IBM researchers have created new thin-film solar cells that are more efficient and less expensive than any others of their kind. The solar cells are made from readily available copper, zinc, tin and selenium (CZTS), and can be manufactured using simple ink-based techniques like printing. With 11.1 percent efficiency, they are 10 percent better than any before.

Most current solar panels are made from crystalline silicon, and are expensive and energy-intensive to manufacture. Other thin-film solar cells are made from copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS). While cheaper than silicon, indium and gallium are expensive materials, and resources may become limited as production of CIGS cells increases. Indium is also used to produce electronics like flat-panel displays. Production of the materials is based mostly in China, which can also impact pricing. By replacing the materials with more abundant zinc and tin, IBM can lower costs.

The new technology may also enable thin-film solar cells to reach many more people. Because of the rarity and cost of indium and gallium, IBM says that current CIGS cells only have the potential to produce 100 gigawatts of electricity per year. With CZTS tech, that number could jump to as much as 500 gigawatts. The solar cells are still in development, and the researchers hope to continue to push for even more efficiency.

Main photo credit: IBM