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University of Liverpool News

Dr. Jon Major, a researcher at Liverpool University has recently made the discovery that the chemical used to make tofu, and bath salts, could also be used to replace one of the most toxic substances, namely cadmium chloride, that are used to manufacture solar cells. Using salts to replace cadmium chloride in solar cell production would also make them much cheaper. His study was published in the journal Nature.

Cadmium chloride is a soluble compound that is expensive to produce and very toxic, which means special care must be made during the production of solar panels, as well as during their disposal after they are no longer useful. Dr. Major has now discovered that this compound could be replaced by magnesium chloride. The latter can be extracted from seawater and is already in use for making tofu, bath salts and de-icing roads.

Magnesium chloride is also safe to produce, and costs only $0.001 per gram as compared to $0.3, which is the cost of producing cadmium chloride. According to Dr. Major, the only way for renewable energy to compete with fossil fuels is by lowering the cost of harvesting it. This was also the key aim of his research.

Right now, the least expensive solar cells are based on a thin film of insoluble cadmium telluride. Without the addition of cadmium chloride, these cells convert only 2 percent of sunlight into energy. But by adding cadmium chloride to them, their efficiency is raised to over 15 percent.

The same result can be achieved if cadmium chloride is replaced by magnesium chloride. Also, the solar cells created using magnesium chloride were made by simply applying it with a spray gun, while applying cadmium chloride has to be done in a fume cupboard in the lab.

While solar sunlight is considered a great source of renewable energy, the solar cells used to collect it are still far from sustainable. Breakthroughs are being made all the time in producing a greener solar cell, and hopefully the day when new, more eco-friendly solar cells become available.

Via University of Liverpool News