UK scientists build new 3D solar architecture

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A research team from the University of Sheffield and U.K. storage and energy generation tech provider Power Roll Limited claims to have developed a new 3D back contact solar cell based on a surface embossed with micro grooves the width of a human hair.

The cell was created by coating opposing walls of micro grooves with different electrical contacts then filling the grooves with a solution-processable semiconductor, the researchers said. This kind of cell architecture, they claim, can be made with fewer production processes than traditional flat structure based silicon cells, and can be manufactured with other materials than silicon.

The architecture of the new cell is also said to have the potential to reduce optical losses within the device while removing expensive transparent conductive oxides.

“Solar modules produced using this design will weigh only a fraction of an equivalent-power conventional solar module, which could benefit less developed and off grid areas of the world where it is not viable to transport heavy solar panels, as well as [having] a wide range of other applications,” said the scientists behind the innovation in a statement issued to publicize their research.

Commercial aim

Power Roll said working mini-module demonstrators of the cell had already been produced and it will increase efforts to bring the technology into commercial production.

Professor David Lidzey, from the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Sheffield, said: “The devices we have demonstrated with Power Roll have a promising efficiency whereby 7% of sunlight power falling onto a single photovoltaic micro groove device is directly converted to electrical power – this is already around a third of what the best performing but [most] expensive solar cells produce today.”

On its website, Power Roll says its cell technology is five times cheaper to manufacture than silicon PV cells, 10% cheaper than other flexible devices and 40% cheaper to transport and install. The company also claims the device has low capital requirements, with production capacity costing 10 times less than silicon PV, and that its payback period is less than half that of silicon PV.