Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors
Heifer International



Home > Press > Glitter-sized solar photovoltaics produce competitive results

Representative thin crystalline-silicon photovoltaic cells – these are from 14 to 20 micrometers thick and 0.25 to 1 millimeter across. (Image by Murat Okandan)
Representative thin crystalline-silicon photovoltaic cells – these are from 14 to 20 micrometers thick and 0.25 to 1 millimeter across. (Image by Murat Okandan)

Abstract:
Adventures in microsolar supported by microelectronics and MEMS techniques

Glitter-sized solar photovoltaics produce competitive results

Albuquerque, NM | Posted on December 23rd, 2009

Sandia National Laboratories scientists have developed tiny glitter-sized photovoltaic cells that could revolutionize the way solar energy is collected and used.

The tiny cells could turn a person into a walking solar battery charger if they were fastened to flexible substrates molded around unusual shapes, such as clothing.

The solar particles, fabricated of crystalline silicon, hold the potential for a variety of new applications. They are expected eventually to be less expensive and have greater efficiencies than current photovoltaic collectors that are pieced together with 6-inch- square solar wafers.

The cells are fabricated using microelectronic and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) techniques common to today's electronic foundries.

Sandia lead investigator Greg Nielson said the research team has identified more than 20 benefits of scale for its microphotovoltaic cells. These include new applications, improved performance, potential for reduced costs and higher efficiencies.

"Eventually units could be mass-produced and wrapped around unusual shapes for building-integrated solar, tents and maybe even clothing," he said. This would make it possible for hunters, hikers or military personnel in the field to recharge batteries for phones, cameras and other electronic devices as they walk or rest.

Even better, such microengineered panels could have circuits imprinted that would help perform other functions customarily left to large-scale construction with its attendant need for field construction design and permits.

Said Sandia field engineer Vipin Gupta, "Photovoltaic modules made from these microsized cells for the rooftops of homes and warehouses could have intelligent controls, inverters and even storage built in at the chip level. Such an integrated module could greatly simplify the cumbersome design, bid, permit and grid integration process that our solar technical assistance teams see in the field all the time."

For large-scale power generation, said Sandia researcher Murat Okandan, "One of the biggest scale benefits is a significant reduction in manufacturing and installation costs compared with current PV techniques."

Part of the potential cost reduction comes about because microcells require relatively little material to form well-controlled and highly efficient devices.

From 14 to 20 micrometers thick (a human hair is approximately 70 micrometers thick), they are 10 times thinner than conventional 6-inch-by-6-inch brick-sized cells, yet perform at about the same efficiency.

100 times less silicon generates same amount of electricity

"So they use 100 times less silicon to generate the same amount of electricity," said Okandan. "Since they are much smaller and have fewer mechanical deformations for a given environment than the conventional cells, they may also be more reliable over the long term."

Another manufacturing convenience is that the cells, because they are only hundreds of micrometers in diameter, can be fabricated from commercial wafers of any size, including today's 300-millimeter (12-inch) diameter wafers and future 450-millimeter (18-inch) wafers. Further, if one cell proves defective in manufacture, the rest still can be harvested, while if a brick-sized unit goes bad, the entire wafer may be unusable. Also, brick-sized units fabricated larger than the conventional 6-inch-by-6-inch cross section to take advantage of larger wafer size would require thicker power lines to harvest the increased power, creating more cost and possibly shading the wafer. That problem does not exist with the small-cell approach and its individualized wiring.

Other unique features are available because the cells are so small. "The shade tolerance of our units to overhead obstructions is better than conventional PV panels," said Nielson, "because portions of our units not in shade will keep sending out electricity where a partially shaded conventional panel may turn off entirely."

Because flexible substrates can be easily fabricated, high-efficiency PV for ubiquitous solar power becomes more feasible, said Okandan.

A commercial move to microscale PV cells would be a dramatic change from conventional silicon PV modules composed of arrays of 6-inch-by-6-inch wafers. However, by bringing in techniques normally used in MEMS, electronics and the light-emitting diode (LED) industries (for additional work involving gallium arsenide instead of silicon), the change to small cells should be relatively straightforward, Gupta said.

