.
Silicon is used on solar cells because it is cheap and non-toxic but it is not 100 per cent efficient and cannot use all available light.
“Just by poking silicon with a tiny hard tip, we’ve created a more complex silicon capable of absorbing more sunlight than the standard type commonly used in solar cells, Professor Bradby says.
Now the team just has to make enough of the new material to produce a prototype solar cell for testing.
“We also need to scale up and then work on integrating this material into existing solar industries. This will take another three to five years,” Professor Bradby says.