27 June 2014
A new way of producing solar cells could make energy from the Sun cheaper than coal, gas and oil. The research by a team at Liverpool University has been published in the journal Nature.
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Solar cells convert energy from the Sun into electricity. The researchers have replaced a toxic compound, used to make one type of solar cell, with a chemical that is much cheaper, completely safe and works just as well.
The new compound, magnesium chloride, is used to make tofu and is found in bath salts. It's also found in sea water, and so costs much less than the poisonous chemical currently used.
Dr Jon Major, who led the research at Liverpool University, believes that the ensuing cost savings have the potential to transform the economics of solar energy.
Dr Jon Major, Liverpool University:
"Potentially you could reduce the cost of making these solar cells overnight. We think that this process could cause a step change in the cost of solar energy and that could really make the difference into making it competitive with fossil fuels."
More work will need to be done to see if the cost savings found in the lab can work on an industrial scale. But the cost of solar energy has been steadily falling. And many involved in research in the field believe that it's just a matter of time before it becomes cheaper than coal, gas and oil, and one day replaces fossil fuels entirely.
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poisonous; able to cause illness or death
a chemical that contains two or more elements
happening as a result of
(of goods or services) as cheap or cheaper than
- fossil fuel
source of energy formed from plants and animals which died millions of years ago (such as oil, coal and gas)
- on an industrial scale
in large quantities
slowly but continuously