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Nanomaterials set to grow 44%

Posted: 09 Feb 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:solar cells  nanomaterials  CIGS  solar wafers 

According to a recently published report by market research company The Information Network, nanomaterials for solar cells grew 47% in 2008 and is forecasted to grow another 44% in 2009.

Copper Indium Gallium DiSelenide (CIGS) solar cells pushed the market as manufacturers such as NanoSolar, Global Solar, Daystar Technologies, IBM, Miasole, and Ascent Solar increased production. With efficiencies greater than 10%, well above amorphous silicon, manufacturers are developing unique deposition methods and substrates using nanomaterials.

"Competing with CIGS are traditional crystalline and polycrystalline cells made with silicon wafers. On the horizon is a new nanomaterial that promises to cut solar cell prices," noted Dr. Robert Castellano, president of The Information Network. "A privately held company, The Nanosteel Company, Inc., is currently developing a steel based on nanotechnology that would allow for a 60µm diameter wire. When utilised by solar wafer manufacturers, it could drive down the price of solar, making crystalline and polycrystalline cells more cost effective at the system level than amorphous silicon cells."

Silicon is the largest contributor to the cost of wafer-based cells, accounting for as much as 50% of the total. Cell cost, in turn, accounts for about half of the total cost of a photovoltaic system.

A key focus in the solar industry is the reduction of wafer thickness, and hence weight and material costs.

Silicon wafers are sliced by a wire saw from a large cylinder of silicon, called a boule, but there is material called kerf loss during the process. The amount of kerf loss is based on the diameter of the wire and the particle size of the silicon carbide abrasive slurry used to cut through the silicon.

The typical as-cut wafer thickness is 200 microns. The typical length of a silicon boule is 1.0 metre. If there was no kerf loss, 5,000 200µm solar wafers would be produced, and at Rs.298.32 ($6) per wafer it amounts to Rs.14.92 lakh ($30,000) worth of wafers.'

Currently, the standard wire diameter is 120 microns (based on tensile strength so that it doesn't break during cutting) and the particle size of the abrasive is 8 microns. During the sawing operation, the surface of the solar wafer is also damaged by the abrasion of the SiC to a depth of about 11 microns for wire saw wafers.

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