Innovations in Photovoltaics: Thin Film


Two forms of cell architecture dominate the solar industry: crystalline silicon-based and “thin-film,” with 80 and 20 percent market share respectively. Thin film cells (so called because they can be laid on to thin sheets versus heavy panels) are more flexible, weightless, and cost-effective than silicon cells, but silicon is typically more efficient.

Researchers are working hard to create thin-film cells that generate the high efficiency of silicon wafers. The reason for so much interest in thin-film production has to do with its potential to reduce the costs of producing solar energy and broaden applications for solar solutions. Currently, thin-film materials are used mainly in small, highperformance electric devices, such as mobile phones and MP3 players; however, as the efficiency of thin-film improves, its use will expand beyond what is currently possible with silicon-based technology. For example, thin-film sheets could be applied directly to windows without blocking the view, and to irregular walls or rooftop surfaces.

Manufacturing processes for thin-film vs. traditional silicon based wafers are different and constantly evolving. Traditional crystalline silicon cell manufacturing, with its cutting, sawing, and polishing processes, requires the use of more pumps than thin-film cell fabrication. However, the rapid development in thin-film


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