Monday, September 13, 2010

Silicon wafer-based solar cells

Despite the numerous attempts at making better solar cells by using new and exotic materials, the reality is that the photovoltaics market is still dominated by silicon wafer-based solar cells (first-generation solar cells). This means that most solar cell manufacturers are currently equipped to produce this type of solar cells. Consequently, a large body of research is being done all over the world to manufacture silicon wafer-based solar cells at lower cost and to
increase the conversion efficiencies without an exorbitant increase in production cost.

The ultimate goal for both wafer-based and alternative photovoltaic concepts is to produce solar electricity at a cost comparable to currently market-dominant coal, natural gas, and nuclear power in order to make it the leading primary energy source. To achieve this it may be necessary to reduce the cost of installed solar systems from currently about US$ 1.80 (for bulk Si technologies) to about US$ 0.50 per Watt peak power.Since a major part of the final cost of a traditional bulk silicon module is related to the high cost of solar grade polysilicon feedstock (about US$ 0.4/Watt peak) there exists substantial drive to make Si solar cells thinner (material savings) or to make solar cells from cheaper upgraded metallurgical silicon (so called "dirty Si").

IBM has a semiconductor wafer reclamation process that uses a specialized pattern removal technique to repurpose scrap semiconductor wafers to a form used to manufacture silicon-based solar panels. The new process was recently awarded the “2007 Most Valuable Pollution Prevention Award” from The National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR)


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