IBM working toward cheap solar cells

Technology company aims to increase effeciency of solar cells

16 Jun 2008

IBM has joined forces with semiconductor process company Tokyo Ohka Kogyo (TOK) to develop cheaper and more efficient solar power technologies.

The partnership will focus on developing new methods for printing copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) cells that can turn more than 15% of sunlight into power, a significant improvement on the 6% to 12% efficiency that current (CIGS) solar cells have achieved.

Currently, an estimated 90% of photovoltaic solar equipment uses silicon to turn sunlight into electricity. That technology is more efficient than CIGS, often converting more than 20% of sunlight into power. But those cells are much thicker than thin-film applications, limiting how they can be deployed, and they rely on silicon, which has skyrocketed in price in recent years as the solar industry gobbled up limited supplies.

IBM says it will contribute its expertise in manufacturing cells, while TOK will provide technology used in the semiconductor industry and for coating LCD panels. The companies declined to specify the companies' projected sales from the technology, but described the potential market as "huge."

The companies say the goal of the partnership is to create a process for making the cells cheaply enough that they reach "grid parity," the level in which solar power is competitive with traditional forms of electricity generation.

"I think that if we can get to a module cost of less than $1 per watt, and be able to keep a handle on the system costs, then one should be able to get to grid parity ... photovoltaics still need roughly a two (time efficiency) improvement. We strongly feel that we have a shot."

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