Solar expertise turns competitors into collaborators

Sep 03, 2012

An advanced processing technology being pioneered at UNSW to improve the efficiency of first generation silicon solar cells has turned two of the world's leading solar manufacturers into unlikely collaborators.

The School of and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE) has signed a new collaborative research agreement with Suntech Power and Hanwha Solar, the first such agreement between the school and two competing companies.

Both manufacturers are interested in an experimental technology whereby tiny metal contact regions can be "self-patterned" into a solar cell's electric insulator, which rests between the silicon wafer and the aluminium back-plate.

"Currently closely-spaced small-area metal contact regions in an insulating layer can only be formed by deliberately patterning the holes with a laser scanning over the surface, which is quite slow," says Dr Alison Lennon, a senior lecturer from SPREE.  

"Other methods, such as aerosol and ink-jet printing, have been explored, however currently these methods are currently too slow and have not been able to demonstrate the required patterning reliability."

Taking cues from the metals processing industry, Lennon and her PhD students are investigating a radical approach to automate and quicken this patterning using aluminium anodisation, a well-understood process where a chemical coating is formed on a to protect against corrosion.

"When you anodise aluminium you can create a porous insulating layer," says Lennon. "This means we can effectively turn an aluminium layer on a silicon solar cell into a with lots of little holes, which is exactly what we want."

The UNSW team has made prototypes of cells using this technique. They are now working on understanding how the metal contacts form in order to improve cell efficiencies, and refining the technique so it can produce competitive results on an industrial scale. 

"We need to make the process robust, with predictable high efficiencies for manufacturers, and we need to make it cost-effective," says Lennon.

Lennon, who helped broker the collaborative research agreement, says this is an example of two companies realising they can achieve more as partners than as competitors, and says their support could open the door for faster commercialisation. 

"Both Hanwha and Suntech operate high-volume solar manufacturing plants, and both are within the top 10 silicon solar cell manufacturers in the world. So if we can demonstrate the viability of this technology, we are both in a position to move the technology into manufacture relatively quickly," noted Dr Paul Basore and Dr Renate Egan, the Advanced R&D Directors for Hanwha Solar and Suntech Power, respectively.

Explore further: The shocking link between politics and electricity in India

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Double solar world record

Jul 07, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A world record double by UNSW solar cell researchers promises to make solar power more affordable, with world-beating new technology delivering substantial efficiency gains at minimal extra ...

Nanostructures improve solar cell efficiency

May 26, 2011

To make solar cells a competitive alternative to other renewable energy sources, researchers are investigating different alternatives. A step in the right direction is through new processes that change the ...

World's most efficient nanoplasmonic solar cells developed

Feb 14, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a boon for the local solar industry, a team of researchers from Swinburne University of Technology and Suntech Power Holdings have developed the world’s most efficient broadband nanoplasmonic ...

Recommended for you

Switch on sunlight for a brighter future

17 hours ago

Imagine sitting in a windowless room yet having the feeling of the sun shining on your face. This unique experience is now possible thanks to the COELUX EU-funded project which recreates the physical and ...

US urged to drop India WTO case on solar

Apr 23, 2014

Environmentalists Wednesday urged the United States to drop plans to haul India to the WTO to open its solar market, saying the action would hurt the fight against climate change.

Is nuclear power the only way to avoid geoengineering?

Apr 23, 2014

"I think one can argue that if we were to follow a strong nuclear energy pathway—as well as doing everything else that we can—then we can solve the climate problem without doing geoengineering." So says Tom Wigley, one ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

irjsiq
1 / 5 (3) Sep 04, 2012
if collaboration results in affordable PV, without credit/subsidies/tax breaks, the

Volume of panels required for Global demand will require vast numbers of PV devices/panels . . . numbers sufficient to keep many factories very busy for an extended period of time! Efficient sources of affordable power plants, distributed is one of the keys for reducing Greenhouse Gases to a very reduced threat!
Collaboration with competitors now, will reward them and portends a wonderful legacy to us all in cleaning-up an increasing issue!

More news stories

Ocean microbes display remarkable genetic diversity

The smallest, most abundant marine microbe, Prochlorococcus, is a photosynthetic bacteria species essential to the marine ecosystem. An estimated billion billion billion of the single-cell creatures live i ...

Genetic code of the deadly tsetse fly unraveled

Mining the genome of the disease-transmitting tsetse fly, researchers have revealed the genetic adaptions that allow it to have such unique biology and transmit disease to both humans and animals.