Cheaper Solar Power Costs
When a manufacturer offers a product in the market its main aim is to penetrate in the market as deeply and as widely as possible. In short he wants to make it available to the common man. Till now solar panels are quite expensive and have a long payback period. That fact contributes to its limited popularity. Solar panel manufacturers can reduce the costs of solar panels in many ways. They can use cheaper materials, they can reduce some ingredients used in solar panels, they can reduce the wear and tear during manufacturing or they can use lesser amount of ingredients without compromising on quality.
University of Utah engineers think on the same lines too. Expensive solar cells with a chemical element, germanium are mostly used for spacecraft, military and commercial satellites. Germanium based solar cells are most efficient solar power cells. What prevents this solar panel to be a common man’s commodity is price. But now University of Utah engineers are using a new method to put germanium in the solar cells that will effectively trim down the costs of solar cells. They are using the time tested manufacturing method of lowering the waste and breakage of brittle semi conductor.
With the improved wafer-slicing method, the engineers are trying to make germanium-based, high-efficiency solar cells for uses where cost now is a factor. Dinesh Rakwal, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, adds: “We’re coming up with a more efficient way of making germanium wafers for solar cells – to reduce the cost and weight of these solar cells and make them defect-free.”
Silicon is cut into thin wafers by sawing method. And same brass-coated, steel-wire saws are used to slice round wafers of germanium from cylindrical single-crystal slabs. This increases the wear and tear of germanium element. The brittle element cracks easily, and the girth of the saws means a major amount of germanium is lost during the cutting process. Wire electrical discharge machining (WEDM) is the new method for slicing solar cell wafers. This is an improved version and it wastes less germanium and produces more wafers by cutting even thinner wafers. The wear and tear is less. Extremely thin molybdenum wire is used for this cutting process.
Whatever lowers the cost of solar panels will finally lower the cost of solar power per kilowatt-hour, a factor desirable to consumers and manufacturers. To make this project commercially viable they are trying to recycle the germanium and increase the yield which will result in good savings.
A patent is pending on a way of using the new method so that multiple, parallel electrically charged wires are used to cut germanium wafers – a mass-production method which can be compared with an egg slicer.