Chip sized particle accelerators will make renewable energy even cheaper

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WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

  • Renewable energy is taking over the world, with thousands of Gigawatts now installed around the world, and the price is plummeting, new records and new breakthroughs will only make the technology cheaper and that’s going to accelerate the switch from fossil to renewables happen even faster


 

In today’s world where every conversation seems to start with the weather and climate change, and where renewable energy, especially solar power, which is now the cheapest form of energy in over 58 countries,  and only getting cheaper, thanks to new records and breakthroughs, is often hailed as the technology that will save us all from certain climate doom, it shouldn’t be forgotten that making solar panels is difficult. Manufacturers have to go through a myriad of steps before they can turn silicon into the finished, glittery product that sits on your roof. Or car, or windows – solar panels are popping up everywhere now.

 

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However, all that said, did you know that one of these steps, a key one, could be made much faster and cheaper by using a particle accelerator? And yes, I know, you’re thinking particle accelerators are huge beasts so this just sounds like some fantasy pie in the sky thing, but, as I wrote about a while ago, one day soon particle accelerators will fit onto a chip you can put in your pocket, and not only will that change industries like healthcare and manufacturing, but it could make your renewable energy bills cheaper too – much cheaper.

 

Particle Accelerators plus Solar equals Awesome
 

At their core, solar panels are made of the same thing computer chips are made of, silicon, and pure silicon is made in long cylinders, called “Boules,” that are sliced into hundreds or thousands of very thin wafers that are usually less than a millimetre thick.

So how do we slice them up?

Typically, today, most manufacturers use saws that work by removing some of the silicon to create a gap, turning part of that boule into silicon sawdust, just as you do when you’re sawing a log at home, you know, in your spare time. But doing it this way means that a lot of the silicon is wasted, just dusty residue on the factory floor, and that’s a waste.

 

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Now though some experts have gotten to thinking – instead of a saw, why not use a particle accelerator? You have to love scientists, they’re crazy. Hats off guys and girls, STEM education all the way.

However, while you might be thinking we’re going to use the particle accelerator as a high powered cutting laser the reality is actually much more subtle than that.

By firing the particle accelerator face on at the boule the accelerator embeds protons inside the silicon, then, thanks to an interesting property of particle physics, charged particles, such as our protons protons, passing through a material, will only travel a very specific distance and all of a sudden stop.

 

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As a result these protons can embed themselves inside the silicon boules at very specific points, that can be precisely tuned by the accelerator, and once they’re there they push the silicon atoms apart, splitting the boule without loosing any of the valuable silicon, unlike the saws they’d replace.

Today of course it’s going to be rather impractical for manufacturers, other than the largest ones, to use a particle accelerator, however, as miniature particle accelerators, like those I described above, come online don’t be suddenly surprised if your energy bills fall through the floor.

Now, I bet you didn’t wake up this morning thinking particle accelerators would be the new climate change heroes.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, Futurist and Founder of the 311 Institute is described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers.” Among other things Matthew keeps busy helping the world’s largest smartphone manufacturers ideate the next five generations of smartphones, and what comes beyond, the world’s largest chip makers envision the next twenty years of intelligent machines, and is helping Europe’s largest energy companies re-invent energy generation, transmission and retail.

Recognised in 2013, 2015 and 2016 as one of Europe’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an award winning author, entrepreneur and international speaker who has been featured on the BBC, Discovery and other outlets. Working hand in hand with accelerators, investors, governments, multi-nationals and regulators around the world Matthew helps them envision the future and helps them transform their industries, products and go to market strategies, and shows them how the combination of new, democratised, powerful emerging technologies are helping accelerate cultural, industrial and societal change.

Matthew’s clients include Accenture, Bain & Co, Bank of America, Blackrock, Booz Allen Hamilton, Boston Consulting Group, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deutsche Bank, Deloitte, Deutsche Bank, Du Pont, E&Y, Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, HPE, Huawei, JP Morgan Chase, KPMG, Lloyds Banking Group, McKinsey & Co, PWC, Qualcomm, Rolls Royce, SAP, Samsung, Schroeder’s, Sequoia Capital, Sopra Steria, UBS, the UK’s HM Treasury, the USAF and many others.

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