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Published on April 9th, 2014 | by James Ayre

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Using The Energy Of The Sun To Make Solar Energy Materials

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April 9th, 2014 by
 
It’s now possible to use solar energy directly to produce some of the most important materials used in solar energy technologies, thanks to a new “breakthrough” from researchers at Oregon State University.

The advance means that the costs of some types of solar energy technology could be notably reduced within the near-future, according to the researchers.

Solar materials

“This approach should work and is very environmentally conscious,” stated Chih-Hung Chang, a professor of chemical engineering at Oregon State University, and lead author on the new study.

“Several aspects of this system should continue to reduce the cost of solar energy, and when widely used, our carbon footprint,” Chang continued. “It could produce solar energy materials anywhere there’s an adequate solar resource, and in this chemical manufacturing process, there would be zero energy impact.”

Oregon State University provides more:

The work is based on the use of a “continuous flow” microreactor to produce nanoparticle inks that make solar cells by printing. Existing approaches based mostly on batch operations are more time-consuming and costly.

In this process, simulated sunlight is focused on the solar microreactor to rapidly heat it, while allowing precise control of temperature to aid the quality of the finished product. The light in these experiments was produced artificially, but the process could be done with direct sunlight, and at a fraction of the cost of current approaches.

“Our system can synthesize solar energy materials in minutes compared to other processes that might take 30 minutes to two hours,” Chang noted. “This gain in operation speed can lower cost.”

In the recent work, the solar materials used were created with copper indium diselenide, but in the future it’s likely that lower cost materials could be easily substituted — perhaps something like copper zinc tin sulfide?

The researchers also note the fact that systems involving molten salts could likely be easily rigged-up to allow for a full 24-hours of production.

The new findings were detailed in a paper just published in the journal RSC Advances, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Image Credit: Oregon State University

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • Brian

    Neat continuous flow reactor but other wise this is just using CSP to provide process heat. Not all that novel a use of solar.

  • Doug Cutler

    A lot of “breakthroughs” never make it to market. With the much greener manufacturing footprint, this one sounds especially intriguing. I really hope it pans out. It also makes me wonder what other types of manufacturing processes could be taken over by direct sunlight. Of course, your factory would need flexible scheduling.

    Otherwise, the hard costs of solar PV are getting so low they’ll soon have nowhere to go. Its really the soft costs of solar like financing, install labor, racking, electronics etc. where there still may be room for cost savings.

    • Steve Grinwis

      Hard costs of solar will continue to drop add efficiencies rise. Costs are generally by the sq. Meter, while prices are by the watt. Soft costs do need to come down a lot though. We pay something like double the soft costs in Canada compared to Germany.

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