Twin Creeks Technologies has announced a new method to make less expensive solar cells. While we see many new ways of making cheap solar panels, most of these methods focus on producing panels with alternative materials rather than silicon. But the method developed by Twin Creeks produces ultra-thin pieces of crystalline silicon by using an ion cannon dubbed Hyperion.
There are a number of different materials that are used for solar cells, but crystalline silicon is the material that has been used for cells with the highest efficiency. Unfortunately, it also has a very high cost. Much of the thickness of the silicon cell does not contribute to making electricity. Thinner cells would work as well, and use less material, but they have been too hard to produce until now, because crystalline silicon is a fragile and brittle material.
The Hyperion ion cannon bombards discs of silicon with hydrogen ions with a very precisely controlled charge. These accumulate in a layer 20 micrometers below the surface. After bombardment, the discs are transported to a furnace where the ions expand into hydrogen gas and shear off a fine layer of crystalline silicon called a lamina, which is ten times thinner than conventionally produced silicon (20 micrometers versus 200 micrometers). These pieces can be mounted on a metal backing which supports the silicon and allows it to flex without breaking. This method also eliminates the waste of silicon which is ordinarily lost from conventional sawing.
The company claims an ability to create silicon solar cells for under 40 cents per watt (half the price of conventional methods), and says that one of its Hyperion systems has the capacity to produce 1.5 million wafers - enough for 6 megawatts of solar cells - per year.
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