IBM Research announced it has built a solar cell where the key layer that absorbs most of the light for conversion into electricity is made entirely of readily available elements. The cell set a new world record for efficiency and offers potential for enabling solar cell technology to produce more energy at a lower cost. Composed of copper, tin, zinc, sulfur, and/or selenium, the cell’s power conversion demonstrates an efficiency of 9.6 percent, which is 40 percent higher than the value previously attained for this set of materials.

“In a given hour, more energy from sunlight strikes the earth than the entire planet consumes in a year, but solar cells currently contribute less than 0.1 percent of electricity supply—-primarily as a result of cost,” said David Mitzi, who leads the team at IBM Research, Yorktown Heights, N.Y., that developed the solar cell. “The quest to develop a solar technology that can compare on a cost-per-watt basis with the conventional electricity generation and also offer the ability to deploy at the terawatt level has become a major challenge that our research is moving us closer to overcoming.”

The solar cell development also sets itself apart from its predecessors, as it was created using a combination of solution and nanoparticle-based approaches, rather than the popular but expensive vacuum-based technique. The production change is expected to enable much lower fabrication costs, as it is consistent with high-throughput and high materials--use-based deposition techniques, including printing, dip and spray coating, and slit casting.