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 New Technique Maps Elusive Chemical Markers on Proteins
03.07.2015 | Salk Institute for Biological Studies

nachricht New approach to targeted cancer therapy
03.07.2015 | CECAD - Cluster of Excellence at the University of Cologne

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Viaducts with wind turbines, the new renewable energy source

Wind turbines could be installed under some of the biggest bridges on the road network to produce electricity. So it is confirmed by calculations carried out by a European researchers team, that have taken a viaduct in the Canary Islands as a reference. This concept could be applied in heavily built-up territories or natural areas with new constructions limitations.

The Juncal Viaduct, in Gran Canaria, has served as a reference for Spanish and British researchers to verify that the wind blowing between the pillars on this...

Im Focus: X-rays and electrons join forces to map catalytic reactions in real-time

New technique combines electron microscopy and synchrotron X-rays to track chemical reactions under real operating conditions

A new technique pioneered at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory reveals atomic-scale changes during catalytic reactions in real...

Im Focus: Iron: A biological element?

Think of an object made of iron: An I-beam, a car frame, a nail. Now imagine that half of the iron in that object owes its existence to bacteria living two and a half billion years ago.

Think of an object made of iron: An I-beam, a car frame, a nail. Now imagine that half of the iron in that object owes its existence to bacteria living two and...

Im Focus: Thousands of Droplets for Diagnostics

Researchers develop new method enabling DNA molecules to be counted in just 30 minutes

A team of scientists including PhD student Friedrich Schuler from the Laboratory of MEMS Applications at the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) of...

Im Focus: Bionic eye clinical trial results show long-term safety, efficacy vision-restoring implant

Patients using Argus II experienced significant improvement in visual function and quality of life

The three-year clinical trial results of the retinal implant popularly known as the "bionic eye," have proven the long-term efficacy, safety and reliability of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

World Conference on Regenerative Medicine in Leipzig: Last chance to submit abstracts until 2 July

25.06.2015 | Event News

World Conference on Regenerative Medicine: Abstract Submission has been extended to 24 June

16.06.2015 | Event News

MUSE hosting Europe’s largest science communication conference

11.06.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Siemens receives order for offshore wind power plant in Great Britain

03.07.2015 | Press release

'Déjà vu all over again:' Research shows 'mulch fungus' causes turfgrass disease

03.07.2015 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Discovery points to a new path toward a universal flu vaccine

03.07.2015 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>