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Title: Efficient 'Optical Furnace': A Cheaper Way to Make Solar Cells is Reaching the Marketplace

Abstract

In Bhushan Sopori's laboratory, you'll find a series of optical furnaces he has developed for fabricating solar cells. When not in use, they sit there discreetly among the lab equipment. But when a solar silicon wafer is placed inside one for processing, Sopori walks over to a computer and types in a temperature profile. Almost immediately this fires up the furnace, which glows inside and selectively heats up the silicon wafer to 800 degrees centigrade by the intense light it produces. Sopori, a principal engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, has been researching and developing optical furnace technology for around 20 years. He says it's a challenging technology to develop because there are many issues to consider when you process a solar cell, especially in optics. Despite the challenges, Sopori and his research team have advanced the technology to the point where it will benefit all solar cell manufacturers. They are now developing a commercial version of the furnace in partnership with a manufacturer. 'This advanced optical furnace is highly energy efficient, and it can be used to manufacture any type of solar cell,' he says. Each type of solar cell or manufacturing process typically requires a different furnacemore » configuration and temperature profile. With NREL's new optical furnace system, a solar cell manufacturer can ask the computer for any temperature profile needed for processing a solar cell, and the same type of furnace is suitable for several solar cell fabrication process steps. 'In the future, solar cell manufacturers will only need this one optical furnace because it can be used for any process, including diffusion, metallization and oxidation,' Sopori says. 'This helps reduce manufacturing costs.' One startup company, Applied Optical Systems, has recognized the furnace's potential for manufacturing thin-film silicon cells. 'We'd like to develop thin-film silicon cells with higher efficiencies, up to 15 to 18 percent, and we believe this furnace will enable us to do so,' says A. Rangappan, founder and CEO of Applied Optical Systems. Rangappan also says it will take only a few minutes for the optical furnace to process a thin-film solar cell, which reduces manufacturing costs. Overall, he estimates the company's solar cell will cost around 80 cents per watt. For manufacturing these thin-film silicon cells, Applied Optical Systems and NREL have developed a partnership through a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) to construct an optical furnace system prototype. DOE is providing $500,000 from its Technology Commercialization Development Fund to help offset the prototype's development costs because of the technology's significant market potential. The program has provided the NREL technology transfer office with a total of $4 million to expand such collaborative efforts between NREL researchers and companies. Applied Optical will construct a small version of the optical furnace based on the prototype design in NREL's process development and integration laboratory through a separate CRADA. This small furnace will only develop one solar cell wafer at a time. Then, the company will construct a large, commercial-scale optical furnace at its own facilities, which will turn out around 1,000 solar cell wafers per hour. 'We hope to start using the optical furnace for manufacturing within four to five years,' Rangappan says. Meanwhile, another partnership using the optical furnace has evolved between NREL and SiXtron Advanced Materials, another startup. Together they'll use the optical furnace to optimize the metallization process for novel antireflective solar cell coatings. The process is not only expected to yield higher efficiencies for silicon-based solar cells, but also lowers processing costs and eliminates safety concerns for manufacturers. Most solar cell manufacturers currently use a plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) system with compressed and extremely pyrophoric silane gas (SiH4) for applying passivation antireflective coatings (ARC). If silane is exposed to air, the SiH4 will explode - a serious safety issue for high-volume manufacturers. SiXtron's process uses a solid, silicon-based polymer that's converted into noncompressed, nonexplosive gas, which then flows to a standard PECVD system. 'The solid source is so safe to handle that it can be shipped by FedEx,' says Zbigniew Barwicz, president and CEO of SiXtron. Barwicz says manufacturers can use the same PECVD processing equipment for the SiXtron process that they already use for SiH4, a plug-and-play solution. For this novel passivation ARC process, NREL is helping to optimize the metallization parameters. NREL has developed a new technology called optical processing. One of the applications of this process is fire-through contact formation of silicon solar cells.« less

Authors:
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
National Renewable Energy Lab. (NREL), Golden, CO (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE
OSTI Identifier:
958217
DOE Contract Number:  
AC36-99-GO10337
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Journal Name:
Innovation: America's Journal of Technology Commercialization
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 6; Journal Issue: 5, October-November 2008
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
14 SOLAR ENERGY; CHEMICAL VAPOR DEPOSITION; COATINGS; COMPUTERS; FURNACES; MANUFACTURERS; MANUFACTURING; MARKET; NATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY LABORATORY; OPTICAL SYSTEMS; OPTICS; OXIDATION; PASSIVATION; POLYMERS; PROCESSING; SAFETY; SILANES; SILICON; SILICON SOLAR CELLS; SOLAR CELLS; TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER; Solar Energy - Photovoltaics

