Kerfless Crystalline-Silicon PV: Gas to Modules

We recently started a new program at ASU to work on one of the most challenging problems in photovoltaics. How to grow thin wafers of crystalline silicon directly from the gas phase and then process them into solar cells. The program takes advantage of technology that we recently developed to produce record voltages on crystalline silicon solar cells.

The program is funded by DOE ARPA-E and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and involves a collaboration between Applied Materials  (lead), Suniva and ASU. 

Current wafer production processes are time consuming and expensive, requiring the use of high temperatures to produce ingots from molten silicon that can be sliced into wafers for use in solar cells. This slicing process results in significant silicon waste—or “kerf loss”—much like how sawdust is created when sawing wood. With funding from ARPA-E, Applied Materials is developing a reactor where ultra-thin silicon wafers are created by depositing silicon directly from vapor onto specialized reusable surfaces, allowing a significant reduction in the amount of silicon used in the process. Since high purity silicon is one of the most significant costs in producing solar cells, this kerf-less approach could significantly reduce the overall cost of producing solar panels. Applied Materials is partnering with Suniva, who will use funds from EERE to integrate these low-cost wafers into solar cells and modules that generate low-cost electricity, and with Arizona State University, who will develop high-efficiency devices on ultra-thin kerfless substrates.