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Next-Gen Solar Cells: Smaller, Cheaper, More Efficient
Brian Westenhaus

University of Ottawa engineers, together with national and international partners, have achieved a world first by manufacturing the first back-contact micrometric photovoltaic cells.

The cells, with a size twice the thickness of a strand of hair, have significant advantages over conventional solar technologies, reducing electrode-induced shadowing by 95% and potentially lowering energy production costs by up to three times.

The reporting paper has been published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science.

The technological breakthrough – led by Mathieu de Lafontaine, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Ottawa and a part-time physics professor; and Karin Hinzer, vice-dean, research, and University Research Chair in Photonic Devices for Energy at the Faculty of Engineering – paves the way for a new era of miniaturization in the field of electronic devices.

The micrometric photovoltaic cell manufacturing process involved a partnership between the University of Ottawa, the Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec and the Laboratoire des Technologies de la Microélectronique in Grenoble, France.

“These micrometric photovoltaic cells have remarkable characteristics, including an extremely small size and significantly reduced shadowing. Those properties lend themselves to various applications, from densification of electronic devices to areas such as solar cells, lightweight nuclear batteries for space exploration and miniaturization of devices for telecommunications and the internet of things,” Hinzer said.

A breakthrough with huge potential

de Lafontaine added, “This technological breakthrough promises significant benefits for society. Less expensive, more powerful solar cells will help accelerate the energy shift. Lightweight nuclear batteries will facilitate space exploration, and miniaturization of devices will contribute to the growth of the internet of things and lead to more powerful computers and smartphones. The development of these first back-contact micrometric photovoltaic cells is a crucial step in the miniaturization of electronic devices.”

Hinzer commented that, “Semiconductors are vital in the shift to a carbon-neutral economy. This project is one of many research initiatives that we’re undertaking at the Faculty of Engineering to achieve our societal goals.”

Semiconductors are included in three of the five research areas at the Faculty of Engineering, namely, information technologies, photonics and emerging materials, and two of the four strategic areas of research at the University of Ottawa, namely, creating a sustainable environment and shaping the digital world.

This international partnership between Canada and France illustrates the importance of innovation and research in micromanufacturing, leading the way to a future in which technology will become more powerful and accessible than ever.

It also marks an historic step in the evolution of the global scientific and technology scene.

This initiative was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Fonds de recherche du Québec Nature et technologies, the Horizon Europe Framework program, Prompt Québec and STACE Inc.

First, it is good to see a press release out of Canada!

They report a list of uses beyond solar cells that might be quite an added push to market adoption. Cutting costs is always a good thing, but its really early to think a tech is going to slash costs by three times in any field. The process engineers are going to need a very thorough look and time to assess just how this tech might be integrated into the existing production.

Yet one dies hope the tech is something low enough in startup costs to allow a new wave of western hemisphere production before the tech is appropriated into Asia.

By Brian Westenhaus via New Energy and Fuel




Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the news and views across the emerging field of energy and fuels in our future. You will find the most exciting and useful news, guides and tips for making and saving money in energy and fuel, just how things work or not, where you might want to invest or get involved in a brainstorming session with other readers.

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