Begin by carefully polishing the face of the cell with a fine grade of steel wool until it shines brightly. Then place the cell with the shiny side up, in the solution of nitric acid.

Soon, tiny bubbles will form on the copper disk. Stir the solution occasionally. When the disk seems shiny and well cleaned, remove and rinse it under cool running water.

WARNING! Never to allow your skin to touch the acid, and that no acid remains on the cell.

The cell will sometimes work without the acid cleaning if it is simply well polished by the steel wool. However, we strongly recommend the acid cleaning.

Nitric acid and the other chemicals mentioned in the text can be easily ordered from a number of mail-order chemical houses such as found in the classified section of magazines such as Popular Science.

Step 3. Cuprous oxide is now formed on the disk by heating it over a Bunsen burner, or propane torch. A gas stove can be used, but results may be unpredictable.

The time me disk must be heated varies greatly depending on the heat of the torch, and the thickness and size of the copper piece. Using a standard propane torch from the hardware store and a disk of the described size, I found 2 minutes and 40 seconds to be ideal. If you heat it too long, you run the risk of burning off the oxides. Heating for too short a time may prevent the oxides from forming fully.


Photo sensitive oxides are formed by heating the disk for several minutes.

The Copper is heated on one side only , until it is glowing and red hot! copper must be kept at an even red hot, all over it’s surface for about 2 minutes and 45 seconds by moving the copper over the tourch in a round motion. counter clock wise. The side of the cell that is not exposed to the flame will become coated with the black cupric oxide.

Now just beneath this black oxide is the photo sensitive red cuprouse oxide. This red cuprouse oxide can be purchsed in powder form and mixed with a special solvent, which is clear, and is described in the Japan Patent. The Oxide can then be screen printed onto the copper surface. This oxide material is different than the chemicals used in the Patent.

After heating your cell for theprescribed time, it must be carefully cooled. There are two ways to go about this. You can cool the copper quickly by

either placing it face down on a flat metal surface, or by waiting a few mom­ents and then quenching it in cool water. The advantage to cooling the cell quickly is that the unwanted black cupric oxide will often flake off the cell due to the difference in contraction rates of the oxides. Unfortunately, I have had bad luck with this method despite extensive experimentation with dif­ferent temperatures and procedures.

What has worked very well for me is to bring the cell’s temperature down as slowly as possible making sure the black oxide does not crack at all. Once completely cool, the cell is immersed in the nitric acid bath. You must wait while the acid begins to dissolve the black oxide. Then you remove and rinse the cell.

A very weak solution of sodium cyanide can also be used with good results. However, you should be extremely careful when using it. Cyanide is an extre­mely poisonous chemical, and if accidentally mixed with an acid can create deadly fumes. At this point the black oxide covering the cell can be rubbed away with steel wool and a little elbow grease. After all of the Black oxide has been removed, your cell should have a uniform caoting of deep red on one side.

black oxide has been removed, your cell should have a uniform coating of deep red on one side. Don’t worry if the very outside edges of your cell don’t have the coating, this is due to uneven cooling and is normal. Keep in mind that the red coating must not be scratched or scraped away to reveal the bare copper plate beneath. If this happens the cell might short in the final step and not work at all.

Testing: There are now several ways that you can test you solar cell even though it is not finished, it can generate power.

If you are building the cell for a science fair or other demonstration, you may want to stop and use the cell at this point while the cuprous oxide is still visible. If you hold the cell near a source of bright light, a current will be generated between the cuprous oxide coating and the copper plate. The copper will form the positive terminal and the cuprous oxide the negative.


Making contact with the copper portion of the disk is very easy. Simply sand a small bare spot on the back of the solar cell and atta­ch a wire. Attaching the wire and making a good contact with the cuprous oxide is more difficult, it is hard to solder and attach anything. but it can be done by pressure gluing or other.

method of making a good contact with this large of a surface area, is by attaching a wire grid to it. A better way is to apply a very thin layer of silver or gold called a transparent An easily fabricated but temporary transparent electrode can be made from salt water. Or as seen in our Chlorine cells and a container glued to the cell and the liquid applied. A soloution of salt or acid will conduct electricity and also pass light to the cell. Drip a small amount of salt water or your spit, on to the center of the cell. Make sure that the water rests only on the cuprous oxide and does not touch any of the solar cell’s coppe r surface or it will short out and will not produce any free electrical energy at all.

Now, attac h one wire from a galvanometer, digital voltmeter using the milliamp or low voltage setting to some exposed portion of the cell’s copper surface. Usually the b ack or the edges have some exposed copper. Touch the other meter lead to the surface of the water. The meter will spring to life. Next, bring a bright source of light such as a 100 watt bulb near the cell. The meter should show a slightly smaller voltage as the light approaches. Your cell will produce best in sunlight! The cell is changing some of the light into electricity but is having to counteract the current generated by the saltwater, hence the drop in voltage. The salt water actually acts as an electrolyte and with the oxide generates its own current just as a small battery would. Another way that you can test your cell is by making a wire electrode for the surface. This is done simply by coiling some 30 gauge silver-plated wire or aluminum wire and by holding it against the ( cells ) cuprous oxide surface with a sheet of glass. A good way is to coil the wire around is to use a cone shaped dowel or other object first in order to make good even spirals. Make sure that the wire touches the cuprous oxide only, and none of the bare copper. You will always have some bare copper around the edges of the cell, so it is best to paint with enamel paint, let dry and then work with the cell.

By simply attaching one wire of your meter to the silver wire, and one to the cell’s exposed copper, you will be able to register a small current when a light is brought near. In this form, the cell can be operated indefinitely and makes an excellent Science Fair Display.

Making The Silvering Solution: The final step in making your own solar cell will be to make a permanent transparent electrode. When properly applied, this will give your cell a beautiful semi-mirrored finish and allow you to make electrical contact with the whole cuprous oxide face of the cell. This step is probably the trickiest in the production of the cell.

But, just as with the last steps, it becomes somewhat easier with practice. Using distilled water, make ten percent solutions each of ammonia water, potassium hydroxide and potassium sodium tartrate in seperate test tubes. A ten percent solution can be created by mixing 10 parts by weight of solute in 90 parts of water. Please remember that the test tubes can become warm or even hot when the water is first added, so be sure to use Pyrex glass test tubes. Also, make certain you have ample ventilation when mixing the ammonia solution. Dissolve in 1 oz. water a single crystal of silver nitrate. The crystal should be somewhat larger than the head of a match. Begin adding drops of the ammonia solution to the dissolved silver nitrate until the water first becomes brown, and then just begins to clear. Add a drop of potassium hydroxide to this solution. Then again begin adding drops of ammonia water until the solution just begins to clear. The solution will remain somewhat cloudy. Too much ammonia in the solution can dissolve the cuprous oxide coating and can damage or ruin the cell. Stir the mixture while adding a single drop of the potassium sodium tartrate solution. The mixture is now ready and should be used immediately.

Updated: August 16, 2015 — 11:20 pm