Researchers from the University of Oslo have used a bunch of “wonderful tricks” to produce silicon solar cells that are twenty times thinner than commercial solar cells. This breakthrough means that solar cells can be produced using 95% less silicon, reducing production costs considerably — both increasing profits (which are almost nonexistent at the moment), and reducing the cost of solar power installations.
Standard, commercial photovoltaic solar cells are fashioned out of 200-micrometer-thick (0.2mm) wafers of silicon, which are sliced from a large block of silicon. This equates to around five grams of silicon per watt of solar power, and also a lot of wastage — roughly half of the silicon block is turned into sawdust by the slicing process. With solar cells approaching 50 cents per watt (down from a few dollars per watt a few years ago), something needs to change.
Reducing the thickness of solar cells obviously makes a lot of sense from a commercial point of view, but it introduces another issue: As the wafer gets thinner, more light passes straight through the silicon, dramatically reducing the amount of electricity produced by the photovoltaic effect. This is due to wavelengths: Blue light, which has a short wavelength (450nm), can be captured by a very thin wafer of silicon — but red light, with a longer wavelength (750nm), can only be captured by thicker slabs of silicon. This is part of the reason that current solar cells use silicon wafers that are around 200 micrometers — and also why they’re mirrored, which doubles the effective thickness, allowing them to capture more of the visible spectrum.
Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald