Pyrite has dashed the dreams of many a prospector pinning their dreams of riches on finding gold. Alas, more often than not what glistened in the hopeful prospector’s pan was only fool’s gold – pyrite. Despite its look of the “real thing,” pyrite has long been considered little more than a worthless mineral.
But it might not be so worthless to the solar industry (and thus to you and me). Just as president Obama calls on this generation to embrace our “sputnik moment” for clean energy, researchers are working on developing the means to use the plentiful – and heretofore “worthless” – mineral for creating a solar receptive film at a cost far lower – both economically and environmentally – than the cadmium and silicone in use today.
“With alternative energy and climate change issues, we’re always in a race against time,” said lead researcher Matt Law. “With some insight and a little bit of luck, we could find a good solution with something that’s now disposed of as useless garbage.”
The idea isn’t necessarily new. Studies conducted in Germany in the 80’s and 90’s sought to tackle the main problem of using pyrite for solar receptivity due to the microscopic pitting that reduces the conductivity of the mineral. Back then there wasn’t much interest in pursuing that challenge, and funding petered out.
It’s a different world today however, and just the sort of challenge that should be met in our Sputnik moment. New technology, new synthetic approaches, and new mathematical models are just some of the tools Law says will be used in current research, now funded with a three year grant from the National Science Foundation, to make fool’s gold a valuable commodity for the new energy economy.