Solar energy panels (Photo: GettyImages)Norwegian scientists have found a new, cheap and environmental friendly way to use solar power. The new substance is metal hybrides that Research Fellow Trygve Mongstad has found to be very effective.

"These metallic hydrides are chemical compounds consisting of a metal bound with hydrogen," Mongstad explains. He works at the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) at Kjeller, Norway.

The new solar panels can be described as little discs of glass that have a thin coating of vaporized magnesium-nickel hydride.

These metal hybrides are the same ones that were once used in hydrogen fuel-cell cars.

"Here at IFE's solar energy department we are experimenting with exciting new uses for the characteristics of metal hydrides," he says and adds that he has hopes that metal hydrides can be put to the same use in solar cells as is crystalline silicon, the dominant bulk material for solar cells.

One of the best things is that the new cells are even cheaper than the existing ones. "Solar cells are cheaper than ever but still not affordable enough for solar energy to compete on a large-scale with, for instance, coal-fired power plants," he says.

He adds that although the solar industry is going through a hard time it is still the way of the future.

Solar cells are all about the efficiency, todays panels have the efficiency of 10-20 percent, depending on the technology. The efficiency goes up to 43% on the new panels according to Mongstad.

The raw materials are readily available and consist of cheap metals and hydrogen. These materials are environmentally friendly and in this context non-toxic. As the thickness is just one-hundredth of that of silicon cells, they require less energy to manufacture.

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