LEUVEN, Belgium Crystalline silicon technology remains the big bet in solar cell research at IMEC, but the group is also exploring options in silicon thin films, compound materials and organics.
"Silicon solar cells are dominating the market with more than 90 percent share, and it will remain the workhorse for the next decade," said Jef Poortmans, photovoltaic program director at the European electronics R&D institute based here.
Poortmans described IMEC's road map of creating solar cells with greater than 20 percent efficiency and ultimately using as little as one gram of silicon. Such developments could help hit Europe's ambitious goal of generating 12 percent of its electricity from the sun by 2020 with an installed solar capacity of 400 GigaWatts, he said.
"If we can only capture a small fraction of the 165,000 TeraWatts of solar energy generated every day, we would make a giant leap to solving the energy crisis," said Luc Van den hove, chief operating officer of IMEC. "The big challenges are reducing the cost of the solar cells and increasing their efficiency," he said.
| Crystalline silicon will be the mainstream technology for solar cells for the next decade, according to Jef Poortmans of IMEC.|
A rush of venture funded efforts into alternative thin film materials such as cadmium telluride will play a more limited role than silicon-based panels, said Poortmans.
"I am convinced for the next five years there will be a place for cadmium telluride technology, but the supply of the basic materials such as tellurium is limited once we get to producing several tens of GigaWatts per year," he said.
"Companies using the technology such as First Solar may find they have a new opportunity in mining," he quipped, referring to the one thin-film startup that has become a top ten panel maker.
The IMEC road map calls for creating by 2020 crystalline solar cells as thin as 40 microns and silicon thin film cells as thin as 5 microns. The proposed cells could shave costs by a factor of 2.5 to less than a Euro per peak Watt.
The road map calls for 120 micron crystalline cells approaching 20 percent efficiency by about 2011. That would be followed by an 80 micron thick cell with greater than 20 percent efficiency by 2015, he said.