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New Discovery Dramatically Increases Efficiency of Low Grade Silicon

A recent discovery from engineers at University of New South Wales (UNSW) could reduce the cost of solar panels by improving the quality of low-grade silicon.

Silicon is an incredible material that has enabled the development of the flourishing solar panel industry, but it’s also quite expensive, which consequently keeps the price of panels high.

If solar cells could be made with lower quality silicon, it could quite possibly bring the costs down enough to see wider adoption of solar energy, and this latest innovation might be just what’s needed to make that happen.

A team of solar engineers at UNSW have found a mechanism for controlling hydrogen atoms, which can help correct deficiencies in silicon and thereby improve their electrical efficiency.

“This process will allow lower-quality silicon to outperform solar cells made from better-quality materials.” – Scientia Professor Stuart Wenham, School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering

With the maximum efficiency of commercial silicon cells currently sitting at about 19%, there’s definitely room for improvement, and the researchers expect their new technology to boost those efficiencies to up to 23%. If that holds true, then significant reductions in the cost of silicon for solar cells could be seen.

According to the researchers, up until recently, using hydrogen atoms to help correct defects in silicon was met with limited success due to the inability to control the hydrogen and optimize the process. But the team working on this project was able to figure out how to control the charge state of the hydrogen atoms in silicon, effectively improving the mobility of the hydrogen by a factor of 10,000 in order to have it bond with defects in the silicon and render them inactive.

UNSW says that the research team is currently working with industry partners to bring the technology to the manufacturing sector for commercialization.

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