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Published on March 14th, 2012 | by Zachary Shahan


Ultra-Thin-Solar-Cell Company Unstealths, Aims to Cut Cost of Solar Cells in Half! (Images)

March 14th, 2012 by  


There’s a new solar cell company on the scene. Twin Creeks Technologies, a US startup, is looking to disrupt the solar market with its unique way of creating super thin solar cells. In other words, the company is developing a way for solar cell companies to produce solar cells (and, thus, solar panels) much more cheaply.

Twin Creeks is claiming that its manufacturing equipment is much more cost-effective and much more efficient than traditional equipment and that it can produce solar cells for 40 cents per watt, about half today’s leading 80 cents per watt.

If you are not aware, a glut in the solar panel market — a ton of solar panels and not enough demand — has driven down the price of these panels tremendously, so much so that numerous solar companies (e.g. Solyndra) are going out of business, and the ones that remain are facing extremely thin profit margins. Twin Creeks Technologies’ new offering may help some of these companies get back on their feet and start making good money again.

Furthermore, to be cost-competitive with other electricity sources (NOT taking important externalities into account, that is), Twin Creeks contends that the price of solar panels needs to get down to $0.50 per watt, so that the price of installing solar gets down to $1 per watt. I think most experts would agree.

As shared in a post full of new solar charts a few days ago, the price of solar panels (aka solar modules) continues to drop fast, now at $0.97 per Wp. If the price keeps dropping, it will approach the $0.80 cost of manufacturing these modules — that would mean no extra money left over for the manufacturer, of course. But now Twin Creek Technologies has popped onto the scene and claims it can get the manufacturing cost down to $0.40 per Wp….

Twin Creek Technologies’ Breakthrough Manufacturing Process

So, what’s so special about Twin Creeks? Here’s what the company claims: “wafers produced on Twin Creeks’ Hyperion manufacturing system are less than one-tenth as thick as conventional wafers.” One-tenth! (See the second image above.)

“With thin wafers manufacturers can produce more of their products with less raw material and less capital equipment. That means crystalline solar panels that sell for nearly 50 percent less than conventional panels and new generations of inexpensive semiconductors.”

Currently, silicon solar cell manufacturers lose about half their raw material as sawdust when slicing up the cells. More efficiently using this raw material, much more efficiently, makes a big difference. Silicon is the most expensive piece in a completely finished solar module. As an individual component in a solar power system, it is the highest expense.

This huge cost cut also reduces exposure to silicon price swings. “By consuming fewer materials per module, manufacturers are less exposed to swings in commodity prices. Manufacturers can better insulate themselves from fluctuations in spot and contract prices for silicon and other materials.”

Furthermore, Twin Creeks’ process uses an ion implant machine that reduces the need for all sorts of other manufacturing equipment (saws, furnaces, and more), cutting the cost even further.

You might think that silicon wafers one-tenth the size of those in use today would easily break, but they are actually very flexible.

Going on: “Since the resulting thin Si cell is bendable, the traditional glass sandwich is not necessary. The ultra-thin modules can be wrapped in a flexible encapsulant, reducing both weight and cost.”


Out of Stealth

Twin Creeks has completely gone the efficient way of “let’s develop a product people really need and then offer it up for sale” route, not the market-market-market route. As its CEO Siva Sivaram told Greentech Media, “We are a capital equipment company and will remain a capital equipment company. San Jose is where we integrate, Boston is where the equipment is designed and built, and Mississippi is where we demo the process on a 25-megawatt cell line. There has been no marketing and there is one sales guy. We are talking now because we have a product ready to ship along with 20 issued patents and a pile on the way.”

Twin Creeks’ 25-megawatt-per-year solar-cell factory was built in Senatobia, Mississippi, picture below.

The company also has an agreement with Perak State Development Corporation in Malaysia to develop a 500-MW solar module production facility at Perak High Tech Park in Ipoh, Malaysia.

Despite remaining in stealth up until yesterday, Twin Creeks has raised $80 million from Crosslink Capital, Benchmark Capital, Artis, and DAG Ventures for its potentially disruptive, cost-reducing solar manufacturing technology.

If you want more details, or want to watch a video produced by the company on its technology, head on over to Twin Creeks Technologies.

(Note: beyond solar power, this manufacturing breakthrough could also be useful for LEDs, power electronics, 3D packaging, and more.)

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About the Author

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • A Kumar

    With such a thin silicon wafer, reducing the reflection will also be a challenge, as textures are of few microns laterally and vertically. This will further reduce the thickness of the wafer.

  • Anthony

    Hey Zachary can you get me a sample of this new thin solar cell?

  • Bob

    Solyndra didn’t fail because of a glut in the market (there is/was no glut). Solyndra failed because its product was expensive because it didn’t rely on silicon. During the great silicon shortage, Solyndra was doing great because it was inexpensive relative to its competitors (and had low installation costs), but all shortages must end and when it did, prices for silicon dropped rapidly and Solyndra was left as a fiscally nonviable option. This was all pretty predictable, but oh well. As for the poor solar manufacturers; that’s life. There are numerous manufacturers right now and eventually there will be only a few. That shake-out occurs in every industry and is what keeps markets efficient. Only government regulation can destroy a market system and force it to be inefficient.

  • can these panels be make into custom shapes and sizes?

  • Can these cells be made to order into custom shapes and sizes?


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  • Hum… There is a big problem here they don’t address. Silicon has an indirect band gap. In layman’s terms, it’s not very good at absorbing light. If I remember my numbers right, silicon only absorbs 90% of the incident light within 100 microns. That’s why silicon PVs have to be thick. So 10 – 20 micron thick layers sounds like a terrible idea (read the efficiency will be very low).

    In contrast, CIGS and CdTe have direct band gaps, which makes them very good at absorbing light. PVs made out of these materials have ~3 micron thick absorbing layers.

    • Hmm, never read about that…

    • mds

      Sometimes there is more than one way to skin a cat.
      http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/SiGen-Using-Ion-Implant-to-Thin-Silicon-Wafers/ – February 2011
      “SiGen and a Crop of Startups Target Thinner Silicon Wafers” “SiGen promises kerf-free wafering via an implant-and-cleave process that is still in the early stages of development but could yield wafers with thicknesses down to 20 microns.”
      ” ‘AstroWatt also stated the theoretical peak silicon solar cell efficiency can be achieved with a 25 um silicon wafer thickness.’ ”

      http://www.swinburne.edu.au/chancellery/mediacentre/alumni/news/2012/02/australian-innovators-in-solar-world-first – February 2012
      “Australian innovators in solar world first” “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 solar cells.”
      “In their most efficient cells yet, the researchers went one step further, using what are known as nucleated or ‘bumpy’ nanoparticles.”
      “ ‘What we have found is that nanoparticles that have an uneven surface scatter light even further into a broadband wavelength range. This leads to greater absorption, and therefore improves the cell’s overall efficiency.”

      We’ll soon see if 20 um can make cells with competitive conversion efficiency.

  • Rambob

    Fantastic! until China steals the technology and floods the market with their subsidized version or just increases their already existing subsidies.

    • And then, when everyone is using cheap solar power, it’ll be.. not fantastic? You can’t really own an idea, and I’d rather be dependent on china than saudi arabia any day of the week.

  • Now, this may be a very encouraging breakthrough.

    It looks like these guys are really up to something.

    The most encouraging factor is that they already have a 25MW production line testing their equipment and process.

    I hope they can quickly sell a lot of lines.

    Dropping to $0.50/W would be awesome if it happens in a few years.

    • Yeah, this could be truly disruptive(!).. hope it doesn’t let us down. 😀

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