A novel way to make thin, uniform coatings developed at Rice University could reduce the cost of making conventional silicon solar cells, and could open the way for new kinds of solar cells that are far more efficient or cheaper than conventional ones.
The technology, which deposits coatings in a low-temperature, liquid-based process rather than the high-temperature gas-based process used now, is being commercialized by Natcore Technology, a startup in Red Bank, New Jersey. The company plans to use the technology to replace a standard step in conventional solar cell manufacturing—adding an antireflective coating to silicon wafers to help them to absorb more light. It will also offer a more advanced antireflection technology, called black silicon.
At the same time, Natcore is developing more advanced applications of the process, including fabricating solar cells made of carbon nanotubes or nanoscale crystals called quantum dots. Such solar cells will probably take years to commercialize, but could far outperform conventional solar cells. Nano solar cells have been attempted before, but the company thinks its new manufacturing technology could make them affordable.