WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Researchers are developing a technology that aims to help make solar cells more affordable and efficient by using a new manufacturing method that employs an ultrafast pulsing laser.
The innovation may help to overcome two major obstacles that hinder widespread adoption of solar cells: the need to reduce manufacturing costs and increase the efficiency of converting sunlight into an electric current, said Yung Shin, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of Purdue University's Center for Laser-Based Manufacturing.
Critical to both are tiny "microchannels" needed to interconnect a series of solar panels into an array capable of generating useable amounts of power, he said. Conventional "scribing" methods, which create the channels mechanically with a stylus, are slow and expensive and produce imperfect channels, impeding solar cells' performance.
"Production costs of solar cells have been greatly reduced by making them out of thin films instead of wafers, but it is difficult to create high-quality microchannels in these thin films," Shin said. "The mechanical scribing methods in commercial use do not create high-quality, well-defined channels. Although laser scribing has been studied extensively, until now we haven't been able to precisely control lasers to accurately create the microchannels to the exacting specifications required."
The researchers hope to increase efficiency while cutting cost significantly using an "ultrashort pulse laser" to create the microchannels in thin-film solar cells, he said.
The work, funded with a three-year, $425,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, is led by Shin and Gary Cheng, an associate professor of industrial engineering. A research paper demonstrating the feasibility of the technique was published in Proceedings of the 2011 NSF Engineering Research and Innovation Conference in January. The paper was written by Shin, Cheng, and gradu
|Contact: Emil Venere|