The same facilities that produce today’s most popular consumer electronics like the iPad could soon be retasked to fabricate a new, more efficient form of solar cell that is engineered to make the technology more economical.
Solar3d, a public company that receives private financing, yesterday announced progress on a prototype design of its 3-dimensional solar cell technology. It has completed work on a key component that would absorb more potential energy than traditional photovoltaics.
Traditional solar cells have two fundamental problems: up to 30 percent of light is reflected from the surface, and energy is reabsorbed into the panels’ materials, said Jim Nelson, CEO of Solar3D. Solar3D specifically addresses those issues in its design.
The Solar3d design works by trapping light into a specialized collector that directs sunlight into a subsurface structure using technology inspired by fiber optics. It also significantly reduces the transfer of electrons from surface contacts to create an electrical current; existing solar cell lose energy that way.
“Solar technology as it exists today is not an economical relative to low cost alternatives," Nelson said. His team worked to identify areas in which current solar cell tech was losing efficiency, and developed a new solar cell from the ground up.
The company has applied for patents for its technology, and hopes to partner with a chip fabricator to go to market by the end of the year, Nelson said. It will be releasing efficiency data within a few weeks from now.
Solar3D’s design is intended for fabrication on high-speed semiconductor machines; it is materials agnostics, and allows plants to reuse their existing equipment. However, the current design specifications use silicon.
“The advantage of what we are doing is engineering to be made on existing semiconductor machines. There are no capital expenditures into plants and specialized machines,” Nelson noted.