Bismuth is a heavy, brittle metal that forms colorful geometric crystals when melted and then slowly cooled. It’s most commonly known as a main ingredient in Pepto Bismol — less commonly known as bismuth subsalicylate. And someday soon, it might be used to help power your electronics.
Scientists like Robert Hoye, a lecturer in the department of materials at Imperial College London, are using bismuth-based compounds in photovoltaics — materials that convert light into energy. Bismuth has unique electronic properties that not only make it a good candidate for solar cells, but make it great for indoor use — a place where traditional photovoltaics don’t perform too well. That means it might one day replace the need for batteries in billions of indoor electronics, like home sensors and health monitors, says Hoye.
Aside from its ability to absorb light, bismuth makes for an ideal battery replacement because it’s completely nontoxic. Unlike other metals which can harm people and the environment, bismuth is benign. If it ends up in a landfill, it won’t leach toxic metals into soil and water — a real problem with current electronics that contain metals such as lead, cadmium, and tellurium.
Verge Science brought some raw bismuth to Staten Island’s MakerSpace to grow some other-worldly crystals, and we spoke to Robert Hoye about the exciting future possibilities for this unique and often under-appreciated element. Watch our latest video above to see what we discovered.