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VOLUME -25 NUMBER 3
Publication Date: 03/1/2010
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Archive >  March 2010 Issue >  Front Page News > 

Cheaper Solar Cells with HDD Drive Technology

Aliso Viejo, CA — Finding more efficient and cheaper production techniques for making solar cells is a number-one priority in our nation's "green" manufacturing sector. Now CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) thin-film solar cell designer XsunX, Inc. is developing a novel manufacturing technique adapting the same equipment that makes hard disk drive (HDD) media for use in making CIGS solar cells.

The company's new manufacturing system design is to mass-produce these hybrid thin-film solar cells as individual 5 x 5-in. squares — significantly smaller than the current thin-film standard — in order to take advantage of the existing, proven processes and equipment used in the HDD industry. When coupled with well-known processing techniques from the CIGS industry, this marriage may result in not only increased conversion efficiency, but also improved production speeds and yields. The outcome will be a solar product that dramatically improves efficiency of both the process and the product, thereby lowering the cost of solar energy.

Co-Op Venture
XsunX is teaming up with Intevac, Inc. — a major provider of magnetic media deposition equipment to the HDD industry — in an effort to execute this cross-industry development. XsunX is contributing its thin-film photovoltaic (TFPV) process knowledge and expertise, while Intevac supplies the experience of years of technological improvements developed for HDD manufacturing. The collaboration will yield a process that couples XsunX's small-area deposition and material control proficiencies with material transport technologies from the HDD industry to produce thin-film CIGS solar cells. While this combination of processes is unique and proprietary, this is not new science; it is instead the integration of the best practices of engineering and manufacturing to create the most efficient production method.

One of the unusual aspects of this approach is the size of the solar cells it will produce. Unlike traditional manufacturing methods that scale deposition areas up to several meter squares, this method produces a smaller individual solar cell not only to accommodate existing HDD equipment material-handling capabilities, but also to reduce the incidence of any processing defects. This, in turn, leads to better cell performance that will eventually match efficiency levels achieved by polysilicon PV products. In fact, this theory of maintaining laboratory-size cells for the sake of quality mimics the HDD industry's own experience: the industry initially scaled up its media in efforts to meet high consumer demand, only to discover that quality was sacrificed. The industry subsequently ramped up its R&D efforts on production methods and adopted small-area deposition to quickly manufacture disks without sacrificing quality.

XsunX's team has extensive experience with CIGS which led to devising a combination of the two established methods for manufacturing a CIGS solar device: sputtering and evaporation. The company found that while sputtering technologies enable manufacture of all of the layers necessary to make a CIGS device, sputtering does not achieve the same efficiency levels that have been achieved when sputtering is used in combination with evaporation techniques. Currently, over 80 percent of the solar market uses silicon wafers to manufacture solar modules. XsunX believes that a thin-film CIGS wafer on a stainless steel substrate can provide an alternative technology to silicon; thin-film CIGS wafers would be used as a more efficient substitute for silicon wafers.

With anticipated annual growth rates for solar at about 48 percent through 2012 (according to Greentech Media Research), there is demand for high quality, affordable solar. XsunX is positioning to meet that demand by compensating for their individual smaller-area wafer processing technique with higher-efficiency wafers and the higher-throughput manufacturing capability of the HDD equipment on which it relies.

Contact: XsunX, 65 Enterprise Aliso Viejo, CA 92656 949-330-8060 fax: 949-266-5823 E-mail: info@xsunx.com Web:
http://www.xsunx.com

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