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New Solar Cell Tech Could Cut Costs in Half

New technology being developed by a startup in Mississippi may be able to cut the cost of making silicon solar cells by half, and reducing the amount of silicon needed by 90%.

The startup, called Twin Creeks Technologies, has developed a process for making 20 micrometer thick crystalline silicon wafers that are just as efficient as those produced using traditional processes, which measure 200 micrometers in thickness.

Twin Creeks has been using the new technology at their solar cell facility in Senatobia, Mississippi, and the company’s CEO says that they can manufacture the new solar cells at a cost of about $.40 USD per watt, which is approximately half of what the cheapest solar cells currentlly cost to build.

Traditionally, blocks of silicon are cut down into 200 micrometer-thick wafers, and a good portion (about half) of that silicon ends up as waste. But the new process, which nets thinner wafers, produces almost no waste, and is said to be able to be added to existing solar cell production lines.

Thinner wafers, while just as effective as the thicker ones, are very brittle, which lead the industry to adopt the thicker wafers as the standard for production. The new ultra-thin silicon wafers, however, are backed by a thin layer of metal, which renders them tough enough to handle the manufacturing environment.

According to Technology Review, Twin Creeks uses an ion accelerator to direct a high-energy beam of hydrogen onto disks of silicon, where the ions accumulate at 20 micrometers deep. The wafers are then heated in a furnace, where the ions inside form bubbles of hydrogen gas and expand, which fractures off the thin wafers.

Rather than scale their operation up to manufacture solar cells in quantity, the company instead aims to market their equipment to solar manufacturers.

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