How Sea Salt Could Make Solar Panels Cheaper

How Sea Salt Could Make Solar Panels Cheaper

Materials derived from seawater are 99.7% cheaper than toxic alternatives in solar panel manufacturing.

Ross Brooks
  • 8 july 2014

Researchers from The University of Liverpool may have supercharged the efforts to make solar panels cheaper and more accessible to the general public. Cadmium chloride is an essential material in the manufacture of solar panels that is both expensive and toxic, but it could be replaced with a material that’s 99.7% cheaper to produce. Best of all, it can be recovered from ordinary seawater, which would mean an abundant supply of sustainable energy.

Cadmium Chloride is used to produce ultra-thin photovoltaics, which also happen to be the cheapest solar cells available today. They are much more light-absorbent than silicon wafers, especially thanks to a thin film of cadmium telluride, which boosts their efficiency from two percent to over 15 percent.

The material itself is expensive at $300 per kilogram, and also incurs costs for production, handling, and disposal. Magnesium chloride on the other hand, costs just $1 per kg, and is so safe it has already been used to make products such as tofu and bath salts.


Dr Jon Major, a physicist from the University said in a blog post:

Cadmium chloride is toxic and expensive and we no longer need to use it. Replacing it with a naturally occurring substance could save the industry a vast amount of money and reduce the overall cost for generating power from solar.

He also highlighted how much easier it was to use the new material, which could open doors for people interested in building their own panels.

We have to apply cadmium chloride in a fume cupboard in the lab, but we created solar cells using the new method on a bench with a spray gun bought from a model shop.

Anything that helps to make solar panels cheaper, or more efficient is a step in the right direction – which makes the work by scientists at the University of Liverpool a very big step. The challenge now is make as many manufacturers as possible aware of this information, and transition from manufacturing panels with the old toxic material, and start making those that are a fraction of the cost.


The University of Liverpool

[h/t] Geek

Images by Mike Baker, Dubravko Soric


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