Super-skinny solar cells soak up the sun:

Super-skinny solar cells soak up the sun:Stephen Pincock

ABC Science Online:Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Sliver cells:Transparent module of skinny sliver cells, which provide a greater surface area to capture sunlight (Image: ANU)The cost of producing solar panels could be sliced by more than 60% thanks to technology being developed by Australian researchers, physicists heard today.

Professor Andrew Blakers, director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at the Australian National University, says 'sliver technology' could reduce the price of solar power to below the current retail price of electricity.

And he says this could make it cost-effective for householders to buy solar panels rather than electricity from the grid.

Blakers describes the latest refinements in the technology at the Australian Institute of Physics conference in Brisbane.

The system works by taking a standard solar cell about 1 millimetre thick and cutting it into tiny slices that are just 120 micrometres wide.

"Imagine a standard solar cell is a loaf of bread. When you put it out in the sun it generates energy based on its surface area," Blakers says.

"Now imagine you cut that loaf up into slices and lay them horizontally. You get a lot more surface area."

This technique allows researchers to use much smaller amounts of expensive silicon to generate the same amount of electricity.

This can also keep manufacturing costs down, as all the processing steps normally carried out on solar cells are done while the slices are still in the 'loaf'.

"We're looking at major reductions in the total cost without the need for major scientific breakthroughs," Blakers says.

"It's about doing a good engineering job using known scientific principles, in contrast to some other technologies."

The sliver technology is also efficient at converting sunlight to electricity, he says.

In recent months, the researchers have achieved efficiencies over 20%, making it the world's most efficient commercial thin-film solar cell.

But further developments would be needed, such as figuring out how to cut thinner slivers, he says.

Blakers invented the technology with colleague Dr Klaus Weber and developed it with funding from energy supplier Origin Energy and the Australian Research Council.

Blakers and Weber won the Australian Institute of Physics' Walsh Medal for their work.

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