Solar cells could learn a thing or two from tofu and bath salts. Researchers from the Stephenson Institute for Renewable Energy at the University of Liverpool have found that magnesium chloride (MgCl2) — found in tofu, bath salts and de-icing solutions — may produce more efficient and cost-effective solar cells. The researchers said the compound could replace cadmium chloride (CdCl2), a toxic ingredient frequently used in solar cell technology. CdCl2 is expensive to produce and requires extensive safety measures during solar cell manufacturing, the researchers said. In contrast, MgCl2 — which is extracted from sea water — is much safer, demonstrates energy efficiency similar to the toxic alternative, and is much less expensive to produce. “Cadmium chloride is toxic and expensive and we no longer need to use it,” said Dr. Jon Major, a physicist at the institute. “Replacing it with a naturally occurring substance could save the industry a vast amount of money and reduce the overall cost for generating power from solar.” Other inexpensively manufactured solar cells, based on thin films of insoluble cadmium telluride, do exist, but are less efficient as they are only able to convert less than 2 percent of sunlight into energy, according to the researchers. The work was funded by a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the University of Liverpool. The research was published in Nature (doi: 10.1038/nature13435). For more information, visit www.liv.ac.uk.