You might use a microwave oven to warm up that cup of tea you left stewing just a little too long, or tonight’s dinner (because work ran late again), but engineers at Oregon State University have discovered that the same technology you used to bring that lasagna back to life is also great for reducing the cost of producing solar cells.
Engineers at Oregon State University have developed a method that uses microwave heating in the synthesis of copper zinc tin sulfide, a promising solar cell compound that is less costly and less toxic than some other alternatives.
“All of the elements used in this new compound are benign and inexpensive, and should have good solar cell performance,” said Greg Herman, an associate professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering at OSU.
“Several companies are already moving in this direction as prices continue to rise for some alternative compounds that contain more expensive elements like indium,” he said. “With some improvements in its solar efficiency this new compound should become very commercially attractive.”
A new approach to thin-film photovoltaic technologies is to create them as an ink composed of nanoparticles, then roll or spray them to create solar cells.
Enter the microwave oven — or something similar — to help streamline the process by reducing reaction times to minutes or seconds, and allowing far greater control over the production process. This “one-pot” synthesis is fast, cheap, and uses less energy, researchers say, and has been utilized to successfully create nanoparticle inks that were used to fabricate a photovoltaic device.
“This approach should save money, work well and be easier to scale up at commercial levels, compared to traditional synthetic methods,” Herman said. “Microwave technology offers more precise control over heat and energy to achieve the desired reactions.”
Source: Oregon State University