Cadmium Telluride is the material of choice for making thin film solar cells. The main advantage of thin film solar cells is that they use less semiconductor material than traditional cells. Thin film solar cells are also only 1/10 the thickness of a human hair, and this allows the cells to be lightweight and flexible. One advantage of this is that they can be integrated directly into roofing material.
Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) is a crystalline compound made from cadmium and tellurium. It is a specialized material that is mainly used in making solar cells. Unlike silicon, CdTe does not have widespread commercial uses. As of 2017, CdTe is the second most popular material for solar cells – with silicon as the most common solar cell material.
Why is CdTe the material of choice for making thin film solar cells? Here are a few reasons:
- CdTe has a band gap of 1.45 eV (close to the optimal value of 1.34 eV).
- The material is very cost effective, and is actually less expensive than silicon solar cells.
- The material possesses long term stability of roughly 20 years. While the stability is good enough for most consumers, it is not quite as stable as silicon.
Here is what a typical Cadmium Telluride solar cell looks like.
One concern with CdTe solar cells is the toxicity of cadmium. The toxicity concern is currently mitigated by recycling the CdTe modules at the end of their life. Current recycling programs can recover up to 95% of the CdTe and 90% of glass.
If this solar cell technology continues to grow, the usage of rare materials may become a limiting factor. Tellerium is an element that is almost as rare as platinum.
Title Image Credit: Credit: Empa