Work underway to modernize rooftop solar production
Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy
There are alternatives to standard silicon solar panels. In fact, someday soon, consumers might be able install a solar panel that is 50 percent more efficient than the average silicon photovoltaic (PV) solar panel.
That’s exactly what Iris Photovoltaics Inc. (Iris PV) is aiming to produce. The Berkeley, California-based company is working to modernize how silicon solar panels are manufactured.
In addition, it is attempting to increase the efficiency of PVs to a range of 25-30 percent.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Small Business Vouchers (SBV) program award recipient’s technology adds a crystalline metal-halide perovskite layer to coat standard silicon solar panels, which produces additional electricity from infrared light. This is then layered on top of traditional silicon solar cells to create a “tandem” solar panel. These “tandem” solar panels, composed of two materials instead of one, generate a greater amount of electricity per panel.
From manufacturing floor to rooftops
Iris PV is receiving technical assistance from researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) through SBV as part of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Technology-to-Market program. Iris PV cofounders Colin Bailie and Chris Eberpacher are working with NREL researchers to manufacture the technology at scale and accelerate the adoption of solar with their high-efficiency PV products.
“Commodity silicon solar cells are mired in the 18-22 percent efficiency range,” Bailie said. “The theoretical maximum for combining two solar cell materials is 46 percent efficiency, though we’re aiming to fly a little less close to the sun and hit 30-35 percent efficiency.”
Compared to today’s standard solar panel, Iris PV’s design minimizes costs for manufacturers and is compatible with most existing PV technologies. It could also save individual homeowners thousands of dollars in upfront costs and utility bills compared to current technology. Once the technology is commercially available, officials hope to get an enthusiastic response from both solar installers and homeowners, Bailie said.
Overcoming manufacturing challenges
Today’s metal-halide perovskite solar cells have manufacturing limitations. Specific manufacturing techniques, such as spin-coating, limit the size of individual glass panels. The spin-coating process deposits thin layers of solvents or coating materials, like silicon wafers, using centrifugal force. This process also requires additional patterning in solar cell production, adding to overhead costs.
With the technical assistance of NREL’s researchers, Iris PV is overcoming limitations using inkjet printing. Inkjet printing can uniformly coat large areas and complete patterns by dispensing single drops with controlled print design. Because inkjet printers are more precise than spin-coaters, the production process is more efficient and uniform.
According to Iris PV, inkjet printing allows for rapid prototyping and low-cost custom products down the road, including the Iris PV form factor. To date, the project has printed single-junction perovskite cells with efficiencies of more than 16 percent, on par with devices made using other scalable technologies. And another benefit to Iris PV’s tandem panel design: Because it will be compatible with existing manufacturing tools and methods, costs for current solar manufacturers to switch technologies will be minimal.
Iris PV’s next step is to demonstrate the technology’s scalability. If it is able to print perovskite films on a 6-inch x 6-inch area, the demonstration will be considered a success.
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Companies: U.S. Department of Energy