Spray-on Solar Panels
Solar cells are usually made of silicon coated with a thin layer of silicon nitrate. This silicon nitrate works as an anti-reflective agent to boost cell efficiency. But the catch is these types of cells are costly to produce. This anti-reflective layer deposition happens in vacuum and creating vacuum like situation doesn’t come cheap!
Efforts are on to reduce the cost of solar cells. Australia too is abundant in natural resources and wants to trap these for clean and green energy. Researchers in Australia are handling a three year project which will develop a spray-on coating for solar panels. They will concentrate on cost reduction and efficiency of solar panels too. A new Australian solar company Spark Solar and Finnish materials company
are working with Australian National University (ANU) on the spray-on method. This new technique can be commercially available by 2011. Dr Keith McIntosh from ANU, the chief investigator in the first project, stated, “It will provide an opportunity for significant manufacturing cost reductions by replacing the conventional, expensive manufacturing techniques that are currently employed industry-wide with the spray-on films.”
Creating vacuums for coating of solar cells are costly. If this step can be skipped from the solar cell production, price tags can be brought down considerably. The new method uses a spray-on hydrogen film and spray-on anti-reflective film. In this spray-on method vacuums are not needed. The cells travel along a conveyor belt where the films are sprayed on. The simplified process could trim down about $5 million in capital equipment costs per medium-sized factory. The manufacturer can save and produce solar cells at a much cheaper rate. Testing of the process is now taking place at the ANU, and the technology should be available toward the end of 2011.
The second aspect of the project is efficiency of the solar cells. This project will be undertaken in collaboration with the German solar company GP Solar and led by chief investigator Dr Klaus Weber from ANU.
“We aim to develop a range of industry-ready cell fabrication sequences that will offer significantly improved conversion efficiencies” Dr Weber said. Currently solar cells are operating at the range of 5% to 24% efficiency. Solar surface of a cell has been roughened to increase the surface area. More surface area means more absorption of solar light. But a rough surface also disrupts the cell’s crystalline structure in the process. So the second project is concentrating on improving the efficiency of solar cells. They will try to change the surface of the solar cells to improve its efficiency. Once a most advantageous surface is created, the effectiveness and power of solar cells would be superior.
19 Million Cells a year
A new Australian company Spark Solar will establish a $70 million high-tech solar cell factory in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Their main objective will be to initiate solar cell production in 2010. The factory will take a daunting task of producing 19 million solar cells a year. That volume of production will be enough to power 20,000 homes, along with exports worth more than $400 million to Europe’s booming solar markets.
The astonishing fact is that presently the global market for solar cells is growing at a faster rate than markets for mobile phones, digital cameras and laptops!