Using Hydrogen Atoms to Improve Solar Cells
Cost and efficiency have always been two of the most important factors in the development of solar power. Solar PV remains a competitive and growing market, and cost reductions and efficiency improvements are crucial to any firm’s growth.
Recently, Australian scientists working at the University of NSW discovered a way to improve solar panel design while decreasing costs and improving efficiency. With their new method, solar manufacturers will be able to take cheaper low-grade silicon, and make it perform “better than the best quality-material” on the market, according to Professor Stuart Wenham, head of the University’s Photovoltaics Center of Excellence.
The discovery centers on using hydrogen atoms to counter, or hide, defects in the silicon used in solar cells. The group has been able to control hydrogen atoms, allowing them to cover up impurities within the silicon itself. The hydrogen then bonds with any defective structures and causes them to become electrically inactive, essentially causing them to disappear. This allows much lower quality silicon to perform at the level found in current high efficiency solar cells. The technology used to control the hydrogen atoms has been used previously, though the UNSW group was able to greatly improve the sensitivity of the application to direct the atoms to the defective areas in the silicon material.
The benefits of this development for the solar industry are twofold. First, the discovery allows solar manufacturers to cut costs by purchasing lower-grade silicon materials. They may then take advantage of the UNSW process to improve the quality and performance of these cells at minimal cost. Since silicon accounts for over half of the cost of solar cells and the cost savings are magnified, and with potential price increases looming (click here to learn more about the increases), cost saving developments will be key to the long-term success of the solar industry. Second, by covering up the defects in the silicon material, the electrical efficiency of the cell is significantly improved. Researchers believe this technology has the potential to increase cell efficiencies by 20% over current commercially available devices.
As manufacturers take advantage of new technologies such as this, many of the benefits will pass on to consumers. Decreased manufacturing costs mean lower upfront investments on the part of the consumer. In addition, increased efficiency means each panel will produce more energy from the same amount of sunlight, meaning even more savings on electricity. It is developments like this new hydrogen technology from UNSW that will allow the solar industry to grow and prosper, and pass the savings on to the public.
- 27 Oct, 2013
- Kit Man Chan
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