Leveraging Semiconductor Know-How

I have said many times that the photovoltaics solar cell industry is similar to the way the semiconductor industry was 20 or so years ago.

I have said many times that the photovoltaics solar cell industry is similar to the way the semiconductor industry was 20 or so years ago. A friend recently noted that this could be taken the wrong way, as if the PV industry was employing 20 year old technology. That’s certainly not the case! The crystalline silicon, thin film and concentrated PV technology in development and production today is by far the most advanced ever. The time between announcements of new efficiency records is often measure in days!

The way it is similar – in a good way – is that most PV manufacturers seem to be open to trying new ideas. They have not yet imposed a process lockdown such as Intel’s lauded “copy exact!” philosophy (I could go on about that but it’s hard to argue with success). People are willing to experiment with new PV processes and new device structures, while also working to optimize factory throughput.

This issue has several features that are from companies that are well known in the semiconductor space. Applied Materials leads things off with a look at how lasers are used in wafer-based silicon and thin film PV applications. Next, Oxford Instruments Plasma Technology teams up with Eindhoven University to present the latest research into using atomic layer deposition (originally developed for semiconductor manufacturing) to PV, to deposit ultra-thin aluminum oxide. In another feature, JENOPTIK describes how to remove SiN coatings with ultraviolet lasers.

We also include a feature that’s not been implemented in mainstream semiconductor manufacturing – at least not yet. iTi Solar, a division of imaging Technology international (iTi) Corp., describes how inkjet deposition can be leveraged for efficiency gains, as well as environmentally responsible cost reduction at the basic material and cell processing nodes across multiple types of PV technology.

There is a great opportunity to leverage know-how originally developed for semiconductor manufacturing, and combine it with fantastic new technologies such as inkjet printing. Who knows? It might not be long before the semiconductor industry is looking to the PV industry for new ideas and process technologies. That would be a delightful payback!

Pete Singer
Editor-in-Chief
psinger@pennwell.com

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