The solar industry is reaching new milestones with companies announcing a launch of products that will cut power prices drastically. Ampulse Corporation promises their innovative type of solar cells will produce power for less than $0.50 per watt. The company has developed a new production process that supports their claim.
Ampulse’s crystalline solar cells are thin slices of semiconductors made of silicon and only cost half of conventional solar panels. Commonly used solar wafers are not only more expensive to produce; they also generate less energy.
Silicon remains the most-used material in solar panel production. Silicon used in photovoltaic power generation requires a complex manufacturing process and includes major disadvantages:
• After the energy intensive and costly process of purifying silicon often more than half of the material gets wasted.
• Common silicon wafers are thicker than necessary. Thinner wafers still produce solar energy as effectively.
Many industry players are working on reducing production costs and waste of silicon to make solar a low-cost energy solution. Ampulse has nearly completed a pilot production line that develops thin film silicon. If Ampulse’s production line proofs to produce highly efficient solar cells at low cost, the company will be able to launch the next phase and develop a full-sized production plant.
Thin film silicon manufacturing process
While silicon remains the core of Ampulse’s solar panels, the company aims to reduce the use of costly silicon wafers and has further developed its thin-film crystalline silicon (c-Si) PV cells.
The manufacturing process involves growing the silicon on an inexpensive, textured metal foil by using a chemical vapour deposition process, which is less heat intensive than conventional production. Growing silicon straight from the gas phase also results in a much thinner wafer, less than 10 microns. The company’s tests proof that this thin film is a lot more efficient at generating electricity than common wavers.
Ampulse’s manufacturing process also avoids the sawing phase, which typically results in a loss of half of the refined silicon.
50 Cents per Watt
The company claims their new inexpensive thin-film solar panels will cut the cost of solar power drastically. Steven Hane, CEO of Ampulse, says his company’s solar panels will cost less than 50 cents per watt, with an efficiency of 15%, which are 30 cents cheaper than what current products can produce.
Timeline for product launch
Ampulse is already planning the next full-scale production line while currently installing a new pilot manufacturing facility in National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Process Development Integration Laboratory (PDIL).
The company launched as a start-up in 2007 with a small team of staff and has now grown further. Ampulse has signed agreements with NREL and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) with 1.5 million dollars available for further research.
As thin-film solar panels are still in their early stages of development, there is speculation about Ampulse’s success. The innovative manufacturing processes that overcome major common production costs are promising steps into developing cheap and efficient products.
Common production obstacles have slowed down the solar industry growth despite a record growth worldwide. Some of the industry players have been hit hard. Breaking through some of the obstacles is necessary to harness the industry’s great potential. The next 12 to 24 months will show whether Ampulse is on the right track of becoming a market leader.