Solar cells produced cost-effectively with 3D printers
3D-printed solar cells are about to revolutionize photovoltaics. While these economical cells are manufactured locally and without the need for long-distance transport, the new models are already highly efficient too.30 May 2018 Kai Tubbesing
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) has unveiled a new resource-saving method of manufacturing efficient solar cells using an additive production process, with researchers already achieving 12.6% efficiency at present. For companies committed to a sustainable energy supply, however, the new process offers another advantage: a decentralized manufacturing concept with numerous locally established production facilities, bringing associated benefits in terms of local availability and faster handling of on-demand manufacturing processes. Given the low production costs, it is long-distance transport in particular that will otherwise drive up prices.
The ISE has simply reversed the usual sequence of steps in producing a solar cell. This eliminates several expensive stages of work which the traditional manufacturing process entails. First the institute prints a solar module, then fills this with a photoactive salt: a polarized gas is used to convert perovskite into molten salt at room temperature so that this can fill the pores of nanoporous electrodes made from metal oxide and micronized graphite. The final step is crystallization.
The Fraunhofer ISE is currently investigating the scalability of the process, which should go into industrial production soon. At the same time, the approach itself is not fundamentally new – the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is also exploring the use of 3D printing technology to manufacture solar cells more cost-effectively.
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