A new optical furnace that uses intense light rather than a conventional furnace to heat the silicon to make solar cells saves about half the energy needed. The process uses a furnace with "highly reflective and heat-resistant ceramics to ensure that the light is absorbed only by a silicon wafer, not by the walls inside the furnace." The process was developed by scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
In addition to providing improved efficiency in the production of the cells, the optical furnace also does a better job at removing some impurities, which makes for better output from the finished panels. Eventually, researchers on the project believe that this could provide a four percentage point increase in the efficiency of the solar cells produced with this method.
image credit: NREL/Dennis Schroeder
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