While there is an ongoing debate about the issue of solar panel import and the complexity of their production cycle, a couple of innovations can potentially make things easier in the future. Recently, scientists discovered that solar panels can be made from two new materials — kusachite and… solar panel waste, also known as black gold.

Kusachite solar panels

Kusachite is a rare bismuthinite mineral (CuBi2O4), a copper and bismuth dioxide recently discovered in Japan. Indian scientists have recently developed a thin-film solar cell made of this element. Their cell design infused with a sulfide buffer layer can potentially reach 28% efficiency.

Moreover, kusachite panels are relatively inexpensive to manufacture. Due to established synthesis protocols, their manufacturing costs are lower than crystalline silicon cells.

The resulting cells are made of glass from fluorine-doped tin oxide substrate, various buffer layers, a kusachite absorber and a gold-based metal contact. The kusachite films act as absorbers of low-energy light. The level of absorption depends on their thickness, so it should be properly optimized.

Researchers claim that the goal is to discover environmentally friendly, cost-effective, easily-to-manufacture light absorbers and sulfide buffer layers that can be extended to optoelectronic devices.

Black gold solar panels

One of the major drawbacks of solar panels is their manufacturing process which is far from environmentally friendly. Researcher Martin Bellman proposed a solution — to use the solar panel waste material for manufacturing new solar panels. Martin leads the Icarus Project, an international solar panel innovation project responsible for these recycling experiments.

The material in question also known as black gold is the remaining silicon sawdust powder after the process of thinning the silicon wafers. It can consist of up to 35% silicon scrapped off the original wafer.

The researchers are now looking into possibilities of returning this waste back into the production chain. For this purpose, the powder is collected in a liquid sludge mixture that subsumes such remnants of the sawing process as oxygen, carbon, nickel, iron, and aluminum, which are not good for the solar panel manufacturing process. However, the methods of efficient subsumption procedures are still in the research phase.

The widespread usage of black gold material could help the European solar market to achieve greater self-sufficiency and become less dependent on China.

Another venture of The Icarus Project is the attempt to recycle quartz cubicles that are used to smelt silicon. These cubicles could be used to make silicon carbide widely used in the electronics industry. The success of this experiment can also be a big step towards self-sustainability.