Pyrite Nanomaterials for Solar Photovoltaics

by Eric Drexler on 2009/03/13

A pyrite crystal (detail from an image by Dave Barthelmy)
(a mineral crystal form)

A new paper in the journal Environmental Science & Technology assesses the requirements for scaling solar photovoltaic systems to the terawatt levels needed to supply electric power on a global scale. The authors identify iron pyrite, FeS2, as an attractive but unconventional alternative: The raw materials for pyrite aren’t scarce, and both the energy and monetary costs of production could be low.

In addition to having an outstanding Klm value, pyrite is a strongly light-absorbing semiconductor with a band gap in the right range for use in composite materials systems for photovoltaics. This provides ample reason to study and learn to control pyrite growth processes at the atomistic level.

Biological examples show that protein molecules can guide crystal growth by selectively binding to crystal surfaces and surface features, and pyrite can grow under conditions that are compatible not just with proteins, but with living organisms. Development of a good crystal-shaping molecular toolkit could provide a route to a useful class of atomically precise fabrication techniques, and pyrite is an attractive target.

Pyrite may be relatively new as a serious candidate for photovoltaic applications, but pyrite basking in sunlight is a very old phenomenon, older than Earth itself. Pyrite crystals were an ingredient of the solar nebula from which Earth formed.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin March 14, 2009 at 3:58 am UTC

Hmmmm, pyrite is interesting stuff. Would it make for good macroscopic structural parts, and also hard, tough, springy objects?
Jade is interesting, too, in that it has a fiber like structure.

William Carr March 16, 2009 at 10:43 pm UTC

Springy objects?

Pyrite crystals themselves are rigid and fragile. As well as smelly.

Although this is probably a thin-film technology, and the substrate will determine characteristics like that.

From what I’ve read, the new research must depend on adding Cobalt to the mix. Otherwise, the FeS2 is kinda wimpy in the actual amperage department.

Unfortunately, Cobalt isn’t as cheap as FeS2.

Erin March 16, 2009 at 11:49 pm UTC

I still think silicates are the best bridge material between wet and dry nanotechnology, and can be used in and of themselves for many of the desired aspects of molecular manufacturing. We already have the biomineralization systems in nature that we can recharacterize and reprogram for our own uses, and, we have a vast biotechnology base already.

jarimiah April 18, 2009 at 4:04 pm UTC

I live in a jade rich environment, my question to any one is, Can pyrite grow on jade? I found a piece of what I know of as jade and it seems to have pyrite squares coming off of it.

annie May 12, 2010 at 11:23 am UTC

Please send me a copy of thesis that would help me in my work regading nanomaterials.

Thanking You

M. Annie Freeda
Research Scholar

Tom Slaiter February 6, 2013 at 4:15 pm UTC

Great post, I agree with with William, they are rigid and frail.

Thanks for the info and eye opener :-)

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