Environment

New production process could cut solar cell prices by half

New production process could c...
Twin Creeks Technologies' Hyperion process is claimed to be able to produce crystalline silicon wafers, for use in solar cells, for half the cost of conventional methods
Twin Creeks Technologies' Hyperion process is claimed to be able to produce crystalline silicon wafers, for use in solar cells, for half the cost of conventional methods
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Twin Creeks Technologies' Hyperion process is claimed to be able to produce crystalline silicon wafers, for use in solar cells, for half the cost of conventional methods
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Twin Creeks Technologies' Hyperion process is claimed to be able to produce crystalline silicon wafers, for use in solar cells, for half the cost of conventional methods
The Hyperion ion accelerator is claimed to be ten times more powerful than any other currently on the market
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The Hyperion ion accelerator is claimed to be ten times more powerful than any other currently on the market

Boosting solar cell efficiency is seen as a key factor in making them more practical, but there is another way of looking at the matter ... if the price of those cells were lowered, we could generate more power simply by using more of them. That’s where Mississippi-based Twin Creeks Technologies comes into the picture. The company has developed a method of making crystalline silicon wafers which it says could reduce the cost of solar cell production by half.

Ordinarily, when crystalline silicon wafers are being made for use in solar cells, a chunk of silicon is cut into wafers that are each 200 micrometers thick. According to Twin Creeks, however, only the very surface of that wafer is “active” – the rest is wasted. Much less waste would occur if the wafers could be made thinner, but using traditional production techniques, such wafers would be too fragile to stand up to the rigors of photovoltaic panel production.

In Twin Creeks’ proprietary Hyperion process, three-millimeter-thick disks of crystalline silicon are placed in a vacuum chamber, where they’re bombarded with a beam of hydrogen ions. The ion accelerator that’s used is reportedly ten times more powerful than anything else commercially available.

The Hyperion ion accelerator is claimed to be ten times more powerful than any other currently on the market
The Hyperion ion accelerator is claimed to be ten times more powerful than any other currently on the market

Through control of the voltage of its beam, a layer of ions is precisely deposited on each disk. Those ions proceed to penetrate the silicon, so they’re located just below its surface. The disks are then robotically transferred to a furnace and heated. This causes the ions to expand into microscopic bubbles of hydrogen gas, which in turn causes a 20-micrometer-thick layer of silicon to peel off the surface of each disk. A supportive metal backing is then applied to that layer, and it’s ready for use.

The disks can be reused up to 14 times, each time “exfoliating” another layer of silicon.

The resulting ultra-thin wafers are claimed to be at least as efficient as their thicker traditional counterparts, yet require 90 percent less silicon to produce. The system can be added to existing production lines, although because less tools are required, production costs should also be significantly reduced. Additionally, the technology can be used with other single-crystal materials such as gallium nitride and germanium.

Presently, the technology can be seen in action at Twin Creeks’ commercial demonstration plant in Senatobia, Mississippi. The company intends to license the Hyperion system to existing solar cell manufacturers.

