Breakthrough in thin solar cell development

Summary

A European project led by Leuven’s nanotech research centre imec has reached a breakthrough in the development of whisper thin solar cells

Lighter, thinner, cheaper

Scientists involved in the EU-funded PhotoNVoltaics project co-ordinated by the imec nanotech research and development centre in Leuven, have developed a crystalline silicon cell that is just 830 nanometres thick. A nanometre is one-millionth of a millimetre. By comparison, the diameter of a human hair is about 75,000 nanometres.

This is a breakthrough, according to the researchers, which should open doors to scaling down solar cells from the micro to the nano scale. The findings have been published in the journal Nano Futures.

This should lead to new applications for crystalline silicon cells, such as flexibility or semi-transparency, which are not possible with current – much thicker – wafer-based cells.

The solar cells are capable of absorbing much more light without affecting the efficiency of the power supply. “The main applications of our thin crystalline silicon solar cells could be in buildings as well as in windows and skylights,” said project leader Valerie Depauw of imec.

Silicon costs make up the largest portion of a solar module’s overall costs, so creating thinner cells, and reducing the amount of silicon wasted in production, are key areas for improvement in the eyes of manufacturers.

Photo courtesy imec