Natcore’s All-Back-Contact Solar Cells Achieve Commercial-Level Efficiencies

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Natcore Technology’s new solar cells, based on the company’s all-back-contact silicon cell structure design, have reached commercial-level solar conversion efficiencies, according to a new press release.

This is notable for two primary reasons: Natcore Technology’s cell design replaces the relatively expensive silver used in most designs with lower-cost aluminum; and the company’s proof-of-concept cells from as recently as 11 months ago were only delivering conversion efficiencies of around 4%. The company’s solar cells are now reaching efficiencies of around 17.5%.

The achievement of a solar conversion efficiency of 17.5% puts the company’s cells roughly on-level with many commercially available solar cells of today — which is quite notable when you realize that the company is working with relatively limited laser + processing equipment at its Rochester research facilities. Higher conversion efficiencies are seemingly likely to be easily achievable with typical production facility equipment.

A new press release provides some details:

Importantly, Natcore’s new cell design is producing short-circuit currents above 40 mA/cm2 and open-circuit voltages above 0.65V. Expected improvements in these measurements, as well as fill factor, project to efficiencies well above 20%.

Natcore’s new design builds upon the basic concept of a silicon heterojunction (SHJ) solar cell. An SHJ cell produced by Panasonic holds the current world record efficiency for a silicon solar cell at 25.6%. There is nothing inherent in Natcore’s new design that would preclude it from ultimately achieving efficiencies in this range.

…Natcore’s laser processed, all back contact solar cell technology will accelerate the introduction of a new generation of solar panels that will be more efficient than current solar panels and will be lower in cost. Part of the output gain will come from eliminating the reflecting metal contact strips on the top of the cell, thereby increasing the amount of light absorbed by the panel, and part of it will come from reducing cell-to-module losses, ie, the electrical losses that occur when the cells are electrically connected to each other using the small metal ribbons that are today’s technology. The result will be an improvement of panel efficiency by as much as 8% to 10% compared to today’s products. The panel cost reduction comes partly from replacing the cost of silver with the cost of aluminum and partly from the reduced handling needed for an all back contact panel assembly compared to a standard panel.

That certainly sounds promising, and the company is reportedly utilizing an independent laboratory for analysis — which will be used to convince potential partners of the technology’s value.

“Many companies are producing cells with efficiencies at the levels we’ve so far achieved,” stated Dr David Levy, Natcore’s Director of Research and Technology. “But cells made using our technology will ultimately be much more efficient and far less expensive to produce, which will equate to very significant cost/watt improvements.”

“We have reached performance goals that make us ready to present our case to large manufacturers whose scale and resources can help us reach the ultimate, ultra-high-efficiency potential that our cells are capable of,” commented Chuck Provini, Natcore’s president and CEO.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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