University of Alberta researchers have found that abundant materials in Earth's crust can be used to make inexpensive and easily manufactured nanoparticle-based solar cells. At the university’s National Institute for Nanotechnology, the team has designed nanoparticles that absorb light and conduct electricity from two very common elements: phosphorus and zinc. Both materials are more plentiful than scarce materials such as cadmium and are free from manufacturing restrictions imposed on lead-based nanoparticles.
The research supports a promising approach of making solar cells cheaply using mass manufacturing methods like roll-to-roll printing (as with newspaper presses) or spray-coating (similar to automotive painting). Nanoparticle-based 'inks' could be used to literally paint or print solar cells or precise compositions, the scientist said. The team was able to develop a synthetic method to make zinc phosphide nanoparticles, and demonstrated that the particles can be dissolved to form an ink and processed to make thin films that are responsive to light.
The team is now experimenting with the nanoparticles, spray-coating them onto large solar cells to test their efficiency. The research in this field is tremendous as can be seen with the studies being published. The day is not far off when the planet will be truly living off its star!