A company named Leap Photovoltaic claims they have a technology to create solar panels without silicon wafers which would cut production costs in half. According to [FastCompany] the cells are still silicon-based, but do not require creating wafers as a separate step or — as is more common — acquiring them as a raw material.
The process is likened to 3D printing as silicon powder is deposited on a substrate. The design claims to use only a tenth of the silicon in a conventional cell and requires fewer resources to produce, too.
This sounds a lot like amorphous silicon cells which have been around for a while. We assume the trick is they’ve found a cheaper way to produce them using off-the-shelf equipment. These cells are typically lower in performance than crystalline cells. We don’t know if Leap has a way to improve the solar cell’s output.
Where can you get them? Not so fast. Plans are to have pilot production in 2023 with widespread availability by 2024. If the cells do produce less power per unit area, their success will depend on cutting costs so that a bigger unit is cheaper than a smaller crystalline panel. Even then, in some applications surface area matters.
The again, not all solar cells use silicon at all. You can even make some of them yourself.