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Published on August 24th, 2012 | by Joshua S Hill

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IBM Researchers Have Developed Record-Breaking PV Cells



 
IBM Materials Science researchers, in conjunction with partners from Solar Frontier, Tokyo Ohka Kogyo (TOK) and DelSolar, have developed an efficient and affordable PV cell that is made from abundant natural materials, and has already crushed the world record for PV solar-to-electric power conversion efficiency using earth-abundant materials.

The team from IBM wanted to create a technology that combined the virtues of being highly efficient, cheaply scalable, and easily made from abundant materials.

Made from copper, zinc, and tin and referred to as CZTS, the IBM thin-film device achieved a world-record PV solar-to-electric power conversion efficiency for solar PV cells composed of earth-abundant materials — 11.1 percent, which is a thwacking 10 percent better than any previous report. It can also be made from simple ink-based techniques such as printing or casting.
 

 
IBM explain their impetus for undertaking this research, and why they felt it necessary:

Currently, the most widespread PV semiconductors, made of crystalline silicon, are abundant and highly efficient. They’re in panels used for everything from home electricity to the International Space Station. However, they have extremely high material purity requirements (>99.9999 percent!), and the wafers are typically cut from large solid ingots and wired in series to form PV modules – making it expensive and difficult to upscale.

Other thin-film chalcogenide materials used in PV cells, such as Cu(In,Ga)(SSe)2 (CIGS) and CdTe, have been developed to a performance level close to that of silicon, with inherently more scalable processing. They are directly deposited on large-area, low-cost substrates such as glass, metal or plastic foil. While CIGS and CdTe are easy to integrate into buildings and consumer products, their compounds contain rare and expensive elements that increase cost and limit their manufacturing levels to less than 100 Gigawatts per year (worldwide continuous electricity consumption is 15 Terawatts – 150 times greater than the level of what these CIGS can produce).

Subsequently, IBM has created its new solar cell, which could potentially yield up to 500 GW a year. The researchers will now focus on further increasing the device efficiency, and transfer the technology to environmentally-friendly, high-throughput industrial manufacturing, with the hope that within the next few years this new class of photovoltaic material will be widely available as a lower-cost answer to solar electricity.

Source: IBM Research News

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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.   I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.



  • Anne

    “worldwide continuous electricity consumption is 15 Terawatts – 150 times greater than the level of what these CIGS can produce”

    That doesn’t pass the sniff test.

    Let me see, global electricity consumption in 2011 was 22,000 TWh. There are 8760 hours in a year. Divide. Answer: 2,5 TW. Six times less. The point still stands, but I’d like to get the numbers accurate because there is already so much disinformation floating around.

    The main source for this type of error is the habit of the energy industry to express everything in kWh’s. This 15 TW number is the total primary energy consumption.

    It is true that all kWh’s are equal. But some are more equal than others.

    Shoving all energy use into one number inevitably leads to underestimating the contribution that renewable energy is already making. Renewable energy is usually electricity, whereas fossil fuel is heat. A kWh of electricity can do 3-4x as much work as a kWh of fossil heat (think electric cars/heat pumps).

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