Solar discovery sets new record for low-grade silicon

May 06, 2013

(Phys.org) —Solar engineers from UNSW have developed an innovative method to dramatically improve the quality of low-grade silicon, promising to significantly improve electrical efficiency and reduce the cost of solar panels.

The UNSW team has discovered a mechanism to control so they can better correct deficiencies in silicon – by far the most expensive component used in the making of .

"This process will allow lower-quality silicon to outperform solar cells made from better-quality materials," says Scientia Professor Stuart Wenham from the School of and Renewable Energy Engineering at UNSW.

Standard commercial currently have a of around 19%. The new technique, patented by UNSW researchers earlier this year, is expected to produce efficiencies between 21% and 23%, says Wenham.

"By using lower-quality silicon to achieve higher efficiencies, we can enable significant cost reductions," he says.

The has long been focused on bringing down the cost of silicon. However, cheaper silicon also means lower-quality silicon, with more defects and contaminants that reduce efficiency.

It's been known for several decades that hydrogen atoms can be introduced into the of silicon to help correct these defects, but until now, researchers have had limited success in controlling the hydrogen to maximise its benefits or even understanding why this happens.

"Our research team at UNSW has worked out how to control the charge state of hydrogen atoms in silicon – something that other people haven't previously been able to do," says Wenham.

Hydrogen atoms can exist in three 'charge' states – positive, neutral and negative. The charge state determines how well the hydrogen can move around the silicon and its reactivity, which is important to help correct the defects.

"We have seen a 10,000 times improvement in the mobility of the hydrogen and we can control the hydrogen so it chemically bonds to things like defects and contaminants, making these inactive," says Wenham.

The UNSW team currently has eight industry partners interested in commercialising the technology, and is also working with manufacturing equipment companies to implement the new capabilities.

The project, which has been generously supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is expected to be completed in 2016. UNSW still holds the world-record for silicon cell efficiency at 25%.

Explore further: New battery technology for electric vehicles

Related Stories

43 percent: New solar power world record

Aug 27, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Australian and US solar cell researchers have achieved the highest efficiency for solar power, setting a new world record of 43 per cent of sunlight converted into electricity.

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 ...

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.

Recommended for you

New battery technology for electric vehicles

Nov 21, 2014

Scientists at the Canadian Light Source are on the forefront of battery technology using cheaper materials with higher energy and better recharging rates that make them ideal for electric vehicles (EVs).

Company powers up with food waste

Nov 19, 2014

Garden products company Richgro is using Western Australian food waste to power their operations in a new zero-waste system.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.