Portland State University chemistry professor Carl Wamser is figuring out a way to create solar panels that could be inexpensive enough to install on every house. The current process that uses silicon, the main element of a solar panel, is expensive. Wamser has found a cheaper substitute: an organic molecule called porphyrin, which is purple and acts like chlorophyll. Breaking down porphyrin into a usable form is easier and thus cheaper.
“Silicon has been engineered to death. It is energy intensive and expensive,” says Wamser.
Once created, the porphyrin cells will be rolled onto thin, pliable sheets and put between layers of other conductor materials. During manufacturing, silicon cylinders waste 40% of the product; the porphyrin sheets would produce no waste.
The research is funded by a $492,000 three-year National Science Foundation grant and a $200,000 two-year grant from the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute. Wamser’s product is five to 10 years away from completion, but someday Wamser hopes to see “something like this on every home.”