MIT Spinoff, 1366 Technologies, Reaches Efficiency Goal, Shines More Light on its Solar Cell Design

9/14/09Follow @wroush

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cells made using both of the company’s processes—the honeycomb texturing and the thinner metallization lines—convert 18 percent of the energy in ambient sunlight into electricity, a significant jump over the industry average of 15 to 16 percent.

The technology should appeal to solar cell manufacturers because it means they can achieve major efficiency gains without having to abandon the established technique of front-side metallization, Lund says. “There has been a battle going on in the industry about the best way to go forward with the metallization of silicon cells,” he says. “Some people have tried to move all of the fine fingers to the back of the cell, which would get you to zero shading, and others have attempted to do things like drilling holes through the middle. Our solution gets you about 75 percent of the gain from those techniques without any of the complexity and cost.”

The 18 percent efficiency achieved by 1366 may sound like an incremental gain, and is indeed low compared to the efficiencies of up to 30 percent attainable from monocrystalline cells or from the thin-film photovoltaic technologies being developed by companies like Medford, MA-based Wakonda. But monocrystalline cells are extremely expensive, and research on techniques for manufacturing thin-film photovoltaic materials is still in its early stages.

1366 Metallization Lines1366 got started in March 2008 with $12.4 million in Series A funding from Polaris Venture Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners. Within 8 to 10 months, Lund says, further tweaking of the texturing and metallization techniques will get the company to the 19 percent efficiency level it needs to unlock the last of the DOE funding. Even more important, Lund says, the company has won a contract to deliver equipment for texturing 6-by-6-inch wafers to its first commercial customer in 2011. (The company says it can’t yet reveal the customer’s name.)

“The first customer is always the hardest,” says Lund. “These guys are very risk-averse and they want to make sure their yield is sustained. So we focus on things that have a big impact, but are compatible with existing manufacturing processes, so you don’t have to fight adoption barriers.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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