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How practical is it to manufacture solar cells on the Moon? I understand there is a lot of silica there, and in theory if we could robotically make and deploy solar cells on the Moon, then we would (in time) have practically unbounded energy to use there.

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There are parts that would be easy, and parts that would be quite difficult. Here is a video that shows you how solar cells are made on Earth.

Here's a few things you need:

  1. A very high efficiency clean room.
  2. Wafer manufacturing capabilities
  3. Etching equipment
  4. Diffusing equipment
  5. Metal inlaying

Bottom line is, this is very large and difficult equipment. It would probably not work very well. What are some alternatives? The best alternative would be to make mirrors, which in turn heat a substance, like water, and runs like any turbine engine runs. Wikipedia has a nice photo of one of these on Earth.

enter image description here

Mirrors, especially non-precision mirrors, would be relatively easy to manufacture on the moon. Aluminum and silicon are quite plentiful, the two key elements to making mirrors. The turbines might be difficult to manufacture on the Moon (I really don't know about this one), but they could be brought from Earth, reducing the weight significantly vs the solar panels that would be required to make this system work via direct transport from Earth.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a good start, but doesn't really address how to make them on the moon. That is a different place, and the high volume approaches used on earth under highly competitive conditions with easy access to capital inevitably leads to using large amounts of specialized equipment. I would think manufacturing on the moon would have to use a different approach. $\endgroup$ – Mike Wise Jul 1 '15 at 10:00
  • $\begingroup$ Solar cells would require all of the items listed. The equipment brought to the Moon would be lighter, and probably not as fancy of equipment, but it will still require the same type of stuff. Computer chips, which solar cells are a type of, require very expensive and heavy equipment. I really think the mirror idea will be the first solar power generated on the moon. It doesn't require anything complex to make happen. As you stated, manufacturing on the moon will require a different approach, namely the use of mirrors instead of photovoltaics. $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Jul 1 '15 at 10:38
  • $\begingroup$ I would expect a cleanroom in space to be very different from one on Earth. On one hand there is no suspended dust, on the other hand, even the smallest particle will, when ejected, impact ballistically. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Apr 17 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that mirrors can reflect additional light onto solar cells. $\endgroup$ – ikrase Jun 26 at 5:47

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