New Jersey-based Natcore Technology has found a way to use its research to quickly commercialize cutting-edge Black Silicon technology developed by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Natcore is working on a bigger solar technology, using liquid phase deposition and quantum dots to develop a more efficient solar cell at a lower cost.
In the process of developing that next generation solar PV, researchers realized that a piece of their work might be the only remaining element needed to bring NREL’s technology to market.
As a result, NREL has given Natcore an exclusive license to develop Black Silicon.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” said Natcore president and CEO Chuck Provini.
NREL developed Black Silicon by using chemicals to etch grooves into the silicon solar wafers, which turned the solar panels black and allowed them to absorb more of the sunlight, reflecting and wasting less of it.
Though Black Silicon has been studied since the 1980s, there was always a barrier to developing it. The etching leaves a significantly increased area of exposed silicon on the sidewalls of the pores and on the small mesas that remain at the top surface of the wafer itself. The exposed areas have to be passivated, or treated, to keep them from trapping the light-generated electric charges.
That always involved a thermal process, which added cost and reduced the solar cells’ effectives.
Natcore can passivate solar cells without that thermal process, Provini said.
“We want to replace that thermal vacuum chamber with work-bench chemistry,” Provini said. “Passivation seems to be the missing link to commercializing black solar.”
This technology will allow solar cells to absorb more light during times of the day when the sun isn’t shining directly on the panels or when the light is diffused by clouds or haze, Provini said. Those pores increase absorption.
“It’s not about increasing cell efficiency,” he said. “This is about getting the power from the cell to the module, about increased power output throughout the day.”
Provini said he believes Natcore will be able to bring Black Silicon to the mass market in 2012. The company is working on optimizing the technology and finding the ideal depth for the etched pores in the silicon wafers.
Once that’s achieved, Natcore will work with a local solar panel manufacturer to develop the technology in its product line.
“Natcore is more of a high-end research and development company,” Provini said. “We don’t want to get into manufacturing.”
As Natcore commercializes the NREL Black Silicon technology that won an R&D 100 award from R&D Magazine in 2010, the company will continue work on its own next generation solar cells.
Image courtesy of NREL.