August 25, 2012

Microwaves Could Lead To Safer, Less Expensive Solar Technology

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

The same technology that helps you reheat your day-old pizza or cook a breakfast burrito could help produce lower-cost, more environmentally friendly solar-powered technology, a team of Oregon State University (OSU)  researchers have discovered.

According to a Friday press release, engineers at the Corvallis-based university have developed a method that uses the technology found in microwave ovens to produce thin-film photovoltaic products with less energy consumption, less of a financial burden, and less of a toxic impact.

Their method, which is described in a paper recently published by the journal Physica Status Solidi A, uses microwave heating in the synthesis of the solar cell compound copper zinc tin sulfide.

“All of the elements used in this new compound are benign and inexpensive, and should have good solar cell performance,” lead researcher Greg Herman, an associate professor in the OSU School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering, said in a statement.

“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 added. "With some improvements in its solar efficiency this new compound should become very commercially attractive."

Thin-film photovoltaic technologies can be produced in higher qualities and at a lower cost than typical solar cells, and recently, manufacturers have been using an ink comprised of nanoparticles in the process. That ink can be rolled or sprayed, using methods like inkjet printing, in order to create the solar cells.

Now, however, the OSU researchers have found that they can reduce the production time by switching to microwave heating, the school explained. This process not only allows producers to exert a higher degree of control over the whole process, but also to save money, time, and energy while still successfully using the synthesis process to develop nanoparticle inks used in the creation of photovoltaic devices.

"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.”