Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have developed a method to create huge sheets of thin-film silicon semiconductors, which could create extremely low-cost solar cells. The researchers say they could produce solar panels that are roughly a square kilometer in size in a small device and do it at very low cost, greatly reducing the price to produce solar panels.
The researchers published their low-cost, high-pressure process in Advanced Materials on May 13. The process is an alternative to the most commonly used method for producing thin-film silicon-based semiconductors, which uses chemical vapor deposition to create the semiconducting material.
"We have developed a new, high-pressure, plasma-free approach to creating large-area, thin-film semiconductors," explained John Badding, Pen State professor of chemistry, physics, and materials science and engineering who led the research. "By putting the process under high pressure, our new technique could make it less expensive and easier to create the large, flexible semiconductors that are used in flat-panel monitors and solar cells and are the second most commercially important semiconductors."
Penn State said that thin-film silicon semiconductors typically are made through chemical vapor deposition of a silicon and hydrogen gas. Usually the deposition is achieved by creating a plasma out of the silane gas in a large volume but at a low pressure. “Massive and expensive reactors so large that they are difficult to ship by air are needed to generate the plasma and to accommodate the large volume of gas required,” the university said.
"With our new high-pressure chemistry technique, we can create low-temperature reactions in much smaller spaces and with a much smaller volume of gas," said Badding. "The reduced space necessary allows us, for the first time, to create semiconductors on multiple, stacked surfaces simultaneously, rather than on just a single surface. To maximize the surface area, rolled-up flexible surfaces can be used in a very simple and far more compact reactor. The area of the resulting rolled-up semiconducting material could, upon further development, approach or even exceed a square kilometer."Tweet