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Circular 1365

Byproduct Mineral Commodities Used for the Production of Photovoltaic Cells

By Donald I. Bleiwas


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Rising fossil fuel costs, environmental concerns relating to global climate change, and Government policy to signifcantly increase our Nation’s energy independence have placed greater emphasis on the generation of electricity from renewable sources, such as the Sun (light and heat), water, and wind, which for all intents and purposes are inexhaustible resources.

Although the total amount of electricity generated from the direct conversion of sunlight through photovoltaic cells is relatively small compared with that from other forms of renewable energy, the rate of growth in the sector is signifcant. The total value of energy of photovoltaic cells produced worldwide increased to nearly 7 gigawatts (GW) in 2008 from 45 megawatts (MW) in 1990, a compound annual growth rate of about 30 percent. In the United States, manufacturing of photovoltaic cells has grown exponentially to about 480 MW in 2008, accounting for 6 percent of world production, from less than 10 MW of photovoltaic capacity in 1990 (Benner, 2007; U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, 2010), a compound annual growth rate of approxi-mately 23 percent. A production capacity of 1 GW of electricity [or 8,760 gigawatthours1 (GWh)] is equivalent to the annual electricity requirements for roughly 800,000 average households in the United States (U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, 2010). This estimate does not include losses of electricity, such as during transmission through power lines.

First posted December 13, 2010

Revised December 22, 2010

Revised the units of measurement for the quantity of metals used to "metric tons" from "million metric tons" [p. 7].

For additional information contact:
Director, National Minerals Information Center
U.S. Geological Survey
988 National Center
Reston, Virginia 20192

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Suggested citation:

Bleiwas, D.I., 2010, Byproduct mineral commodities used for the production of photovoltaic cells: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1365, 10 p., available at



Sources and Supplies of Commodities Used in Photovoltaic Cells

Amounts of Selected Mineral Materials Required for Generating One Gigawatt of Electricity


References Cited

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