Researchers Develop Breakthrough Technology for Miniaturized Solar Cells

Researchers Develop Breakthrough Technology for Miniaturized Solar Cells

University of Ottawa scientists achieve milestone in miniaturization of electronic devices with back-contact micrometric photovoltaic cells

The quest for more powerful solar cells and miniaturized electronics has long been a focus of scientific research. Now, a team of scientists at the University of Ottawa has made a groundbreaking discovery that could revolutionize the field of electronic devices. By manufacturing the first back-contact micrometric photovoltaic cells, the researchers have unlocked a new era of miniaturization. These cells, which are twice the thickness of a strand of hair, offer significant advantages over conventional solar technologies, reducing electrode-induced shadowing by 95% and potentially lowering energy production costs by up to three times. This breakthrough, the result of a research partnership between the University of Ottawa, the Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, and the Laboratoire des Technologies de la Microélectronique in Grenoble, France, opens up a wide range of applications, from densification of electronic devices to more efficient solar cells and lightweight nuclear batteries for space exploration.

The Promise of Miniature Solar Cells

The newly developed micrometric photovoltaic cells boast remarkable characteristics, including an extremely small size and significantly reduced shadowing. These properties make them suitable for various applications, such as the densification of electronic devices, more efficient solar cells, lightweight nuclear batteries for space exploration, and the miniaturization of devices for telecommunications and the internet of things (IoT). This technological breakthrough holds significant benefits for society, as it promises less expensive and more powerful solar cells, which will accelerate the energy shift. Additionally, lightweight nuclear batteries will facilitate space exploration, and the miniaturization of devices will contribute to the growth of the IoT and lead to more powerful computers and smartphones.

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Understanding Miniaturized Solar Cells

The researchers focused on addressing the issue of “shading” in silicon-based electronic devices. As the size of these devices decreases, the connectors remain the same, resulting in an increase in shading caused by metalized surfaces. For centimeter-sized devices, shading caused by metalized surfaces is around 6%. However, as devices become smaller, the shading from electrical connections can approach 70%. By utilizing the new 3D connection process, the researchers were able to keep the connections for miniaturized silicon-based electronic components below 3%, significantly reducing shading.

The Challenges of Commercial Production

Bringing new technology out of the lab and into commercial production often presents challenges. The researchers acknowledge the hurdles they face in their paper. The enhanced complexity of a 3D architecture poses three main challenges: increased failure risks, increased manufacturing costs, and the requirement for specialized tools. The increased failure risks stem from the number of technological steps required, which is more than 10-fold compared to standard contacts. However, the researchers believe that the knowledge and techniques from the mature CMOS industry can mitigate these risks. While the manufacturing costs may increase due to additional steps, projections indicate that the cost per watt associated with this technology could be reduced three-fold by using miniaturized cells instead of standard contact cells. Additionally, specialized tools that are not commonly used in the multijunction photovoltaic industry will be required for manufacturing these miniature solar cells. Learning from the CMOS industry can help mitigate the risks associated with this challenge.

Conclusion:

The development of back-contact micrometric photovoltaic cells marks a crucial step in the miniaturization of electronic devices. The breakthrough achieved by scientists at the University of Ottawa opens up new possibilities for more powerful and affordable solar cells, lightweight nuclear batteries for space exploration, and the miniaturization of devices for telecommunications and the IoT. While there are challenges to overcome in terms of commercial production, the potential benefits to society are significant. As technology continues to advance, the ability to make electronic components smaller while maintaining efficient connections will drive innovation and shape the future of electronic devices.

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