The sun shines for free, so why doesn't everything run off solar power? One roadblock is silicon. It's one of the key materials in solar panels, and it's costly. But using other materials could cut that cost and power renewable energy in the future.
Semi-conductors like silicon, when combined with other materials, become good conductors of electricity. But silicon is expensive to process and mass produce. And demand for solar grade silcon is so high that silcon suppliers are having a hard time keeping up. This has caused the price of silicon to go up significantly in the last few years.
Researchers have studied 23 potential semiconducting materials that might replace silicon. Of those, a dozen are abundant enough for use on a massive scale to make solar power. And most of those raw materials are cheaper to process and mass produce than traditional crystalline silicon.
The goal of the research is to meet consumer demand cheaply, while using materials that are plentiful, non-toxic and cheap to process.