Did you know that there is excess demand for silicon? No, I bet you didn’t. Actually, there probably isn’t excess demand, because prices have been rising to signal the scarcity and people are looking for substitutes. All sorts of technologies use silicon, and supplies are scarce and prices high. One technology that uses silicon is solar panels. Wired has an article about alternative solar panel and solar cell technologies that don’t use silicon, or use much less.
On the shorter end of the power-generation life cycle, Konarka, a startup in Lowell, Massachusetts, has agreements in place with manufacturers to produce a printed “power plastic” to supply solar energy for portable devices.
“When people think of solar, they think of rooftop, grid-connected. We’re trying to change that mindset,” said Daniel Patrick McGahn, Konarka’s chief marketing officer. Unlike silicon-based solar cells used on rooftops today, Konarka’s specialized plastics typically last years, but not decades. The company is marketing its technology for use in products with similar life spans.
While research into printed photovoltaic technologies dates back decades, progress on non-silicon applications has accelerated in recent years due to the shortage of polysilicon, said Travis Bradford, president of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Today, nearly 95 percent of solar cells use semiconductor-grade silicon, he estimates, but that should drop to around 80 percent over the next few years.