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Microbial Approach to Low-Cost Production of Photovoltaic Nanomaterials

by Ji Won Moon, Ilia N Ivanov, Chad E Duty, Lonnie J Love, Tommy J Phelps
Publication Type
Journal Name
ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering
Publication Date

Photovoltaic (PV)-generated electricity can participate in renewable grid parity after meeting conditions of low-cost PV materials and economic manufacturing of solar cells. Here, we report low-cost, scalable microbial synthesis of Cu(In,Ga)Se2 (CIGSe) and Cu(In,Ga)S2 (CIGS), which are among the promising candidates to serve as light absorbing layers in solar panels. Microbial synthesis uses reducible chalcophiles and empirically stoichiometric metal components to produce CIGSe and CIGS with band gaps and intra- and intercrystallite compositional homogeneity similar to that produced with traditional techniques. Importantly, microbially produced photovoltaic materials described herein use inexpensive precursor materials at moderate temperatures (65 °C). The microbially facilitated processes do not utilize high temperature, vacuum, or toxic organic solvents. The potential to upscale microbial synthesis without loss of material quality is demonstrated here, indicating a high potential for industrial applications of this technology for production of nanomaterials for PV applications. We estimate that a 50 000 gallon fermentor could generate about 100 kg/month of CIGSe nanoparticles, which could be processed into 0.2 MW of PV cells.