A process called "Black Silicon Nanocatalytic Wet-Chemical Etch" is allowing increased solar panel efficiency by reducing the light that reflects off of the panels instead of being absorbed. Any light that is reflected away from the solar panel lowers the amount of electricity it produces. The black silicon is especially good at capturing early morning and late afternoon light, which helps improve the overall effectiveness of the panel throughout the day.
The panels made this way are slighly less efficient than the best uncoated panels currently made, but they have an overall efficiency increase of about 1 percent due to the improved performance early and late in the day. A one percent gain may not seem like much, but all these incremental improvements add up. The process is likely to gain widespread use if, as NREL hopes, it turns out that it actually reduces the cost of manufacturing the solar panels by 1 to 3 percent overall.
The black silicon process has other benefits in reducing the amount of equipment needed to fabricate the panels, and being simpler than the present fabrication methods. It also reduces the need for some particularly dangerous and damaging chemicals which are currently used in producing solar panels.
The process was developed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and the technology is now being licensed to Natcore Technology Inc. for commercialization. The company expects to begin commercial sales with the black silicon panels this year.
Previously on EcoGeek: Breakthrough Coating: Solar Absorption "Near Perfect"
image credit: NREL/Dennis Schroeder
written by Mike, February 21, 2012
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