Alternatives to Silicon: Graphene, Gallium Nitride and Perovskites


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Silicon is everywhere around us but is always bonded to oxygen to form quartz and other minerals. It is refined by heating sand in the presence of carbon. Only a small highly purified portion of that output is used for creating semiconductors. The silicon is just the substrate on top of which semiconductors are made by introducing miniscule amunts of dopants – commonly gallium (safe) and arsenic (poisonous) but also other elements, some of which are hard to refine. It is those elements referred to as rare earth elements (which they are not, just hard to find in significant concentration) that are the problem. We are looking for alternatives to silicon not because there’s something wrong with it but because we want something that is even better for producing integrated circuits.

Brandon Lee

Actually quite remarkable leaps have been made to improve the scalability of perovskite solar cells by replacing their electron transport layers (ETL) with a thin layer of quantum dots. There are a few labs looking into this including The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne.