That microwave in your kitchen may help you cook your dinner faster, but engineers have found a much greater use for it: cutting the cost of making photovoltaics.

Working in the Biological and Environmental Engineering department at Oregon State University, engineers have come up with a way to utilize microwave heating to synthesize copper zinc tin sulfide, a new compound used in the manufacturing of thin-film photovoltaics. The compound is not only less toxic and less expensive than other compounds used in solar cells, but it also responds well to fast microwave heating that reduces reaction times within the compound to just seconds. Conventional heating is normally used in manufacturing and takes a lot longer.

The reduced heating time combined with less toxic compounds makes the manufacturing of these cells much more environmentally friendly. “All of the elements used in this new compound are benign and inexpensive, and should have good solar cell performance,” said Greg Herman, an associate professor at OSU.

The group’s findings were published in the professional journal Physica Status Solidi A and could lead to big changes in the way thin-film photovoltaic cells are manufactured in the near future. If solar gets cheaper, more efficient, and less toxic, its more likely that we will see many more residential and commercial solar installations.

[via Science Daily]

Image Credit: Oregon State University