LONDON RF Micro Devices Inc., a provider of radio frequency integrated circuits for wireless communications applications, has claimed that it has manufactured the industry's first photovoltaic cell using high-volume six-inch gallium arsenide (GaAs) semiconductor production machinery.
The photovoltaic (PV) cell was manufactured in RFMD's existing high-volume, six-inch GaAs wafer fab in Greensboro, North Carolina, with no fabrication equipment modifications, the company said.
RF Micro Devices announced in July 2009 it had entered into a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to develop a commercially viable and high volume-capable compound semiconductor-based process for high-performance multijunction photovoltaic cells. NREL's technology has demonstrated one of the world's highest reported solar cell conversion efficiencies, at 40.8 percent, and further substantial improvements in efficiency are anticipated.
RFMD made its solar cell in the Foundation Phase of the agreement. The next phase is a Technology Demonstration Phase will begin, during which PV cells leveraging NREL's IP and technology will be fabricated at RFMD's manufacturing facilities. The final phase of the agreement is the Production Readiness Phase, during which multiple high-volume, six-inch wafer fabs are expected to demonstrate high-performance PV cells with high yields, high reliability, high reproducibility and low cost, RFMD said.
The successful execution of RFMD's contract with NREL is expected to result in the production of solar cells in RFMD's fabs as early as calendar year 2012.
"Semiconductor firms have the potential to change the dynamics in the concentrated PV market, since they may be able to produce low cost, high efficiency solar cells on their existing, depreciated equipment and robust manufacturing processes," said Alfonso Velosa, semiconductor research director at Gartner, in a statement issued by RFMD. "Within a few years the concentrated PV market may be able to deliver large volumes of renewable electricity, based in part on obtaining large volumes of high quality, yet low cost, solar cells, from 'bankable' manufacturers."
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