SAN FRANCISCO (AP)—Researchers have developed an ultra-thin plastic that allows an electrical charge to pass through it at speeds never before seen, a discovery that could dramatically drive down the cost of flat-panel monitors and other devices.And what is the other major use for amorphous silicon? Why, solar power as it turns out.
The plastic, which resembles cellophane when applied to electronic components, could one day replace the chemicals used to manufacture monitors and so-called radio frequency identification chips, which are used to keep track of store inventories, fleets of trucks and herds of cattle.
But a team of scientists led by Ian McCulloch of Merck Chemicals in the United Kingdom, has found a way to boost electrical performance in polymers six-fold, putting the substance on par with so-called amorphous silicon.
So a plastic semiconductor could bring down the price of flatscreen TVs, and create a glut in the silicon market which has been extremely tight lately due largely to the growth of the solar industry itself. It's also potentially a big energy saver in terms of the manufacturing of TVs.
If this plastic can replace a large chunk of the silicon used in TVs and computers, that will presumably open up that supply for solar production. Even more tantalizing, however, is the idea that these plastics or their cousins may be usable for solar cells directly. So far, the efficiency of plastic solar cells has been relatively meager (3-4%) but promises much lower manufacturing costs.