Hello and welcome back to my ongoing series of PBTS, dedicated to all the advancements being made in solar power. Today’s entry is an interesting one, and not just because it involves an ion cannon… well sort of! It comes to us courtesy of Twin Creeks, a solar power startup that has come up with a revolutionary way to generate photovoltaic cells that are half the price of those currently found on the market.
For many decades, solar power has been held back due to the fact that the cost has been prohibitive compared to fossil fuels and coal. By offering yet another way of cutting the cost of their production, Twin Creeks is bringing this clean alternative one step closer to realization. Ah, but here’s the real kicker: turns out that this revolutionary process involves a hydrogen ion particle accelerator!
As has been mentioned in this series before, conventional solar cells are made from slicing 200-micrometer-thick (0.2mm) sections of silicon wafer from a large block. Then electrodes are added, a sheet of protective glass is placed on top, and they are placed in the sun to generate electricity. But of course, this approach has two serious drawbacks. One, a great deal of silicon is wasted in the production process. Two, the panels would if they were thinner than 200 micrometers, but silicon is brittle and prone to cracking if it’s too thin.
And this is where Twin Creeks ion cannon, aka. Hyperion, comes into play. It’s starts with a series of 3-millimeter-thick silicon wafers being placed around the outside edge of the big, spoked wheel (see above). The particle accelerator then bombards these wafers with hydrogen ions and, with exacting control of the voltage of the accelerator, the hydrogen ions accumulate precisely 20 micrometers from the surface of each wafer.
A robotic arm then transports the wafers to a furnace where the ions expand into hydrogen gas, which cause the 20-micrometer-thick layer to shear off. A metal backing is applied to make it less fragile as well as highly flexible (as seen on the right). The remaining silicon wafer is taken back to the particle accelerator for another dose of ions. At a tenth of the thickness and with considerably less wastage, it’s easy to see how Twin Creeks can halve the cost of solar cells.
This process has been considered before, but the cost of a particle accelerator has always been too high. However, Twin Creeks got around this by building their own, one which is apparently “10 times more powerful” (100mA at 1 MeV) than anything on the market today. Because of this, they are able to guarantee a product that is half the cost of solar cells currently coming out of China. At that price, solar power truly begins to encroach on standard, fossil-fuel power.
But, of course, there still needs to be some development made on producing solar cells that can store energy overnight. Weather strictures, such as the ability to generate electricity only when its sunny out, remains another stumbling block that must be overcome. Luckily, it seems that there are some irons in that fire as well, such as research into lithium-ion and nanofabricated batteries. But that’s another story and another post altogether 😉
Stay tuned for more sun-powered hope for the future!