Breakthrough in Solar Cell Manufacturing Could Make Production Cheaper
Researchers at Liverpool University, UK, have developed a new manufacturing method, which could bring down the cost of making a particular type of solar cell.
The research team has found a way of replacing the toxic element in the process. A technical advance based on an edible salt used in the manufacture of tofu could revolutionize the production of future solar panels to make them less expensive, more flexible and easier to use than the current models seen on millions of roofs across Britain.
Researchers believe they have found a way of overcoming one of the most serious limitations of the next generation of solar panels, which are based on toxic cadmium chloride, by simply adding magnesium chloride, an abundant salt found in seawater. Scientists who have looked into the process say this could have a “massive, unexpected cost benefit.”
The research was published in the Journal of Nature and unveiled at the ESOF conference in Copenhagen. Dr Jon Major, who led the research, said that his team's work might be the development that brings the cost down to the level of fossil fuel.
“We certainly believe it’s going to make a big change to the costs of these devices. The cost of solar is going to match fossil fuels eventually but this is going to get us there quicker,” he said.
“Magnesium chloride is incredibly low-cost and it’s simply recovered from seawater. It’s used to de-ice roads in winter and its completely harmless and non-toxic. We’ve managed to replace a highly expensive, toxic material with one that’s completely benign and low cost,” Dr Major said.
More than 90 percent of the solar cells are made from silicon. Around seven percent are made from a material called cadmium telluride. The cadmium telluride cells are thinner than silicon and these are popular because they are also lighter and cheaper.
All but two UK regions failing on school energy efficiency
Most schools are still "treading water" on implementing energy efficient technology, according to new analysis of Government data from eLight.
Yorkshire & the Humber and the North East are the only regions where schools have collectively reduced how much they spend on energy per pupil, cutting expenditure by 4.4% and 0.9% respectively. Every other region of England increased its average energy expenditure per pupil, with schools in Inner London doing so by as much as 23.5%.
According to The Carbon Trust, energy bills in UK schools amount to £543 million per year, with 50% of a school’s total electricity cost being lighting. If every school in the UK implemented any type of energy efficient technology, over £100 million could be saved each year.
Harvey Sinclair, CEO of eEnergy, eLight’s parent company, said the figures demonstrate an uncomfortable truth for the education sector – namely that most schools are still treading water on the implementation of energy efficient technology. Energy efficiency could make a huge difference to meeting net zero ambitions, but most schools are still lagging behind.
“The solutions exist, but they are not being deployed fast enough," he said. "For example, we’ve made great progress in upgrading schools to energy-efficient LED lighting, but with 80% of schools yet to make the switch, there’s an enormous opportunity to make a collective reduction in carbon footprint and save a lot of money on energy bills. Our model means the entire project is financed, doesn’t require any upfront expenditure, and repayments are more than covered by the energy savings made."
He said while it has worked with over 300 schools, most are still far too slow to commit. "We are urging them to act with greater urgency because climate change won’t wait, and the need for action gets more pressing every year. The education sector has an important part to play in that and pupils around the country expect their schools to do so – there is still a huge job to be done."
North Yorkshire County Council is benefiting from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, which has so far awarded nearly £1bn for energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation projects around the country, and Craven schools has reportedly made a successful £2m bid (click here).
The Department for Education has issued 13 tips for reducing energy and water use in schools.