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The Glitter Of Solar Power

The Ability of Light to Produce Electrons, and Thus Electricity, Has Been Known For Over 100 Years.

At the Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Sandia National Laboratories, scientists have developed tiny glitter-sized photovoltaic cells that could revolutionize the way solar energy is collected and used.

The tiny solar particles, fabricated of crystalline silicon, hold the potential for a variety of new applications. They are expected eventually to be less expensive and have greater efficiencies than current photovoltaic collectors that are pieced together with 6-inch- square solar wafers.

The cells are fabricated using micro-electronic and micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) techniques common to today’s electronic foundries.

Sandia lead investigator Greg Nielson said the research team has identified more than 20 benefits of scale for its micro-photovoltaic cells. These include new applications, improved performance, potential for reduced costs and higher efficiencies.

“Eventually units could be mass-produced and wrapped around unusual shapes for building-integrated solar, tents and maybe even clothing,” he said. This would make it possible for hunters, hikers or military personnel in the field to recharge batteries for phones, cameras and other electronic devices as they walk or rest.

For large-scale power generation, said Sandia researcher Murat Okandan, “One of the biggest scale benefits is a significant reduction in manufacturing and installation costs compared with current PV techniques.”

Part of the potential cost reduction comes about because microcells require relatively little material to form well-controlled and highly efficient devices.

From 14 to 20 micrometers thick (a human hair is approximately 70 micrometers thick) and 0.25 to 1 millimeter across, they are 10 times thinner than conventional 6-inch-by-6-inch brick-sized cells, yet perform at about the same efficiency.

100 times less silicon generates same amount of electricity.

“Since they are much smaller and have fewer mechanical deformations for a given environment than the conventional cells, they may also be more reliable over the long term”, said Okandan.

Another manufacturing convenience is that the cells, because they are only hundreds of micrometers in diameter, can be fabricated from commercial wafers of any size, including today’s 300-millimeter (12-inch) diameter wafers and future 450-millimeter (18-inch) wafers. Further, if one cell proves defective in manufacture, the rest still can be harvested, while if a brick-sized unit goes bad, the entire wafer may be unusable. Also, brick-sized units fabricated larger than the conventional 6-inch-by-6-inch cross section to take advantage of larger wafer size would require thicker power lines to harvest the increased power, creating more cost and possibly shading the wafer. That problem does not exist with the small-cell approach and its individualized wiring.

Other unique features are available because the cells are so small. “The shade tolerance of our units to overhead obstructions is better than conventional PV panels,” said Nielson, “because portions of our units not in shade will keep sending out electricity where a partially shaded conventional panel may turn off entirely.”

Each cell is formed on silicon wafers, etched and then released inexpensively in hexagonal shapes, with electrical contacts prefabricated on each piece, by borrowing techniques from integrated circuits and MEMS.

Offering a run for their money to conventional large wafers of crystalline silicon, electricity presently can be harvested from the Sandia-created cells with 14.9 percent efficiency. Off-the-shelf commercial modules range from 13 to 20 percent efficient.

solar-microcellsA widely used commercial tool called a pick-and-place machine — the current standard for the mass assembly of electronics — can place up to 130,000 pieces of glitter per hour at electrical contact points pre-established on the substrate (including flexible substrates); the placement takes place at cooler temperatures. The cost is approximately one-tenth of a cent per piece with the number of cells per module determined by the level of optical concentration and the size of the die, likely to be in the 10,000 to 50,000 cell per square meter range. An alternate technology, still at the lab-bench stage, involves self-assembly of the parts at even lower costs.

Solar concentrators — low-cost, prefabricated, optically efficient microlens arrays — can be placed directly over each glitter-sized cell to increase the number of photons arriving to be converted via the photovoltaic effect into electrons. The small cell size means that cheaper and more efficient short focal length microlens arrays can be fabricated for this purpose.

High-voltage output is possible directly from the modules because of the large number of cells in the array. This should reduce costs associated with wiring, due to reduced resistive losses at higher voltages.

Other possible applications for the technology include satellites and remote sensing.

