Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed an inexpensive method of growing thin films of a material prized in the photovoltaic and semiconductor industries, an achievement that could make high-end solar panels affordable to a much larger range of consumers.
The work, led by Ali Javey, UC Berkeley associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, is described in a paper published in Scientific Reports, Nature’s peer-reviewed open access journal.
“Performance is everything in the solar cell industry, but performance at a reasonable cost is key,” said Javey, who is also a faculty scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “The techniques we are reporting here should be a game-changer for III-V solar cells, as well as for LEDs.”
Top-of-the-line photovoltaics are made from a class of material known as III-V (pronounced “three-five”) compounds, known for their superior efficiency at converting light into power. However, the complex manufacturing requirements for III-V materials make them up to 10 times more expensive than silicon, limiting their use to military applications and NASA satellites, the researchers said.
The UC Berkeley researchers demonstrated that indium phosphide, a III-V compound, could be grown on thin sheets of metal foil in a process that is faster and cheaper than traditional methods, yet still comparable in optoelectronic characteristics.
The paper’s co-lead authors from Javey’s lab are Rehan Kapadia, a recent Ph.D. graduate, and Zhibin Yu, a post-doctoral researcher. The U.S. Department of Energy helped fund this research.