Innovalight Reaches 18% Efficiency For Silicon Ink Cells

Innovalight,which makes solar cells by printing what it calls "silicon ink," saidTuesday its cells can convert 18 percent of sunlight that his them intoelectricity.

Both the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the FraunhoferInstitute for Solar Energy Systems verified the cells’ efficiency,Innovalight said. Innovalight’s cells came from its 10-megawattproduction line it installed earlier this year, a company spokesman said.

That efficiency figure refers to the best cells the company couldproduce instead of the average efficiency of cells coming out of theproduction line, which generally is lower.

Still, the achievement will boost Innovalight’s ability to marketits technology, which is moving toward commercialization. Solarelectricity in general is still more expensive than coal-based power,so making highly efficient solar energy equipment at low costs is theultimate goal for any solar company.

Most of the silicon solar cells on the market today haveefficiencies around the mid-teens while thin-film manufacturers hoveraround the 10 percent mark or lower. Thin-film solar cells, sayadvocates, cost less because the manufacturing processes are lessonerous: thin films ideally are more like making window coatings thanmemory chips. Innovalight essentially is aiming at marryingthin-film-like manufacturing concepts with the crystalline work ethic.

There are a handful of companies that can make highly efficientsilicon cells from their factories, notable among them is SunPower. TheSan Jose, Calif.-based company has been mass-producing cells with 22percent efficiency for the past two years, said SunPower spokeswomanHelen Kendrick.

China-based Suntech Power has boosted its cell efficiency using anew technology it calls Pluto. The best Pluto cells could achieve 18.8percent (see Suntech Claims New World Record in Silicon Panel Efficiency). Suntech started shipping panels assembled with Pluto cells earlier this year.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Innovalight, founded in 2002, is taking anovel approach to depositing silicon, the key ingredient for convertinglight into energy, than the larger players in the market.

Unlike other companies that process silicon as a solid material or agas, Innovalight said it has figured out a way to use silicon in aliquid form. Using the silicon ink could speed up solar cell productionrate, and the process promises to cut manufacturing costs, Innovalightsaid.

Most of the solar panels on the market today are made with silicon,which fetched high prices only a few years ago. Prices for silicon havecome down significantly, by as much as 50 percent, in the past year asdemand for solar energy products slowed and a significantly inventorieshave been built up by solar companies worldwide (see Solar Panel Glut Could Last Until 2010, Says Report).

As a result, solar cell and panel makers also have cut the prices of their products by as much as 50 percent. Instead of more than $4 per watt for the panels, the wholesale prices now hover around $2 to $2.50 per watt.

How the new market dynamics affect Innovalight remains to be seen.In June this year, the company said silicon ink printing equipmentcould make ultra-thin solar cells that are almost four times thinner than conventional cells

Innovalight is backed by venture capital investors including ArchVenture Partners, Apax Partners, Convexa Capital, Harris & Harrisand Seven Rosen Funds.

We will be talking to Innovalight’s CEO Conrad Burke later today and will update the story.

Image courtesy Innovalight.

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