NREL solar research garners two R&D 100 awards

“These two technologies will play an important part in advancing solar energy’s competitiveness and enhancing the availability of solar power in the United States and around the world,” NREL director Dan Arvizu said.

The “Black Silicon” Nanocatalytic Wet-Chemical Etch emerged from work by NREL photovoltaics (PV) researchers that demonstrated that “black silicon” solar cells, which have been chemically etched to appear black, can better absorb the sun’s energy. The inexpensive, one-step method reduces light reflection from silicon wafers to less than two percent, and promises to reduce manufacturing production cost and capital expense, says NREL.

It continued by saying that any photons reflected from the surface of a solar cell are wasted. To reduce reflected sunlight and increase cell efficiency, NREL scientists invented the antireflection process that turns silicon wafers black so they absorb 98 percent of solar radiation.

Today’s solar cells absorb about 95 percent of the sun’s radiation, so the new high-absorption black silicon process could make solar cells some three percent more efficient, according to NREL. That should reduce the cost of energy delivered over the life of a silicon PV array by about 2.5 percent.

The Amonix 7700 Solar Power Generator was developed in a partnership between NREL and Amonix. It is a highly concentrated, highly efficient bulk power generator that produces 40 percent more energy than conventional fixed photovoltaic panels.

The 53-kilowatt photovoltaic power generator is based on the MegaModule, a turnkey unit pairing a durable Amonix Fresnel lens with high-efficiency multi-junction solar cells.

The Amonix 7700 is the first terrestrial photovoltaic system capable of converting one-fourth of the sun’s energy into usable electricity, states NREL. It produces “more power per tower” by using record-efficient solar cells, tried-and-true concentrator Fresnel lenses and smart controller and tracker systems.

It is expected to be a game-changer, sharply increasing the viability of PV-generated electricity to compete with fossil fuels. "At 53 kilowatts of electricity generation per unit," says the company, "it has the highest capacity in the industry, and it can be installed in days, rather than the weeks or months typical of large-scale concentrated photovoltaic arrays.