via Popular Mechanics : Making solar panels is complicated work. There are a lot of steps to get from raw materials to a finished, fully functional solar panel. But did you know one of those steps can involve a particle accelerator? Minute Physics explains:
At their core, solar panels are made of the same thing computer chips are made of: silicon. Pure silicon is made in long cylinders, called boules, that are sliced into hundreds or thousands of very thin wafers. Usually, these wafers are less than a millimeter thick.
So how to slice them? Typically, manufacturers will use a saw, which works by removing some of the silicon to create a gap, turning part of that boule into silicon sawdust. But this means that much of the silicon is wasted. Instead of a saw, why not use a particle accelerator?
While you might be thinking of using the particle accelerator as a high-powered cutting laser, in actuality the process is much more subtle. The particle accelerator is fired face-on at the boule, and the accelerator embeds protons inside the silicon. Thanks to an interesting property of particle physics, charged particles like protons passing through a material will travel a very specific distance and stop.
These protons embed themselves inside the silicon at a very specific point, which can be precisely tuned by the accelerator. Once inside the silicon, those protons push the silicon atoms apart, splitting the boule without any loss of silicon. This process conserves much more silicon than using a saw would.
Of course, the downside is that it requires a particle accelerator, and particle accelerators aren’t cheap. But they might be cheap enough to justify using this technique in silicon manufacturing at a large enough scale, which would mean cheaper and more efficient solar panels.
Source: Popular Mechanics | Particle Accelerators Could Be the Key to Cheaper Solar Panels