An Irish technology company based in the Synergy Centre at IT Tallaght has invented and patented an innovative new process which will significantly reduce the production costs for solar cells, used to trap light and make energy.
Nines Photovoltaic has invested €1.5 million in a newly commissioned Atmospheric Dry Etching (ADE) pilot scale demonstrator at IT Tallaght where it can now start trials of the patented process with key international solar cell makers. The Department of Electronic Engineering at IT Tallaght is also supporting the development.
To date, solar cell manufacturers have been unable to come up with a suitable silicon etching process that would let them use a lower cost but equally efficient Diamond Wire cut silicon wafers to make their solar cells. Many attempts have been made to transfer etching techniques developed for silicon semiconductor manufacturing , however the cost and complexity of these solutions do not fit with large scale solar cell production.
Nines PV developed an etch solution specifically for solar cell production from first principles . This approach has dramatically changed the etching processes used to manufacture solar cells - reducing the cost and increasing production line throughput while also increasing cell efficiencies.
Nines has pioneered a high throughput, atmospheric pressure dry etching technology. The Nines tool is used to etch away layers of silicon from a crystalline silicon wafer to facilitate the creation of a solar cell. This is currently done by manufacturers using a wet chemical process. The Nines solution uses a fully dry process which is also beneficial for the environment as it uses only chemicals with a Zero Global Warming Potential.
This significant breakthrough will enable solar cell manufacturers to cut their costs of production by up to 25%. For a typical solar cell producer this will equate to savings of up to €20 million a year.
Head of the Department of Electronic Engineering at IT Tallaght, James Wright said, "The partnership that has developed between Nines PV and our Electronic Engineering Department has proved to be very valuable. It became evident from working with Nines over a number of years that the company has great potential."
He added, "This is not only a valuable research project but also a means of promoting entrepreneurship among our researchers and students who see how their skills and expertise can be translated into successful technology ventures which are investor ready and targeted towards commercial success."
Fuelled by growing demand for sustainable energy and new demand in markets such as China, India, Japan and the US, the current addressable market opportunity for ADE production machines is estimated at over $1 Billion over the next number of years.