Crystal Solar to Produce Solar Panels for 50% of the Capital Costs?
Around one third of the costs of solar panels go toward the manufacturing of silicon wafers. The process used to create them is complicated and requires a lot of resources.
If you`ve ever seen a monocrystalline solar panel you’ve probably noticed the characteristic shape of the individual cells:
Circular wafers are made somewhat rectangular by cutting their sides. Doing this wastes substantial amounts of silicon.
Crystal Solar has now announced that they have made a new simplified way of manufacturing that will produce solar panels for less than 50% of the capital cost compared to conventional silicon photovoltaic technology.
Their “Direct Gas to Wafer” – technology does not waste about half of the expensive purified silicon it starts with as most conventional technologies do. It also uses less expensive equipment.
Crystal Solar have developed a method that skips the part where highly purified silicon is made (this is where most of the waste happens) and instead derive pure silicon from a gas phase in an earlier stage. The technology has been in used in smaller scales for a long time in the computer chip industry. It uses less than 15% silicon usage compared to conventional silicon photovoltaic technology and the solar cells will still have over 15 percent efficiency.
The Korean company Hanwha SolarOne has invested $15 million in the new manufacturing technique. On top of this, The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is backing Crystal Solar with $4 million spread out over the next 1,5 years to fund the development of their new technology. They aim to have a fully functional small-scale pilot plant ready early 2013.
Only a couple of years ago, solar panels for under $1 per watt seemed crazy, which is why many companies put their focus on developing alternative technologies such as thin-film. Solar panels cost have in fact steadily decreased since then and they have reached below $1 per watt. Unfortunately, this has forced many companies in the photovoltaic industry into cutbacks, mergers, and bankruptcy. Let’s hope no companies fall through the cracks this time.
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