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Telecom research leads to solar cell breakthrough

Semiconductor insights gained by engineering physics researchers at McMaster University for the telecommunications industry have led to a research breakthrough in the future development of high-efficiency solar cells.

The Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) and ARISE Technologies Corporation, a solar energy firm headquartered in Waterloo, today announced that they are investing $4.1 million to advance commercialization of McMasters research.

Rafael Kleiman and John Preston, professors of engineering physics at McMaster, discovered a patent-pending method of applying single crystal layers of compound semiconductors, such as gallium-arsenide, on single crystal silicon crystal which they expect will convert sunlight to electricity twice as efficiently as other materials systems commonly in use.

Commenting on the news, Ian MacLellan, ARISEs President and CEO remarked, This project is expected to introduce a novel way to manufacture solar cells. When combined with ARISE's proprietary silicon technology currently being developed, there is the potential to more than double traditional PV cell efficiencies.

Playing a significant role in the commercialization of McMasters important research is part of OCEs mandate to develop Ontario-based clean energy solutions, said Mark Romoff, president and CEO, Ontario Centres of Excellence. Through partnerships like this, the world will be looking at Ontario for the best manufactured solar cells for both homes and businesses.

The ability to deposit high quality single crystal layers of selected chemical elements is key to absorbing and converting more sunlight to electricity, but achieving the necessary alignment on silicon was thought to be highly improbable at a large scale. The approach of combining different materials to capture a greater share of the solar spectrum, into multi-junction photovoltaic solar cells, today uses high-cost substrates such as germanium, and has mostly been deployed for space-based applications. However, solar-grade silicon crystal technology being developed by ARISE Technologies has the potential to make the discovery cost-competitive for large-scale applications.

The silicon-based multi-junction solar cells being developed leverage existing solar cell manufacturing technologies, which should speed time to commercialization and keep costs competitive.

We have the Ontario Centres of Excellence to thank for bringing us together with ARISE Technologies, said John Preston. Their introduction allowed us to transfer more than 20 years of experience in semiconductor technology to developing higher efficiency renewable solar energy.


Contact: Gene Nakonechny
McMaster University

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