With the relative high cost of silicon and its soaring demand in electronics and other industries, scientists of the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics (SINP) here have initiated research to find suitable alternatives in an attempt to make solar energy technology more commercially viable.

“The research is being conducted to find a cheaper alternative to silicon in making a viable solar cell,” said SINP Director Milon Kumar Sanyal, who will be involved in the project. Scientists at Stanford University have pioneered research in this area and remarkable contributions have been made by research in the United States, Germany, France and Japan, he said, adding that silicon is also in high demand in the electronics and information technology industry and “India has missed the bus,” as far as silicon technology is concerned.

This is why research in finding substitutes has been initiated at a time when studies in the field are still in the nascent stage, he said.

While researchers have been able to synthesise cells from a composite material made from organic polymers and nano particles, some inadequacies have to be overcome before it can be commercially introduced, Professor Sanyal said. The energy efficiency of the material developed so far is only about four per cent. This means it can convert only four per cent of the solar energy it receives into electrical energy, whereas silicon cells have an energy efficiency of 35-40 percent, he explained.

“But even with a low energy efficiency of four per cent, the cost per watt of electricity generated from this material is lower than that produced from silicon.”

While there is tremendous potential in this technology, certain creases are yet to be ironed out. The long-term endurance of the nano composite polymer is a matter of concern as organic material tends to suffer more wear and tear as compared to inorganic material, Professor Sanyal pointed out. The environmental impact will also have to be worked on.

But the greatest advantage of the substitute material is that unlike silicon sheets, which are rigid and inflexible, it can be rolled up and so is portable, Professor Sanyal said. “This can open up vast possibilities especially in areas such as military application,” he added.

The Institute is still debating whether they will work on similar materials so that the energy efficiency can be raised to at least six or seven per cent or try to develop newer materials.

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