Pyrite, often called Fools Gold, has the capacity to absorb energy from the Sun. Additionally, it can be made into layers 2,000 times thinner than silicon. As you can imagine, slicing capabilities made this metal very attractive to scientists and researchers.
Scientists were fooled into thinking it could be an inexpensive, easily accessible, nontoxic material for making solar cells.
The down side of trying to use pyrite, an iron sulfide compound (FeS2) is that it doesn?t effectively convert the solar energy into electricity.
No one knew why, however. Pyrite?s visual double, true gold, on the other hand is a very good conductor of electricity and is used extensively in electronics. It is not as easily accessible as pyrite, however. An average of 80 cubic yards of gravel must be sluiced to recover one ounce of gold.
Gold looks and acts differently than pyrite
Because of the pyrite mystery, Douglas Keszler, a chemistry professor at Oregon State University (OSU) continued to study the gold look-a-like. "We?ve discovered some different materials that are similar to pyrite, with most of the advantages but none of the problems," he said.
The research team determined that pyrite decomposes when subjected to the amount of heat required to create solar cells. Its ability to produce electricity is thus compromised.
They found that an iron silicon sulfide (Fe2SiS4) compound doesn’t suffer the same degradation. The scientists think they may have happened upon a very viable solution. "Iron is about the cheapest element in the world to extract from nature, silicon is second, and sulfur is virtually free," Keszler said.
Research by the OSU Colleges of Science and Engineering took place at the Center for Inverse Design, formed by a federal program administered via a grant from the US Department of Energy. Their goal is to find a cheap, green, easily acquired source of energy.