Twin Creeks Technologies is a new startup that says it has sliced the price of producing solar panels in half — using an ion cannon. According to the company, it can produce solar cells for about 40 cents per watt compared to the 80 cents it costs now.
Producing solar panels is expensive in part because it's costly and wasteful to produce the super-thin silicon wafers which make up solar cells. As Technology Review reports:
The conventional way to make the crystalline silicon wafers-which account for the bulk of solar cells-involves cutting blocks or cylinders of silicon into 200-micrometer-thick wafers, a process that turns about half of the silicon into waste. The industry uses 200-micrometer wafers because wafers much thinner than that are brittle and tend to break on the manufacturing line. But in theory, they could be as thin as 20 to 30 micrometers and still be just as efficient, or more efficient, at converting sunlight into electricity.
That's where the ion cannon comes in. Twin Creeks uses a huge Hyperion particle accelerator to slice the wafers. According to Twin Creeks the Hyperion is 10 times more powerful than any other ion cannon used in commercial industry. This allows the company to produce solar cells near the theoretical minimum width. Not only does this mean Twin Creeks is using less silicon per wafer, but the ion cannon's precision means there's almost no waste produced in the process.
Twin Creeks has secured $US93 million to build its solar factory so hopefully these cheap solar cells will be hitting the market — and making solar power far more feasible than it has been in the past — soon. [Technology Review via Extreme Tech]
Image: Technology Review