Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Liquid metal makes silicon crystals at record low temperatures

25.01.2013
A new way of making crystalline silicon, developed by U-M researchers, could make this crucial ingredient of computers and solar cells much cheaper and greener.

Silicon dioxide, or sand, makes up about 40 percent of the earth's crust, but the industrial method for converting sand into crystalline silicon is expensive and has a major environmental impact due to the extreme processing conditions.

"The crystalline silicon in modern electronics is currently made through a series of energy-intensive chemical reactions with temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit that produces a lot of carbon dioxide," said Stephen Maldonado, professor of chemistry and applied physics.

Recently, Maldonado and chemistry graduate students Junsi Gu and Eli Fahrenkrug discovered a way to make silicon crystals directly at just 180 F, the internal temperature of a cooked turkey. And they did it by taking advantage of a phenomenon you can see right in your kitchen.

When water is super-saturated with sugar, that sugar can spontaneously form crystals, popularly known as rock candy.

"Instead of water, we're using liquid metal, and instead of sugar, we're using silicon," Maldonado said.

Maldonado and colleagues made a solution containing silicon tetrachloride and layered it over a liquid gallium electrode. Electrons from the metal converted the silicon tetrachloride into raw silicon, which then dissolved into the liquid metal.

"The liquid metal is the key aspect of our process," Maldonado said. "Many solid metals can also deliver electrons that transform silicon tetrachloride into disordered silicon, but only metals like gallium can additionally serve as liquids for silicon crystallization without additional heat."

The researchers reported dark films of silicon crystals accumulating on the surfaces of their liquid gallium electrodes. So far, the crystals are very small, about 1/2000th of a millimeter in diameter, but Maldonado hopes to improve the technique and make larger silicon crystals, tailored for applications such as converting light energy to electricity or storing energy. The team is exploring several variations on the process, including the use of other low-melting-point metal alloys.

If the approach proves viable, the implications could be huge, especially for the solar energy industry. Crystalline silicon is presently the most-used solar energy material, but the cost of silicon has driven many researchers to actively seek alternative semiconductors.

"It's too premature to estimate precisely how much the process could lower the price of silicon, but the potential for a scalable, dramatically less expensive and more environmentally benign process is there," Maldonado said. "The dream ultimately is to go from sand to crystalline silicon in one step. There's no fundamental law that says this can't be done."

The study, which appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, was funded by the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund.

The university is pursuing patent protection for the intellectual property and is seeking commercialization partners to help bring the technology to market.

The study is titled "Direct Electrodeposition of Crystalline Silicon at Low Temperatures" (DOI: 10.1021/ja310897r): http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/ja310897r

Stephen Maldonado's lab group: www.umich.edu/~mgroup

Kate McAlpine | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.umich.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Moth takes advantage of defensive compounds in Physalis fruits
26.08.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie

nachricht Designing ultrasound tools with Lego-like proteins
26.08.2016 | California Institute of Technology

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Streamlining accelerated computing for industry

PyFR code combines high accuracy with flexibility to resolve unsteady turbulence problems

Scientists and engineers striving to create the next machine-age marvel--whether it be a more aerodynamic rocket, a faster race car, or a higher-efficiency jet...

Im Focus: X-ray optics on a chip

Waveguides are widely used for filtering, confining, guiding, coupling or splitting beams of visible light. However, creating waveguides that could do the same for X-rays has posed tremendous challenges in fabrication, so they are still only in an early stage of development.

In the latest issue of Acta Crystallographica Section A: Foundations and Advances , Sarah Hoffmann-Urlaub and Tim Salditt report the fabrication and testing of...

Im Focus: Piggyback battery for microchips: TU Graz researchers develop new battery concept

Electrochemists at TU Graz have managed to use monocrystalline semiconductor silicon as an active storage electrode in lithium batteries. This enables an integrated power supply to be made for microchips with a rechargeable battery.

Small electrical gadgets, such as mobile phones, tablets or notebooks, are indispensable accompaniments of everyday life. Integrated circuits in the interiors...

Im Focus: UCI physicists confirm possible discovery of fifth force of nature

Light particle could be key to understanding dark matter in universe

Recent findings indicating the possible discovery of a previously unknown subatomic particle may be evidence of a fifth fundamental force of nature, according...

Im Focus: Wi-fi from lasers

White light from lasers demonstrates data speeds of up to 2 GB/s

A nanocrystalline material that rapidly makes white light out of blue light has been developed by KAUST researchers.

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

The energy transition is not possible without Geotechnics

25.08.2016 | Event News

New Ideas for the Shipping Industry

24.08.2016 | Event News

A week of excellence: 22 of the world’s best computer scientists and mathematicians in Heidelberg

12.08.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Symmetry crucial for building key biomaterial collagen in the lab

26.08.2016 | Health and Medicine

Volcanic eruption masked acceleration in sea level rise

26.08.2016 | Earth Sciences

Moth takes advantage of defensive compounds in Physalis fruits

26.08.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>