Advent Solar’s breakthrough vback-contact photovoltaic cell design and fabrication process

Rising energy costs and instability in regions producing most of the world’s fossil fuels have refocused attention on the need for alternative renewable energy sources. While the cost of solar cells has dropped over the past several decades, the technology is still not cost-effective for on-grid applications (i.e., homes, businesses). The solar industry needs further process improvements so that photovol-taic cells are more efficient and less expensive to manufacture.Researchers at Sandia Na-tional Laboratories (SNL) have developed a break-through photovoltaic cell design and fabrication pro-cess that eliminates cur-rent-collection grids from the front surface of the cell. The new process uses a laser to drill holes through the silicon substrate and form conductive channels from the front to the rear sur-face. This advance allows the electric power to flow to the back surface, where the backside wiring carries the current away. Unlike conventional cells with wiring on the front that blocks sunlight, these laser-drilled holes make the cells more efficient by exposing more of the top surface of the solar cells to sunlight. These back-contact cells also reduce assembly cost by eliminating the front-to-back connection step, and they offer a more aesthetically pleasing prod-uct for the consumer. Recognizing this need in the market, Russell Schmit—former president of Photowatt International, a photovoltaic manu-facturer based in France—approached SNL to start a new company that would manufacture SNL’s novel back-contact solar cell design. The startup, Advent Solar, is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and has licensed SNL’s back-con-tact photovoltaic cell technology. The new solar cell design offers a more efficient and less expen-sive option than other cells currently available in the marketplace.
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