Engineers at the University of New South Wales have developed a way to dramatically improve the quality of low-grade silicon to improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of solar panels.
They discovered a mechanism to control hydrogen atoms to better correct deficiencies in silicon – the most expensive part of a solar cell.
“This process will allow lower-quality silicon to outperform solar cells made from better-quality materials,” said Professor Stuart Wenham from the School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering at UNSW.
Although the solar industry has been focused on reducing the cost of silicon, cheaper silicon means a lower quality product, with more defects and contaminants that reduce efficiency, according to the researchers.
The new technique to control hydrogen atoms - which was patented by UNSW researchers earlier this year - is expected to produce efficiencies of between 21 per cent and 23 per cent, up from 19 per cent in standard commercial silicon cells.
“By using lower-quality silicon to achieve higher efficiencies, we can enable significant cost reductions,” Wenham says.
“Our research team at UNSW has worked out how to control the charge state of hydrogen atoms in silicon – something that other people haven’t previously been able to do,” Wenham said.
The engineers have eight industry partners interested in commercialising the technology. They are also working with manufacturing equipment companies to implement the new capabilities.
The project, which is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is expected to be completed in 2016.