Scifiniti Photovoltaic Wafers: Half the Price, Same Efficiency

Scifinitiy hopes that their new manufacturing process will cut the cost of photovoltaics in half without sacrificing efficiency.

Photovoltaic cells are basically semiconductors, and the method used to make PV wafers is pretty much identical to manufacturing silicon integrated circuits. Scifiniti thinks that process is wasteful, so they developed a new technique that’s tailored specifically for the solar cell market. Dubbed the SmartWafer™, Scifiniti hopes that their new manufacturing process  will cut the cost of solar panels in half with no decrease in panel efficiency.

Semiconductor wafers are made with an etching process; by contrast, Scifiniti’s technique is additive. Starting with a conductive substrate, they add a thin layer of silicon with PV properties. This process uses 90% less silicon than the old method, and produces PV cells that are equally efficient  and more durable than cells manufactured the old way.

Image: Scifiniti

Scifiniti claims that its wafers are fully compatible with older PV wafers, so cell and panel manufacturers won’t need to retool or change their manufacturing processes. According to their documentation, “A silicon layer of 30 to 50 microns with effective light trapping has the same photovoltaic effect or conversion efficiency of light to electrical current as a conventional 160-180 thick wafer. Yet, thick wafers are required for manufacturing because those that are thinner than 160-180 microns tend to break during processing. SmartWafer™ technology not only minimizes the use of highly pure silicon by 90%, it maximizes the mechanical strength of the substrate to deliver higher yields.”

We hear a lot about solar energy being “subsidized,” either through net-metering agreements or government tax credits. Reducing the cost of PV manufacturing by a factor of two might be what the industry needs to wean itself from subsidies and maybe even convince a few skeptics that solar energy is a viable alternative to non-renewable sources.