Each cell is formed on silicon wafers, etched and then released inexpensively in hexagonal shapes, with electrical contacts prefabricated on each piece, by borrowing techniques from integrated circuits and MEMS.

Offering a run for their money to conventional large wafers of crystalline silicon, electricity presently can be harvested from the Sandia-created cells with 14.9 percent efficiency. Off-the-shelf commercial modules range from 13 to 20 percent efficient.

A widely used commercial tool called a pick-and-place machine — the current standard for the mass assembly of electronics — can place up to 130,000 pieces of glitter per hour at electrical contact points preestablished on the substrate; the placement takes place at cooler temperatures. The cost is approximately one-tenth of a cent per piece with the number of cells per module determined by the level of optical concentration and the size of the die, likely to be in the 10,000 to 50,000 cell per square meter range. An alternate technology, still at the lab-bench stage, involves self-assembly of the parts at even lower costs.

Solar concentrators — low-cost, prefabricated, optically efficient microlens arrays — can be placed directly over each glitter-sized cell to increase the number of photons arriving to be converted via the photovoltaic effect into electrons. The small cell size means that cheaper and more efficient short focal length microlens arrays can be fabricated for this purpose.

High-voltage output is possible directly from the modules because of the large number of cells in the array. This should reduce costs associated with wiring, due to reduced resistive losses at higher voltages.

Other possible applications for the technology include satellites and remote sensing.

The project combines expertise from Sandia's Microsystems Center; Photovoltaics and Grid Integration Group; the Materials, Devices, and Energy Technologies Group; and the National Renewable Energy Lab's Concentrating Photovoltaics Group.

Involved in the process, in addition to Nielson, Okandan and Gupta, are Jose Luis Cruz-Campa, Paul Resnick, Tammy Pluym, Peggy Clews, Carlos Sanchez, Bill Sweatt, Tony Lentine, Anton Filatov, Mike Sinclair, Mark Overberg, Jeff Nelson, Jennifer Granata, Craig Carmignani, Rick Kemp, Connie Stewart, Jonathan Wierer, George Wang, Jerry Simmons, Jason Strauch, Judith Lavin and Mark Wanlass (NREL).

The work is supported by DOE's Solar Energy Technology Program and Sandia's Laboratory Directed Research & Development program, and has been presented at four technical conferences this year.

The ability of light to produce electrons, and thus electricity, has been known for more than a hundred years.

####

About Sandia National Laboratories
Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, an autonomous Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Neal Singer

(505) 845-7078

Copyright © Sandia National Laboratories

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

Virginia Tech physicists propose path to faster, more flexible robots: Virginia Tech physicists revealed a microscopic phenomenon that could greatly improve the performance of soft devices, such as agile flexible robots or microscopic capsules for drug delivery May 17th, 2024

Gene therapy relieves back pain, repairs damaged disc in mice: Study suggests nanocarriers loaded with DNA could replace opioids May 17th, 2024

Shedding light on perovskite hydrides using a new deposition technique: Researchers develop a methodology to grow single-crystal perovskite hydrides, enabling accurate hydride conductivity measurements May 17th, 2024

Oscillating paramagnetic Meissner effect and Berezinskii-Kosterlitz-Thouless transition in cuprate superconductor May 17th, 2024

Possible Futures

Advances in priming B cell immunity against HIV pave the way to future HIV vaccines, shows quartet of new studies May 17th, 2024

International research team uses wavefunction matching to solve quantum many-body problems: New approach makes calculations with realistic interactions possible May 17th, 2024

Aston University researcher receives £1 million grant to revolutionize miniature optical devices May 17th, 2024

Gene therapy relieves back pain, repairs damaged disc in mice: Study suggests nanocarriers loaded with DNA could replace opioids May 17th, 2024

MEMS

Bosch launches longevity program for industrial and IoT applications: High-performance accelerometer, IMU and pressure sensor with 10-year availability July 23rd, 2020

CEA-Leti Develops Tiny Photoacoustic-Spectroscopy System For Detecting Chemicals & Gases: Paper at Photonics West to Present Detector that Could Cost 10x Less Than Existing Systems and Prompt Widespread Use of the Technology February 4th, 2020

MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress Technology Showcase Finalists Highlight Innovations in Automotive, Biomedical and Consumer Electronics: MSIG MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress – October 22-24, 2019, Coronado, Calif. October 1st, 2019

ULVAC Launches Revolutionary PZT Piezoelectric Thin-film Process Technology and HVM Solution for MEMS Sensors/Actuators: Enabling Reliable, High-quality Film Production for Next Generation Devices August 16th, 2019

Self Assembly

Diamond glitter: A play of colors with artificial DNA crystals May 17th, 2024

Liquid crystal templated chiral nanomaterials October 14th, 2022

Nanoclusters self-organize into centimeter-scale hierarchical assemblies April 22nd, 2022

Atom by atom: building precise smaller nanoparticles with templates March 4th, 2022

Sensors

Innovative sensing platform unlocks ultrahigh sensitivity in conventional sensors: Lan Yang and her team have developed new plug-and-play hardware to dramatically enhance the sensitivity of optical sensors April 5th, 2024

$900,000 awarded to optimize graphene energy harvesting devices: The WoodNext Foundation's commitment to U of A physicist Paul Thibado will be used to develop sensor systems compatible with six different power sources January 12th, 2024

A color-based sensor to emulate skin's sensitivity: In a step toward more autonomous soft robots and wearable technologies, EPFL researchers have created a device that uses color to simultaneously sense multiple mechanical and temperature stimuli December 8th, 2023

New tools will help study quantum chemistry aboard the International Space Station: Rochester Professor Nicholas Bigelow helped develop experiments conducted at NASA’s Cold Atom Lab to probe the fundamental nature of the world around us November 17th, 2023

Announcements

Virginia Tech physicists propose path to faster, more flexible robots: Virginia Tech physicists revealed a microscopic phenomenon that could greatly improve the performance of soft devices, such as agile flexible robots or microscopic capsules for drug delivery May 17th, 2024

Diamond glitter: A play of colors with artificial DNA crystals May 17th, 2024

Finding quantum order in chaos May 17th, 2024

Oscillating paramagnetic Meissner effect and Berezinskii-Kosterlitz-Thouless transition in cuprate superconductor May 17th, 2024

Military

NRL charters Navy’s quantum inertial navigation path to reduce drift April 5th, 2024

What heat can tell us about battery chemistry: using the Peltier effect to study lithium-ion cells March 8th, 2024

The Access to Advanced Health Institute receives up to $12.7 million to develop novel nanoalum adjuvant formulation for better protection against tuberculosis and pandemic influenza March 8th, 2024

New chip opens door to AI computing at light speed February 16th, 2024

Textiles/Clothing

This new fabric coating could drastically reduce microplastic pollution from washing clothes: University of Toronto Engineering researchers are working on a fabric finish to prevent microplastic fibres from shedding during laundry cycles January 27th, 2023

Protective equipment with graphene nanotubes meets the strictest ESD safety standards March 25th, 2022

Polymer fibers with graphene nanotubes make it possible to heat hard-to-reach, complex-shaped items February 11th, 2022

Flexible material shows potential for use in fabrics to heat, cool July 3rd, 2020

Aerospace/Space

Under pressure - space exploration in our time: Advancing space exploration through diverse collaborations and ethical policies February 16th, 2024

Bridging light and electrons January 12th, 2024

New tools will help study quantum chemistry aboard the International Space Station: Rochester Professor Nicholas Bigelow helped develop experiments conducted at NASA’s Cold Atom Lab to probe the fundamental nature of the world around us November 17th, 2023

Manufacturing advances bring material back in vogue January 20th, 2023

Solar/Photovoltaic

Development of zinc oxide nanopagoda array photoelectrode: photoelectrochemical water-splitting hydrogen production January 12th, 2024

Shedding light on unique conduction mechanisms in a new type of perovskite oxide November 17th, 2023

Inverted perovskite solar cell breaks 25% efficiency record: Researchers improve cell efficiency using a combination of molecules to address different November 17th, 2023

Charged “molecular beasts” the basis for new compounds: Researchers at Leipzig University use “aggressive” fragments of molecular ions for chemical synthesis November 3rd, 2023

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE




  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project