New IBM Solar Cell Boasts 40 Percent Higher Efficiency

With each broad new leap in technological advancement, it may seem as if the means of producing technological marvels depends on greater expenses and the use of esoteric, hard-to-acquire materials. As if to spite that belief, IBM’s research division has concocted a new solar cell whose layer responsible for collecting most of the light used in energy conversion is built from abundantly available materials: copper, zinc, sulfur, tin, and/or selenium. The kicker: not only are the materials easy to acquire and relatively inexpensive, but their use has resulted in IBM’s new solar cell achieving an efficiency of 9.6 percent, an impressive 40 percent increase than the value previously attained from using those materials.

“In a given hour, more energy from sunlight strikes the earth than the entire planet consumes in a year, but solar cells currently contribute less than 0.1 percent of electricity supply — primarily as a result of cost,” said David Mitzi, the head of the IBM Research team that developed the solar cell, via an IBM-issued press release. The mission, as Mitzi sees it, is to develop a solar technology able to compete with conventional electricity generation on a cost per watt basis, as well as being able to deploy at levels of hundreds of gigawatts or greater.

IBM kesterite cross section

Image via IBM

A Smarter Planet believes IBM has been successful in that mission thus far, noting that in comparison to IBM’s new solar cell, other cells performing at comparable efficiency levels have been too costly, and have contained elements not conducive to efficiency or production. IBM’s solar cell is also notable for its creation, which consisted of solution and nanoparticle-based approaches in contrast to the popular but expensive vacuum-based method.

  • AdrianMiller

    Thanks for the interest in this story! I’m an editor for the materials science journal, Advanced Materials, that published the original news story that this article is based on. If anyone would like to know more about the science, we’ve set the original article to free access; you can find it here:

    Adrian Miller
    Advanced Materials