Solar electricity wouldn't exist today without the scientists who discovered ways to harness the sun's power and the entrepreneurs who turned the science into salable products. In this category, we celebrate the people behind the research of new materials used in photovoltaics. These are our thought leaders, and have boosted the prospects of the solar industry's ultimate success. They will continue to play a key role in the solar industry for years to come.
The people behind the research!
Wim Sinke, Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands ECN
Professor Wim Sinke of the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) received the European Becquerel Prize for Outstanding Merits in Photovoltaics for his pioneering work on wafer-based silicon photovoltaic cells and modules. The prize was awarded at the 26th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference in Hamburg, in a ceremony on the opening day.
Wafer based silicon constitutes today’s dominant technology family for photovoltaic solar electricity generation. Wim Sinke has great merits as the coordinator of the European Integrated Project on wafer based silicon photovoltaics: CristalClear. This project contributed substantially to the development of the PV sector in Europe. In his role as Chairman of the Working Group on Science, Technology & Applications, and now as Chairman of the European Photovoltaic Technology Platform, he contributed and still contributes to the development of European photovoltaics.
Paul Korting, chairman of ECN’s Management Board, is excited about Simke’s award: “With its research on solar energy, ECN is committed to developing knowledge and technology with and for the industry, securing our future energy supply. Wim’s work has been essential in this development. For over 20 years, he has been dedicated to ECN’s research and sharing his broad expertise all over the world. We are proud of the worldwide recognition of his work and congratulate Wim on receiving this award.”
Wim Sinke studied experimental physics at Utrecht University, where he graduated in 1981 and received a doctor’s degree in 1985. He became project leader solar cells at the FOM-Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics in Amsterdam. In 1990 he joined the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) to set up and lead a new group on photovoltaics, which has grown to over 80 researchers today. Currently he is senior Staff member Programme and Strategy in the unit Solar Energy.
To mark the 150th anniversary of Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel’s discovery of the photovoltaic effect in 1839, the European Commission founded the European Becquerel Prize in 1989 for outstanding contributions to the development of photovoltaic solar energy.
Conrad Burke, Innovalight/DuPont
Conrad Burke started Innovalight in the solar business in Silicon Valley in 2005. He gained wide recognition this year with DuPont’s acquisition of Innovalight: He will head up the new DuPont-owned unit. At The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Conrad received a Technology Pioneer Award. In October 2010, Conrad was presented an award by The President of Ireland at The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year event in Dublin.
Prior to Innovalight, Conrad was senior vice president of worldwide sales and marketing for Bookham (now Oclaro). His career has spanned research and development, product management, marketing, sales, general management and operations in major global organizations such as NEC, AT&T, Lucent Technologies and Agere Systems. He was also the first executive at OMM Inc., a venture backed startup based in San Diego, California focused on MEMS based products.
Burke and Innovalight’s claim to fame lies in silicon ink. Last year, Burke and Innovalight claimed a (Fraunhofer ISE-confirmed) 19% conversion efficiency cell using its silicon ink, with a goal of 20%.
Here’s how it works: Turning a silicon substrate into a (homogenous) photoelectric device requires doping (phosphorous) to make a diode with a p-n junction. The amount of doping impacts how efficiently the cell converts energy: high doping undercuts the efficiency of converting blue light, while light doping makes it difficult for the gridlines to contact Si and carry the current out of the PV cells. Selective emitters promise the best of both worlds: heavily doping only areas directly under the silver printed gridlines where the paste can contact, but very light doping elsewhere to maximize efficiency to generate current.
It’s here that DuPont -- a maker of PV materials such as metallization pastes and encapsulants -- and silicon ink provider Innovalight see benefits of synergies. The Innovalight ink formulation is screen-printed on the frontside of the wafer to create a selective emitter, and at the end of the normal cell-making process the DuPont Solamet paste is put on the same pattern over the ink.
The technology provides a combined up to (absolute) 1% improvement on a monocrystalline c-Si cell, with somewhat less benefit on other cells (e.g. 0.4%-0.5% for poly). For current first-gen selective emitters there’s no specific benefit to the Innovalight-Solamet combination, but DuPont will customize its metallization pastes in the next wave of selective emitters.
James Gee, Applied Materials Solar Business Group
As Chief Scientist for the Solar Business Group at Applied Materials, James Gee is focused on advancing the company’s roadmap for crystalline-silicon PV technology. His current research interests include processing, modeling and characterization of high-efficiency crystalline-silicon (c-Si) solar cells and modules. Most significantly, he has been responsible for breakthroughs in back contact c-Si technology, developing emitter wrap through (EWT) cell structures that increase cell efficiency and automated module assembly approaches that use a flex-circuit concept. This innovation in module technology simplifies the cost reduction of today’s c-Si technology by enabling thin wafer approaches for all back contact configurations and facilitates the introduction of very thin, kerfless, approaches to c-Si in the future. Another major career highlight for Gee is co-founding Advent Solar in 2003.
Gee developed an interest in solar over 30 years ago when he started work at Sandia National Laboratories as a Senior Member of Technical Staff in the Photovoltaic System Components group. He was responsible for high-efficiency concentrator cell research, helped demonstrate the world’s first 30%-efficient solar cell, examined new multi-junction cell concepts, developed test procedures for solar cells at high irradiance levels, and managed R&D contracts. Over the next 2 decades, he performed research in many areas of silicon solar cells, including back-contact cells and modules, alternative back-surface fields and metallizations using metal-silicon alloys, advanced characterization techniques, and optical enhancement of cells and modules. He was also part of a team that developed the processes for high-efficiency silicon solar cells at Sandia.
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