Gatineau, Canada Treehugger, Michael Graham Richard asks us if we are ready for a breakthrough in solar cells.
(yawn) “Another breakthrough, eh? How many does that make so far this week?”
O.K., O.K., I’m on another solar roll. Hey, but, this one has a cool name! Black Silicon.
Harvard scientists discovered black silicon by accident: They shone hyper-powerful laser — “briefly matching the energy produced by the sun falling on the surface of the entire earth” — on a silicon wafer, and then added sulfur hexafluoride. The result was a piece of silicon that looked black to the naked eye, but that upon closer inspection showed a bunch of microscopic spikes (kind of like the “hairy” nanowire solar panels).
As yet, there are no reports of conversion efficiency achieved using solar cells made with black silicon. So, this forward looking information.
Hey, this looks promising, because of much greater light sensitivity and that the treatment to turn ordinary silicon into this new stuff would seem to be simple and relatively inexpensive.
“I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Well, it should be noted that the discovery occurred 10 years ago. Treehugger commentator vboring cautions that “absorption is only part of the problem of how to create energy; the material has to absorb the energy and excite electrons to a point where they jump over a gap, which leads to an electric current. If the material absorbs the energy and converts it to another form of energy like heat or large numbers of slightly excited electrons, nothing useful will be accomplished.” There remains the question as to whether an effective increase in cell efficiency can be achieved.
SiOnyx, a Massachusetts company, has raised $11 million in venture cash so far to develop this new material, which is 100 to 500x more light sensitive than regular silicon detectors and easy to make. “Because black silicon is just silicon that’s been roughed up a bit by femtosecond laser pulses and chemical treatment, SiOnyx’s technology could theoretically be integrated into existing semiconductor fabrication lines without much disruption.”
“You can do everything we’re talking about,” says SiOnyx principal scientist, James Carey, “without extraordinary, Herculean effort, and you can do it in a way that fits with high-volume manufacturing flows.”
Harvard has announced licensing of black silicon, which could become a major breakthrough for night-vision equipment, digital photography, and solar power!
“SiOnyx is continuing to experiment with the photovoltaic properties of black silicon, but Mr. Saylor said the company had no plans to jump into the market to become a solar cell manufacturer. “Our engagement is going to be as a technology provider, not as a producer,” he said.”