Breakthrough in Thin-film Solar Cell Coatings

resized AscentCIGS Solar Cell Breakthrough in Thin film Solar Cell Coatings

Researchers have achieved a major feat in the use of continuous flowmicroreactors to generate light absorption coatings for thin-film solar cells.

This innovative technology has the potentialto significantly lower the cost of solar cell devices and reducematerial waste in the production process. The announcement was recentlyreported by engineers from Oregon State University (OSU) and YeungnamUniversity in Korea in Current Applied Physics, a professionalpeer-reviewed journal, where additional detail may be found on thistopic. Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona has well-knownexisting research programs centered on advancing this field of solarcell research as well.

This work is one of the initial demonstrations of this type of coatingtechnology, which is being touted as safer, faster and morecost-effective than previous chemical solution approaches. Moreover, itcould be applied to high throughput deposition of copper indiumdiselenide for improving light absorption in thin-film solar cells. Previously, thiscritical layer, often used in thin-film solar photovoltaics, hasrequired deposition methods such as: sputtering or evaporation, both ofwhich can be time-consuming or require vacuum systems or exoticchemicals that raise production costs.

Chemical bath deposition, which was utilized in this study, is typically a lower cost deposition technique that has existed for a century butnot for copper indium diselenide. In general, chemical bath depositionis performed as a batch process, but fluctuations in the chemicalsolution concentration over time may alter the growth rate of theresulting film. In addition, the depletion of reactants in the tank also limits the achievable thickness.

The new process developed at OSU, for the deposition of nanostructured films on various surfaces in a continuous flowmicroreactor, addresses some of these issues and enables reasonablecommercial viability. Further research will be focused on enhancingprocess control, testing of the finished solar cell, improving itsefficiency to rival that derived from vacuum-based technology, andscaling up the process to a commercial level.

This research that is supported by the Process and Reaction EngineeringProgram of the National Science Foundation has potential end-userproduct applications regarding coatings for camera lenses and eyeglasses and solar shingles being developed by companies such as Global Solar in Tucson, Arizona. However, funding for high-tech entrepreneurialendeavors has been quite limited overall, even with the emergence of stimulus funding and Department of Energy loan programs. 

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