Champions of Photovoltaics Technology

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.

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.

Professor Wim Sinke

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.


Gee has developed a procedure for manufacturing EWT cells which enable efficiencies well in excess of 20% using simple manufacturing equipment, most of which is already in use throughout the industry today. The module technology uses a patterned copper foil forming a high density circuit, which has been certified to IEC qualification protocols, while eliminating high stress soldered interconnections. Modules fabricated in this manner retain more of the cell efficiency than is common. Efficiency at low cost will allow the PV industry learning curve for modules to accelerate below $1.00/W, while routinely attaining module efficiencies above 18%.

A major goal of his: To advance the c-Si technology roadmap to make PV solar a cost-competitive source of clean energy and see the benefits of back contact cell architecture and automated packaging to make possible crystalline silicon cells less than 50 microns thick.

David Lee, BioSolar

BioSolar, Inc. Chief Executive Officer, Dr. David D. Lee, founded the company in 2006, with over two decades of engineering, marketing, sales and executive management experience in high technology. An electrical engineer, Lee recognized that historically, manufacturing costs have been one of the biggest barriers to driving down the cost per kilowatt of solar energy for consumers.

The manufacturing and disposal of solar energy products has not been as environmentally-friendly as the renewable energy they produce, Lee believes. By removing petroleum from solar panels, BioSolar makes solar energy a true green source of energy. BioSolar was the first company to introduce a new dimension of cost reduction by replacing petroleum-based plastic solar cell components with durable bio-based components derived from renewable plant sources.

Prior to starting BioSolar, Dr. Lee served as the chief operating officer of Applied Reasoning Systems Corp., an internet software development company, where he was responsible for overall business operations as well as solidifying client relationships including corporate heavyweights such as IBM, Bell South, J.P. Morgan, Disney, AIG Insurance and Sprint.

Formerly, Dr. Lee held numerous posts at RF-Link Technology, Inc., a wireless technology corporation, including: vice president of new initiatives, vice president of marketing and sales, chief financial officer and general manager.

A major goal of Dr. Lee is helping to answer the global demand for clean, renewable energy sources by not only making solar energy more environmentally-friendly, but simultaneously driving down the cost.

Ashok Sood, Magnolia Solar

Dr. Ashok Sood is president and CEO of Magnolia Solar Corp., based in Woburn, MA. He is a 30-year industry veteran with experience that includes developing and managing solar cells, optical, and optoelectronics technology products for several major corporations, including Lockheed-Martin, BAE Systems, Loral, Honeywell, and Tyco International.

Sood was instrumental in development and managed optical and optoelectronics technology for these companies as a manager in the optoelectronics group and worked to develop ribbon silicon solar cells, CdTe, CdS and HgCdTe, GaN/AlGaN, ZnO semiconductor devices. Many of the technologies and products developed have become large product lines at these companies.

He was also involved in design and development of solar cells at Mobil-Tyco Solar Energy Corporation (now under the management of RWE-Schott Solar). He contributed to design and development of silicon ribbon solar cells and was instrumental in design improvements to enhance the solar cell efficiency of EFG ribbon solar cells.

More recently, Dr. Sood has led the efforts resulting in DARPA sponsorship of several Magnolia projects. He has also led various industry and university teams bridging centers of excellence for material sciences across the United States.

Dr. Sood received his Ph.D. and M.S. in Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and has an M.S. and a B.S. in Physics (Honors) from Delhi University in India.

Henry Snaith, Oxford University

Henry Snaith is the man behind Oxford Photovoltaics, a company recently spun out from the University of Oxford by Isis Innovation Ltd. Snaith has developed new solar cell technology that is manufactured from inexpensive, abundant, non-toxic and non-corrosive materials and can be scaled to any volume. The solar cells are printed onto glass or other surfaces, are available in a range of colors and could be ideal for new buildings where solar cells are incorporated into glazing panels and walls.

Dr. Snaith is a physicist whose research is focused on the interdisciplinary area of organic and hybrid photovoltaic systems, an area in which he has published 19 peer-reviewed papers over the last four years. His experience ranges from all polymer, to inorganic-nanoparticle/polymer hybrid, to molecular sensitized electrochemical solar cells. He has contributed to understanding the charge generation and transport mechanisms in all these systems, while also introducing novel device concepts, new optoelectronic methods to analyse these material nano-composites and further advancing the absolute performance of the state-of-the-art. Further understanding of the operation of these systems, and acting upon the derived knowledge to improve upon the best performing solar cells is essential in order for these photovoltaic systems to reach commercial viability and make a positive impact on society and the environment.

The device that Oxford PV is working to commercialize is a form of thin film solar technology. Snaith believes leading thin film technologies are currently hampered by the scarcity of minerals used. Other dye-sensitized solar cells are being held back by the volatile nature of liquid electrolytes.

Oxford PV’s technology replaces the liquid electrolyte with a solid organic semiconductor, enabling entire solar modules to be screen printed onto glass or other surfaces. Green is the most efficient “semi-transparent” colour for producing electricity, although red and purple also work well. The materials used are plentiful, environmentally benign and very low cost.

Oxford PV predicts that manufacturing costs of its product will be around 50% less than the current lowest-cost thin film technology and expects its new mechanism will eventually match the unsubsidized cost of electricity generated from fossil fuels. “One of the great advantages is that we can process it over large areas very easily,” Snaith said. “You don’t have to worry about extensive sealing and encapsulation, which is an issue for the electrolyte dye cell.”

The technology could revolutionize the incorporation of photovoltaic materials into windows and walls and other parts of buildings. CEO Kevin Arthur said: “This technology is a breakthrough in this area. We’re working closely with major companies in the sector to demonstrate that we can achieve their expectations on economic and product lifetime criteria.”

Peter Engelhart, Q-Cells

Dr. Peter Engelhart started his photovoltaic career with his Ph.D. studies at the Institute of Solar Energy Research Hamelin (ISFH) in 2003. At this institute he was engaged in high efficiency solar cells and invented the back-contact RISE-EWT solar cell concept with world efficiency records for emitter wrap-through solar cells of up to 21.4% in 2005/2006. He received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 2007 by the University of Hanover. Upon receiving his doctorate, Engelhart turned towards the photovoltaic industry and applied for a job at the Q-Cells SE and became Senior Staff Expert in 2009. In 2011, under his technological guidance at the Reiner Lemoine Center, Q-Cells achieved world-record breaking efficiency in its multi-crystalline silicon modules (17.8%) and cell (19.5%).

How did he become interested in solar? Engelhart got in contact with the calculation of semiconductor devices during his studies of electrical engineering in Ulm. He was intrigued by the theoretical, physical and solution-driven context of the technological issues associated with the fabrication of semiconductor devices. He was fascinated by the idea of converting free energy from the sun’s photons into free energy of charge carriers that can be used for electrical power – the photovoltaic effect.

Both the physical and technological challenges as well as the social aspects of photovoltaics of being one solution in overcoming the fundamental limitations of resources are the motivation for his work.

Next articlePart 2: How Tariffs Could Impact Solar Industry

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