Source: Twin Creeks Technologies via Technology Review

19 comments
Rt1583
The only cost that will be cut in half will be the production cost. The price to the consumer will stay the same if not increase. Much the same with made with recycled materials. Logic leads to the conclusion that since the procurement and processing of raw materials is taken out of the picture or greatly reduced, the over all cost for the product should be less. Of course by the fuzzy math that benefits the manufacturer this never happens.
Rant complete and I would like to add that it would be fantastic if solar technology actually did come down in price so that it could become a manstream factor to ease our energy problems.
Daryl Sonnier
Rt1583... While it's true that prices don't necessarily come down to meet the production price reductions in all cases, they often do. Look at the price of a brand new computer today. Even an entry level model is hundreds of times faster with literally millions of times the storage space of computers available just 10 years ago. And they sell for a fraction of the price.
Rt1583
@ Daryl - Though computers are a good example of technology coming down in price, there is a large disconnect in that business model as it relates to solar power systems. At one time computers were so expensive that only large coorporations or governments could afford them. It wasn't until the mid to late 70's that computers started to come down in price enough for the average person to take advantage of them. Solar power systems, in terms of large scale power production (not simple single device systems or battery chargers) have consistantly stayed high regardless of the technology, that through the years has promised to make solar power cheaper. Though the panels may be cheaper today than 20-30 years ago, the systems are still too expensive to justify the cost. On average it will take 15-25 years (depending on power comsumption/production) to break even on the investment, at which point a new system may need to be installed simply because the old one has reached the end of its life span. If they can get a system for average home use down to a level where the break even point nears 8-12 years, allowing for an additional 8-12 years of relatively free power production solar would start to dominate a good portion of the market. This type of reduction in cost should also be done without government subsidies as they just take part of the cost away up front and tack it back on through increase taxes through the years.
Unfortunately, the skeptic in me will continue to believe my original statement. I understand companies need to make money but if a business can't sell its product at all they are much worse off than if they sold it at a reduced price.
Brad Needham
focus on integrated roof solar arrays to power a single house - irrespective of power grid - if manufacturers / installers / home builders (roi and repairs must be both reasonable) see a cost benefit ratio that makes money for them, traditional power sources could focus more on commercial uses, cheaper power for mfg etc. the more mass production, competition will eventually make the solar installations cost effective. unfortunately government lips say one thing, government actions are different and as the megacorporations speaketh so goes our world.
Mr Stiffy
Hmmmm why not just make the jump to doped silicon vapor deposition onto a cold roll, with grid enabled separators... so sort of air thin cells come out like toner from a laser printer, minus the paper?
Make them in the triple junction variety with say 35% effiency...
I am hoping to see reasonably efficient solar panels that would be costing $50 a square meter soon.
agulesin
Does this mean I have to defer my investment again, in case the price drops just after I've signed on the dotted line... But of course we all hope the price does drop so that we can all enjoy cheaper energy.
Hmmm...
Why don't you just build a few nuclear reactors and wait for solar technology to actually become a viable source. Much like wind, it is not fiscally sound and therefore has no business in the market. Only subsidies allow these pipe dreams to come true. Tax everyone...more...more...more.
robbielu7
As I skimmed over these comments, I failed to see anything to do with the market forces that come into play. There must needs be a natural tendancy for prices to drop.
While it is true of the Chinese manufacturer, that the did artificially inflate their pricing structure, the time will come that there will be a parity in their money picture.
I see that in the costing of such computers as the tablet PC's take hold as the primary tool in both business and education. I have already seen the cost cut in half in just under a year's time. I am being offered a 10.2in. tablet for $100.00U.S. plus delivery with android 4 system installed. FOB manufacturer.
morriss003
My recently installed system cost $25,000. I can already see that I will save about $2,500 a year without tax breaks. That is a break even in ten years and a savings of $12,500 if the system lasts (without serious deterioration) 15 years. Almost all of the electricity that is produced in my county (Maui) is produced by burning oil, so if the price of oil increases I will save more. BTW, I can also see that my only serious use of electricity is by those units that use the 220 outlets (oven and dryer in my case). My water has been solar since 1999. Before the installation of my PV solar system (19 panels), on average, I was paying about $230 monthly for electricity, while around me people without solar water were paying on average $400 monthly. I was using, on average, 560 units of electricity a month. In the following months after I installed my panels, I used 86, 60, -21, and 75 units of electricity. In this period, so far, the usage is -25 and since this is a very clear day, I expect that this will drop to -40 by the end of the day. My electric bill has averaged about $22 since the installation.
John Renshaw
This technology looks promising but the information given is misleading. The article says that only the surface of solar cells is active, this is just flat out wrong. Longer wavelengths ( say 600 to 1200 nm) are absorbed in the bulk and rear side of solar cells so when you make a wafer 20 microns thick instead of 200 you end up losing a lot of current. Also this technique of high energy implantation of hydrogen and then basically blowing off the surface of the wafer is bound to create a lot of damage which should affect carrier lifetimes and mobilities and lower the current even further. Another thing to note is that normal silicon solar cells get their front and back metallization as the very last step, here the metal is applied when pulling off the wafer, so a completely new process would be needed, this couldn't simply be added to existing lines as implied in the article.