The work is supported by DOE’s Solar Energy Technology Program and Sandia’s Laboratory Directed Research & Development program.

….. as the green future unfolds.

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No Responses to “The Glitter Of Solar Power”

  1. Europa reduce sus subsidios solares « RDi Press Says:

    […] The Glitter Of Solar Power ( […]

  2. Johnny Says:

    Realistically, how long do you think it will be before solar will be installed in everyday situations? On top of new homes, etc.

    I read an article a month or so back , that said Lowes was going to start selling solar panels in their stores. This is encouraging, but then you have to install them, and the reports from those specific panels were that they weren’t worth it, because they don’t produce enough power.

    I just really hope this form of energy takes off in the near future, because living in Texas, I could really benefit from having a few panels in my yard or roof.

  3. Linda Says:

    Hi Johnny … I am right there with you on that! Look for the prices to come down this year because hitting the market is alll different types of photovoltaic products such as spray on paint, flexible panels, etc.

  4. iip albanjary Says:

    I’m living in a developing country endowed by sun-light almost every day in a year

    Most of us use no solar panel because of its price. Solar panel is too expensive–and I don’t know why after a hundred year of the sunlight-to-power technology developed, the price still in unaffordable level.

  5. Linda Says:

    Hi iip … They have known about it but could not develop it until about 50 years ago with NASA projects. There’s been little demand until the present for solar generated energy so the supply has been expensive. Now you will see the price come down as mentioned to Johnny.

  6. Barbara Says:

    It will be great when the supply meets the demand and the price goes down. No matter what, it is a great energy source, and will be a good money saver!

  7. Linda Says:

    Hi Barbara …. you bet and I wish it was available to all folks…

    Hi Chevrolet … Glad to hear that … wanna share your experience?

  8. chevrolet air conditioning compressor Says:

    I am looking forward to read your next great article… Nice article, thanks.I am impressed with the content of the article. I have been trying this method and I have seen some real improvements. This method is very useful.

  9. college sweatshirts Says:


    Solar panel is very very useful but the thing is, it is way too expensive. But I really hope the price gets down and becomes affordable for the average people like me.

  10. Linda Says:

    Hi college … I do too! My hope is that all solar prices come down soon.

    Hi Kirhat … I know it makes us all wonder but soon, they will have to come down if they want some business. I think your post is really cool concept.

  11. Kirhat Says:

    Solar panels in our country is very expensive, which makes people wonder if it really pays to use solar energy at this point. Nevertheless, there are some visionaries who still try to harness solar energy to power vehicles, such as the one a featured in my latest post.

    Seek No More
    .-= Kirhat´s last blog ..Sleeker SIKAT Tours Pinas =-.

  12. Diane Scott Says:

    While I can understand initial development costs and the need to recoup an investment, it might be just me, but as soon as something hits the market (one in desperate need of alternative solutions), priced reasonably and the ROI would cover itself in no time at all. I’m in a conspiracy theory mood today that “they” just don’t want to do anything, any time soon. I mean come on “they” are still out there talking that “clean coal” is possible. Give me a break.

    Ramble done, great job on the post! Thanks!
    .-= Diane Scott´s last blog ..Too Personal? That Just Might Be Your Problem =-.

  13. Linda Says:

    Hi Diane …. you know, your theory could be spot on. However, I am looking to the little guys hoping to get into the market place and could be held up by the big guys…. there are ways, my friend, to get it to the public and I am hoping they are working it.

  14. Natural Herbal remedies Says:

    Solar panel are very useful but the thing is, its very expensive..hope the prices come down in the near future

  15. Linda Says:

    Hi Natural Herbal … Me too! It would help us all.

  16. Global Patriot Says:

    They do such amazing work at Sandia, thanks for spreading the word on how our tax dollars are being used to benefit us all – just think if all the bailout money went into research!
    .-= Global Patriot´s last blog ..Supreme Court Decimates Democracy =-.

  17. Linda Says:

    Hi Global Patriot … OMG! WE would of had the grid fixed, everyone getting solar, etc. Too bad….

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