Using Iron in Solar Panels

Solar cells change light into usable electricity, and the process is accomplished in various ways. Scientists have recently developed another method: solar cells with a base of iron, which is commonplace and inexpensive. These cells use a newly-designed iron-containing compound to replace ruthenium, which is a rare, expensive metal. Below is some information straight from the source on these new solar panels.

Solar Cells are Turned Into Thin Film

Most solar cells are made of silicon, a semiconductor. These are very effective and can convert 25% of the light they receive into usable electricity. However, production consumes a significant amount of energy, the panels are difficult to handle, and limits exist on how and where they can be used. Iron-containing cells are a bit smarter. Instead of silicon, they are based on color-sensitive molecules that absorb the sun’s energy and turn it into electricity. However, efficiency is lower than with conventional solar panels, at about 13%, but iron-containing solar panels work more effectively in overcast conditions.

Iron Replaces a Rare Element

The most efficient solar cells are based on ruthenium-based molecules, but this could change with the availability of a less expensive alternative. Iron is directly above ruthenium in the periodic table, and the two elements share some chemical properties. Iron is harmless to people and the environment, and it is much more common than ruthenium is. Until recently, iron-based molecules were not able to hold onto the energy they produced for very long, but these new panels can hold the energy long enough to pass it on as usable electrical power.

Room for Improvement

A professor from Roskilde University in Denmark, Torben Lund, says that the application of these iron molecules in solar panels is still in its infancy. He says that there’s a long way to go before these panels can be used in commercial applications.

Researchers are expected to spend the next several years attempting to optimize these iron-containing molecules so they can pull even more energy from the sun’s light. However, it will be a while before these new solar panels come to market. There’s a significant untapped potential in solar power, and the goal is to fit panels in a variety of places.