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Budget-friendly solar panels possible with nontoxic compound

NSF Award:

Copper Zinc Tin Sulfide Based Solar Cells  (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities)

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Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a material that has the potential to replace the expensive and rare materials used in traditional solar cells.

The materials required by traditional solar cells are expensive and often rely on toxic and/or scarce elements. This research identifies copper zinc tin sulfide (CZTS) as an alternative. The nontoxic compound exhibits a number of properties that make it ideal for solar energy capture. CZTS could pave the way for large-scale deployment of low-cost solar cells.

State-of-the-art, first-generation solar cells are silicon-based and constitute approximately 85 percent of the current solar cell market. These cells have reached efficiencies as high as 25 percent in the laboratory, but the presence of silicon keeps their costs high. Second-generation solar cells use thin films to greatly reduce material costs. However, the leading thin-film solar cell technologies use toxic or scarce elements such as cadmium and indium. As such, there is a need to develop new materials and solar cells based on abundant, nontoxic elements. CZTS satisfies both of these criteria, and may ultimately represent a means for creating sustainable, scalable deployment of solar energy capturing devices.


  • a large-grain thin film improves solar panel efficiency
Large-grain thin films boost solar panel efficiency.
Melissa Johnson, Michael Manno, Chris Leighton and Eray Aydil, University of Minnesota

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