Black Silicon Solar Gets Natcore, NREL Focus

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) wants to make black silicon using less heat, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is collaborating with Natcore‘s revolutionary technology to do it.

Last year Natcore was granted a patent license agreement by NREL to develop and commercialize a line of solar cells made from black silicon, and this month, they agreed on efficiency and cost targets and the (rather surprisingly small amount of) funding to get there.

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image via Natcore

Black silicon cells—the absence of reflected light after etching silicon wafers with nano-scale pores makes it look black—have been exhaustively studied since the 1980s, because absorbing more light increases solar cell efficiency.

Natcore’s revolutionary way of making black silicon can cut reflectivity to a mere 1.5 percent. By contrast, typical silicon cells reflect about 40 percent. What gives panels that shiny look is actually power wasted by being reflected out.

But black silicon has resisted commercialization because it uses too much heat to make it, and is expensive. So far the most efficient black silicon cells (NREL’s 18.6 percent) require a “passivation” technology that uses heat.

So what is interesting about this collaboration is Natcore technology offers a dramatically lower energy solution—while greatly increasing current efficiencies in mass production.

The license grants Natcore exclusivity in developing its remarkable new way of applying the coating that can dramatically cut both the amount of silicon used in manufacturing black silicon solar cells, as well as the heat it takes to do it, which could cut manufacturing costs, bringing it closer to commercialization.

This week, the specific milestones to be met under last year’s license have been set and a DOE grant finalized to get there.

“We’ve been trying for two years to get financial support from the Department of Energy,”Natcore President and CEO Chuck Provini said in a statement. “This is a meaningful first step.”

Susan Kraemer enjoys writing to publicize the many great solutions for climate change that we can find if we just put our minds to it. She covers renewable policy and clean energy for CleanTechnica and GreenProphet and green building at HomeDesignFind. She recently moved home to Waiheke Island where her writing is now powered by the 80% renewable electricity that powers New Zealand.