Black solar cells. Image: ESB Basic Shutterstock

Can the panel colors solar energy cheaper? A recent discovery has indicated that changing the color of silicon in solar cells can reduce solar cell production costs by more than 10%, thanks to the work of engineers at Michigan University of Technology and Aalto University.

Silicon is the most common material used in the manufacture of photovoltaic (PV) solar cells. There are two types of solar cells, multicrystalline (they cost less, but offer lower yields) and monocrystalline, the latter being made of perfect crystals which cost more and produce higher yields. In both cases, common etching is done to reduce reflected light, which gives solar panels their blue color.

However, some researchers already knew that dry-etched nano-textured silicon makes this black silicon more effective at capturing light than standard etching. One of the researchers claims it has no color because the dry etching process takes a flat silicon surface and makes it ”engrave in a forest of nanoscale needles, these needles catch the light and do not let it escape” it is said.

You might think that the cost of these black silicon cells for dry etching and ALD is too expensive for commercial use, as according to Pearce ‘margins are extremely tight and everyone is trying to keep costs as low as possible“.

However, the results of his study even surprised Pearce. While the researchers found that the production of black cells cost between 15.8 and 25.1% more than conventional ones, they also found that its efficiency and ability to use less expensive multicrystalline silicon far outweighed the additional costs, reducing it by 10.8%.

Types of solar panels. Image: Leandro PP Shutterstock

What would be the future of renewable energy and solar power generation through materials science?

This study shows where the future of PV manufacturing will go and what countries could do to gain a competitive advantage.

Not only is black better than blue when it comes to solar panels, but such improvements could start to overtake its main competitors in power generation.

While the production process can still be optimized to extract a little more efficiency from the process, the next step is for decision makers to use the process to speed up PV manufacturing. A clear example is China, which already dominates photovoltaic manufacturing in the world, making a change like this is trivial.

Regardless of which technology dominates the solar field, this study shows us a clear economic boost, showing us that the solar energy only it will evolve.

More information: mtu.edu

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