Canadian Manufacturing

Natcore announces breakthrough in solar cell technology

New solar cell to cut costs and speed production process, company says



ROCHESTER, N.Y.—Scientists working at Natcore Technology’s research and development facility in New York have developed a new solar cell structure that will simplify the production process, significantly lower costs, and speed the path toward ultra high-efficiency cells.

Natcore says the new cell structure has the potential to completely eliminate high-cost silver from mass-manufactured silicon solar cells – an achievement that has been a long-time goal of solar science.

“Practical photovoltaic solar cells have been around for 60 years,” said Charlie Gay, former director of the National Renewable Energy Lab and a member of Natcore’s Science Advisory Board. “But Natcore scientists have taken a lot of known pieces and assembled them in new and different ways. They’ve taken basic concepts and made them manufacturable by using low-cost materials and simplifying production methods.”

The company’s new cell is an advancement of the silicon heterojunction cell structure that other researchers have used to achieve world-record silicon solar cell efficiencies.

Natcore’s says its adaptation offers these key advantages over previous SHJ cells:

  • The new cell structure – which can be achieved only through Natcore’s proprietary laser processing technology – may allow for the complete elimination of silver from the finished silicon solar cell.
  • With silver contributing approximately 30% to the cost of a silicon solar cell, this achievement alone would slash production costs.
  • Natcore’s laser processing techniques allow for further simplification of the production process, projecting to a cost-per-watt far lower than any solar cells available today.
  • Natcore’s early first-generation research cells using this new structure are already producing efficiencies near today’s common commercial cells. With better materials and further refinements that are in progress, the new cells show a clear technical path to efficiencies substantially greater than current commercial cells.
  • The new cell structure opens the door to further cost savings and production simplification through a novel packaging approach that Natcore is also pursuing as part of its development program.

“While we’re completing our patent submission, we’re hesitant to give more details about the new structure,” David Levy, Natcore’s director of research and technology, said. “All of our tests to date demonstrate that we’re on the optimum path toward very high efficiencies with manufacturing solutions that are low cost and do not require complex process equipment.”

The company’s first generation cells using this new structure have now surpassed basic efficiency and technical benchmarks and Natcore is beginning to pursue license agreements.

Parallel to its commercialization efforts, Natcore said it will continue to refine and improve its SHJ cells at its lab facilities and will leverage its relationships with leading independent laboratories to improve its technology.

Meanwhile, Natcore’s scientists are currently working toward a second generation of its new structure that will employ no silver at all and thereby validate this very important advantage.

Natcore said the new cell is an all-back-contact heterojunction structure using thin amorphous silicon layers in combination with a standard crystalline silicon solar wafer. It added that the cell could utilize a novel packaging approach in which a flex circuit is directly bonded to multiple, small contact pads by high-speed laser fusion.

The company pointed to two key advantages to this approach. First, it eliminates front surface contacts, which are costly and block some incoming light. Secondly, the cell-to-module packaging can be accomplished with low-cost, alignment-tolerant bonding.

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