Current methods of solar energy conversion are not yet sufficiently economical to allow solar to be a competitive global energy source. This project investigates various solar energy conversion systems to identify which have the best economic potential, and how best to implement these systems. A techno-economic analysis was conducted of available chemicals produced via solar energy conversion to identify the best candidates. Copper metal was shown to be one of the products with the best potential. Investigation into producing copper via solar energy conversion and photo-electrodeposition in a continuous-flow reactor is now being conducted to optimize its economics and feasibility.
The plan is to develop a continuous-flow Copper deposition reactor using a semiconducting solar cell substrate. Sunlight will excite electrons within the solar cell from the Valence Band to the Conduction Band, where they will be available to reduce Cu2+ ions within a solution to solid Cu metal. The Cu metal will then be swept away from the solar cell and harvested.