Plastic solar cells are inexpensive, but silicon cells are more efficient. Now Caltech claims the best of both worlds -- a miracle cure for the energy crisis that marries 2 percent silicon to 98 percent cheap plastic. Look for ultra-cheap solar cells within five years. R.C.J.
Silicon is the material of choice for microchips, sensors, solar cells and every other kind of electronics today, save a few high-frequency applications using the even more expensive gallium arsenide. Solar cell manufacturers try to minimize costs by making the silicon wafers they use thinner, but they are still meticulously oven-grown perfect crystalline disks of ultra pure silicon semiconductor. Using less-expensive polymers instead of silicon in solar cells is already being done today, but at much lower efficiencies than silicon solar cells. Now, Caltech claims to have married the efficiency of silicon to the low cost of plastic, yielding the best of both worlds.
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