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New Thin Film Process Takes Solar Another Step to Affordability

New thin film technology could boost solar collection on cloudy daysA new piece of thin film manufacturing equipment with the unlikely name of Viper (TM) could help bring solar energy to the masses.  Viper (TM) was developed by Sencera, a North Carolina company that got its start supplying thin film hardware for manufacturing transistors and integrated circuits.

Thin Film Works for Solar Cells, Too

Sencera started developing equipment to make solar cells a few years ago, and the company never looked back.  It is now focused on developing more efficient ways to boost solar cell conversion efficiency through thin film technology.

The Thin Film Difference

Thin film has been replacing conventional silicon wafers as a low-cost way to manufacture solar cells.  Thin film solar cells don’t need a silicon wafer, so they involve less cost for materials.

The Viper (TM) Thin Film Difference

Amorphous silicon is the material of choice in most thin film solar cells.  However, its instability over large areas limits the conversion efficiency of thin film solar cells to about 8%.  By using it in tandem with nanocrystalline silicon, Sencera hopes to achieve a greater conversion efficiency, with a goal of 11%.

Thin Film Efficiency vs. Cost of Manufacture

Conversion efficiency is one key to an affordable solar cell.  The other is cost of manufacturing, which depends partly on production efficiency.  In addition to bringing the cost of materials down, the high-speed performance of the Viper (TM) promises an efficient manufacturing process, too.

In other words, though silicon wafer solar cells currently have a much higher conversion efficiency than thin film, the Viper (TM) enables thin film to compensate with speedier, cheaper delivery.

Thin Film Solar Panels for You and Me

Another enhancement of the Viper (TM) is improved handling of the blue and red sections of the solar spectrum.  The process yields a solar cell that can function in a variety of light conditions including shade and angled light.  While applicable to large scale products, the process could also lead to more portable, consumer-friendly “plug-n-play” products.  With new solar thermal technology putting night-time solar power within reach, we could all be one step closer to cleaning the coal out of our closets.

Image: Torley on flickr.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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