Imec has agreed to grant SOLEXEL a non-exclusive license on selected patents related to thin-film solar cell technology. These licenses will help SOLEXEL INC. (U.S.) in the development and commercialization of next-generation high-efficiency thin-film photovoltaic arrays and solar modules. Imec has an extended patent portfolio relating to solar technology, which it makes available for licensing to the photovoltaics industry.
In the last 5 years, there has been a fast build-up of solar cell production capacity, often based on turnkey lines churning out moderate-efficiency standard cells at lowest cost. The economical situation has slowed down that build-up, giving high-efficiency cells a chance to get production-ready. In the window of opportunity that is thus opening up, it is crucial for companies to further improve the technology. They can do so by turning mature intellectual property (IP) into the industrial processes for fabricating cost-effective high-efficiency cells.
One of the photovoltaics techniques that is poised to become more important in the coming years is Si thin-film technology. For Si thin-film cells, a very thin layer of Si is deposited on a low-cost substrate. In contrast to conventional bulk-Si solar technology, only a small fraction of high-grade Si has to be used. That makes thin-film a good candidate to make photovoltaics more cost-effective for a number of applications.
The technology that SOLEXEL licenses from imec relates to a method to deposit a thin film of monocrystalline material on a substrate. To increase the efficiency of the resulting solar device, the method advocated depositing a porous Si layer between the substrate and the thin film. This porous Si layer has both light-reflecting and light-diffusing properties, which helps confining the incoming light in the thin-film layer, thereby improving the efficiency of the cell.
SOLEXEL INC. is a venture-backed company based in Silicon Valley. It is developing a high-efficiency, low-cost-per-watt solar module enabling unsubsidized grid parity for grid-tied residential, commercial, utility-scale photovoltaics applications. Solexel’s approach is based on a disruptive, IP-protected, thin-film, mono-crystalline Si cell technology which reduces Si consumption by a significant margin compared to the current paradigm and substantially eliminates dependency on the Si feedstock, ingot, and wafer supply chain. Active cell area is made through the use of plentiful, inexpensive Si gas, as opposed to costly bulk Si wafers. This results in a disruptive reduction in use of Si, elimination of feedstock dependency, ingot growth & wafering, and a significant reduction of the overall cell and module production costs.