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US institute creates solar cells to cut costs by 75%

RTI researchers develop semiconductor PV cells to make solar tech more affordable

The solar cells are set to reduce production costs of PV by 75 per cent

Researchers at a US institute have created solar cells that are set to reduce costs by 75 per cent. The researchers at RTI International, North Carolina, have developed the solar technology which could make PV energy more affordable and speed-up its market adoption.

The RTI solar cells are formed from solutions of semiconductor particles, known as colloidal quantum dots, and can have a power conversion efficiency that is competitive to traditional cells at a fraction of the cost.

RTI said preliminary analysis of the material costs of the technology show that the solar cells can be produced for less than USD 20 per square metre - as much as 75 per cent less than traditional solar cells.

The RTI-developed solar cells have been created using low-cost materials and processing techniques that reduce the primary costs of photovoltaic production, including materials, capital infrastructure and energy associated with manufacturing.

The cells, which are composed of lightweight, flexible layers, have the potential to be manufactured using high volume roll-to-roll processing and inexpensive coating processes, which reduces capital costs and increases production. Unlike traditional solar cells, the RTI-developed cells can be processed at room temperature, further reducing input energy requirements and cost.

In addition to being low-cost, the cells have several other key benefits, including higher infrared sensitivity, which allows the cells to utilise more of the available solar spectrum for power generation.

Ethan Klem, a research scientist at RTI and co-principal investigator of the project, said: “Solar energy currently represents less than 1 per cent of the global energy supply, and substantial reductions in material and production costs of photovoltaics are necessary to increase the use of solar power. This technology addresses each of the major cost drivers of photovoltaics and could go a long way in helping achieve that goal.”

The technology was recently featured in a paper published in Applied Physics Letters.

In demonstration tests, the cells consistently provided a power conversion efficiency more than 5 per cent, which is comparable to other emerging photovoltaic technologies.

Jay Lewis, a senior research scientist at RTI and the project’s other principal investigator, said: “The efficiency of these devices is primarily limited by the amount of sunlight that is absorbed. There are many well-known techniques to enhance absorption, which suggests that the performance can increase substantially.”