Black silicon solar technology is a fun one that I’ve been keeping an eye on for a long time. Black silicon solar cell technology offers some potentially very useful efficiency improvements for commercial solar panels… if the costs can be lowered enough.
A handful of researchers have been working on this, and on other aspects of black silicon solar technology (such as greatly improving black silicon solar cell efficiency). Groups that stand out are NREL researchers, Fraunhofer Institute researchers, and the folks at Natcore Technology Inc.
Natcore recently released a pretty useful overview of their company and work, while also announcing a new member of its Science Advisory Board, Dr. David Carlson. Here’s the full repost:
Natcore Technology Inc. (TSX-V: NXT; NTCXF.PK) has made major strides in advancing its black silicon solar cells to commercial levels of efficiency and, as part of its development process, has discovered that its technology could finally provide the industry with a low-cost selective emitter application.
Natcore’s initial black silicon solar cells, the first full-size black silicon cells produced using a low-cost, scalable manufacturing process, had efficiencies of approximately 1%, as compared with average efficiencies for commercial cells of approximately 17%.
Through refinement of its in-lab production process, and despite the lack of a key piece of equipment, Natcore’s technical staff has been able to achieve efficiencies as high as 14.7%.
These results have been achieved without an adequate diffusion furnace to control phosphorus diffusion into the solar cells’ silicon surfaces. Natcore has now obtained and installed a fully capable diffusion furnace, with commissioning of this crucial piece of equipment having begun the week of April 1. The company’s technical staff is confident that this diffusion furnace will allow for significant improvements in the efficiencies of its black silicon cells.
Importantly, Natcore’s staff has discovered that its proprietary liquid phase deposition (LPD) may make a low-cost selective emitter application available to the solar industry. Selective emitter technology is a long-sought enhancement to solar cells in which the regions under a cell’s front contacts are heavily doped to improve the electrical connection, while the remaining emitter surface is lightly doped to promote better efficiency.
Selective emitter applications have been proven to significantly increase solar cell efficiencies, but a low-cost, highly scalable process has remained elusive to industry. Theoretically, Natcore’s LPD process could make this achievable, and early results from experiments using the company’s newly installed diffusion furnace have been very encouraging.
Because of these positive results, Natcore is now rapidly moving to protect its selective emitter intellectual property, and is in the process of filing provisional patents.
“The solar industry has been clamoring for a selective emitter application that is cost-effective because of its demonstrated improvement to cell efficiencies,” notes Natcore’s CEO, Chuck Provini . “In fact, once Dr. Daniele Margadonna joined our Science Advisory Board and learned of our plans to install a new diffusion furnace, he immediately urged us to simultaneously pursue a selective emitter approach. I’m pleased to say that we were very quickly able to demonstrate the efficacy of our technology toward this crucial and valuable application.”
Natcore’s black silicon and selective emitter applications are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are synergistic. Indeed, the envisioned production process would allow both of these important improvements to be seamlessly inserted into a solar cell manufacturing line.
“Combining Natcore’s black silicon technology with our groundbreaking selective emitter technology could raise today’s commercial solar cell efficiencies to new high levels, while still lowering the cost per watt,” says Natcore’s Chief Technology Officer, Dr. Dennis Flood . “Solar cell manufacturers are aggressively seeking easy-to-implement production steps that will improve their product and profitability without having to raise their prices. Natcore’s combination of selective emitter and black silicon technologies promises to do just that.”
Natcore also announced today that, after conducting due diligence into the company’s technology, solar industry pioneer Dr. David Carlson has joined the company’s Science Advisory Board.
A physicist with a worldwide reputation in photovoltaics and materials science, Dr. Carlson served as the chief scientist of BP Solar until his recent retirement.
In 1974, Dr. Carlson invented the amorphous silicon solar cell at RCA Laboratories, and was the first to demonstrate that hydrogenated amorphous silicon could be doped either p- or n-type and could be used to form a semiconductor junction.
Dr. Carlson was a co-recipient of the 1984 Morris N. Liebmann Award (IEEE) “for crucial contributions to the use of amorphous silicon in low-cost, high-performance photovoltaic solar cells.” For his outstanding contributions in the field of solar energy, he has also received the Walton Clark Medal from the Franklin Institute, the William R. Cherry Award from the IEEE, and the Karl W. Boer Medal from the International Solar Energy Society and the University Delaware.
Dr. Carlson is a fellow of the IEEE and has been a member of the American Physical Society, the American Vacuum Society, and Sigma Xi. He has published more than 150 technical papers, has been issued 26 U.S. patents, and has eight patents pending. He is listed in Who’s Who in America.
Dr. Carlson received a B.S. in Physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a PhD in Physics from Rutgers University. He served as a U.S. Army captain in Pleiku, Vietnam in 1969 and 1970.
Dr. Carlson joins Dr. Daniele Margadonna , Chief Technology Officer of MX Group SpA, on Natcore’s Science Advisory Board.
“These two scientists, along with our co-founders Dr. Andy Barron and Dr. Dennis Flood and our Director of Research, Dr. David Levy , give us a brain trust that in my opinion is unsurpassed in the solar industry,” notes Brien Lundin , Natcore’s Chairman. “Because of our recent advancements and expanding scientific and technical resources, we are also expanding our space at Eastman Business Park five-fold, to 20,000 square feet, in preparation for the progression of our technology from the lab to manufacturing facilities.”