Citation Formats

von Kuegelgen, T. Efficient 'Optical Furnace': A Cheaper Way to Make Solar Cells is Reaching the Marketplace. United States: N. p., 2008. Web.
von Kuegelgen, T. Efficient 'Optical Furnace': A Cheaper Way to Make Solar Cells is Reaching the Marketplace. United States.
von Kuegelgen, T. Wed . "Efficient 'Optical Furnace': A Cheaper Way to Make Solar Cells is Reaching the Marketplace". United States.
@article{osti_958217,
title = {Efficient 'Optical Furnace': A Cheaper Way to Make Solar Cells is Reaching the Marketplace},
author = {von Kuegelgen, T},
abstractNote = {In Bhushan Sopori's laboratory, you'll find a series of optical furnaces he has developed for fabricating solar cells. When not in use, they sit there discreetly among the lab equipment. But when a solar silicon wafer is placed inside one for processing, Sopori walks over to a computer and types in a temperature profile. Almost immediately this fires up the furnace, which glows inside and selectively heats up the silicon wafer to 800 degrees centigrade by the intense light it produces. Sopori, a principal engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, has been researching and developing optical furnace technology for around 20 years. He says it's a challenging technology to develop because there are many issues to consider when you process a solar cell, especially in optics. Despite the challenges, Sopori and his research team have advanced the technology to the point where it will benefit all solar cell manufacturers. They are now developing a commercial version of the furnace in partnership with a manufacturer. 'This advanced optical furnace is highly energy efficient, and it can be used to manufacture any type of solar cell,' he says. Each type of solar cell or manufacturing process typically requires a different furnace configuration and temperature profile. With NREL's new optical furnace system, a solar cell manufacturer can ask the computer for any temperature profile needed for processing a solar cell, and the same type of furnace is suitable for several solar cell fabrication process steps. 'In the future, solar cell manufacturers will only need this one optical furnace because it can be used for any process, including diffusion, metallization and oxidation,' Sopori says. 'This helps reduce manufacturing costs.' One startup company, Applied Optical Systems, has recognized the furnace's potential for manufacturing thin-film silicon cells. 'We'd like to develop thin-film silicon cells with higher efficiencies, up to 15 to 18 percent, and we believe this furnace will enable us to do so,' says A. Rangappan, founder and CEO of Applied Optical Systems. Rangappan also says it will take only a few minutes for the optical furnace to process a thin-film solar cell, which reduces manufacturing costs. Overall, he estimates the company's solar cell will cost around 80 cents per watt. For manufacturing these thin-film silicon cells, Applied Optical Systems and NREL have developed a partnership through a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) to construct an optical furnace system prototype. DOE is providing $500,000 from its Technology Commercialization Development Fund to help offset the prototype's development costs because of the technology's significant market potential. The program has provided the NREL technology transfer office with a total of $4 million to expand such collaborative efforts between NREL researchers and companies. Applied Optical will construct a small version of the optical furnace based on the prototype design in NREL's process development and integration laboratory through a separate CRADA. This small furnace will only develop one solar cell wafer at a time. Then, the company will construct a large, commercial-scale optical furnace at its own facilities, which will turn out around 1,000 solar cell wafers per hour. 'We hope to start using the optical furnace for manufacturing within four to five years,' Rangappan says. Meanwhile, another partnership using the optical furnace has evolved between NREL and SiXtron Advanced Materials, another startup. Together they'll use the optical furnace to optimize the metallization process for novel antireflective solar cell coatings. The process is not only expected to yield higher efficiencies for silicon-based solar cells, but also lowers processing costs and eliminates safety concerns for manufacturers. Most solar cell manufacturers currently use a plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) system with compressed and extremely pyrophoric silane gas (SiH4) for applying passivation antireflective coatings (ARC). If silane is exposed to air, the SiH4 will explode - a serious safety issue for high-volume manufacturers. SiXtron's process uses a solid, silicon-based polymer that's converted into noncompressed, nonexplosive gas, which then flows to a standard PECVD system. 'The solid source is so safe to handle that it can be shipped by FedEx,' says Zbigniew Barwicz, president and CEO of SiXtron. Barwicz says manufacturers can use the same PECVD processing equipment for the SiXtron process that they already use for SiH4, a plug-and-play solution. For this novel passivation ARC process, NREL is helping to optimize the metallization parameters. NREL has developed a new technology called optical processing. One of the applications of this process is fire-through contact formation of silicon solar cells.},
doi = {},
journal = {Innovation: America's Journal of Technology Commercialization},
number = 5, October-November 2008,
volume = 6,
place = {United States},
year = {2008},
month = {10}
}