October 11, 2007 5:10 PM PDT

Pour yourself a silicon solar panel

Pour yourself a silicon solar panel
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It's a crystalline silicon solar cell that you pour.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Innovalight says it has developed a somewhat contradictory-sounding process for creating crystalline silicon solar cells with liquid. If it works in mass production, it could slash the cost of making these solar cells by half or more, the company claims.

Innovalight essentially creates silicon nanoparticles, inserts them into a solvent, and pours the solvent on a substrate. The solvent is then extracted. What is left can sort of be analogized to a snowflake or a large sugar cube: a highly organized structure made up of tiny parts.

"We use this technique to make something that isn't much different from (traditional) crystalline silicon solar panels, except we get there cheaper," CEO Conrad Burke said. "They (the solar cells) end up in a pretty structured form."

The key is that the resulting solar cell has efficiencies--or the amount of sunlight the solar cell can turn into electricity--that are closer to crystalline silicon solar cells than thin-film alternatives such as amorphous silicon or copper indium gallium selenide or CIGS.

Crystalline solar cells have higher efficiencies than thin films. Commercial crystalline panels can convert up to 22 percent of sunlight into electricity, without concentrators. CIGS makers are initially shooting for the mid to low teens. The catch is that making crystalline solar cells is expensive. The patterning and other processes is similar to what is used in making LCD panels. Innovalight says it could conceivably cut the production price by around 50 percent or more. Many start-ups, however, had hit bumps in bringing new (albeit different) manufacturing techniques for solar cells to market.

Burke further added that Innovalight is not making photovoltaic dyes, which are liquids that can extract electricity from sunlight. While promising, photovoltaic dyes are organic and degrade over time.

Could it be used to cut the costs of LCD panels? Conceivably, but Burke said the company is solely focused on solar cells.

The company has just raised $28 million from Convexa Capital Apax Partners, ARCH Venture Partners, Harris & Harris Group, Sevin Rosen Funds (Burke is a former Sevin Rosen partner) and Triton Ventures, among others. Part of the money will be used to build a 30,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Silicon Valley.

Innovalight hopes to start selling solar cells in the second half of 2009. By 2010, the company hopes to be cranking out "tens of megawatts" worth of solar cells from the facility.

The process originated at the University of Texas at Austin, but Innovalight has added its own intellectual property over the last five years.

"It is pretty novel," he said.

See more CNET content tagged:
silicon, solvent, cell, sunlight, electricity

3 comments

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Claims and reality are two different things
How many times have we heard of claims of new breakthrus that never materialize. Yes, alchemists still exist.
Posted by oxtail01 (308 comments )
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Claims and reality.
Maybe, but then again, maybe not. The kernal of the idea may be developed by somebody else even if this company fails. I say "hats off" to them for even attempting this.
Posted by spothannah (145 comments )
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Solar Energy Con
I have lived off solar energy for over seven years now. I wrote Exposed; the Solar Energy Con which is available at Amazon.com. This is written from a woman's perspective and is an accurate representation of what it is like to live off the utility grid. My point is that if you can read it and still support solar you need your head examined.

The country is so focused on solar energy that any one who doesn't support turning the world into a solar array is an anarchist. I fear that by the time our country wakes up it will be too late.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.rockinblues.com/House/solarenergy.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.rockinblues.com/House/solarenergy.htm</a>

On June 26th 2006 my dog BooBoo died from water intoxication because living on solar energy I was unable to keep him cool. When I began to crunch the numbers I documented the fraud that the environmentalists have perpetrated on the American public. I challenge you to read the information I have put together for you. After you read this, make up your mind for yourself and I urge you to write your legislators.
Posted by tiffanysart (3 comments )
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