New super-cheap, ultra-thin solar cells could threaten fossil fuel dominance

hyperion-particle-accelerator

The march toward viable alternative energies may have just taken a crucial step forward. Twin Creeks Technologies, a US-based solar energy startup, unveiled this week a new type of ultra-thin solar cell that cost half as much to produce as comparable cells. The drop in price could allow solar to serve as a practical alternative to fossil fuels.

The secret to Twin Creeks’ new solar cells is thinness. Most crystalline solar panels use sheets of silicon that are around 200 mircons thick, and are cut from blocks of silicon that measure about 600 microns thick. The process of cutting the silicon down to 200 microns results in massive waste. But Twin Creeks uses a hydrogen ion particle accelerator to create silicon solar wafers that measure a mere 20 microns thick, and are at least as efficient at turning sun rays into electricity as their 200-micron counterparts. The innovative production process creates almost no waste, and cuts the cost of solar cell production from about 80 cents per watt down to 40 cents per watt.

process

Here’s how Twin Creeks’ silicon wafer production works: Instead of using saws to cut solar wafers, Twin Creeks’ Hyperion manufacturing system uses high-energy beams of hydrogen ions, which are blasted at the thick plates of silicon. The hydrogen beam penetrates the silicon plate to between 10 and 20 microns, forming a layer of hydrogen gas at that specific depth. This gas then “exfoliates” a super-thin sheet of silicon, which is then peeled from the remaining silicon plate to create the silicon layer, called a “lamina,” that collect solar energy to be converted into electricity.

Based in Senatobia, Mississippi, Twin Creeks does not plan to make its own solar panels, reports Technology Review. Instead, the company hopes to sell its Hyperion manufacturing system to solar panel makers. Twin Creeks says its Hyperion technology is 90 percent more efficient than other wafer manufacturing techniques, and can be easily incorporated into already-existing solar factories.

So far, Twin Creeks has raised $93 million in venture capital, and has also received a loan from the state of Mississippi to build its factory. While the complete package needed to make solar a truly accessible alternative energy remains unfinished, it’s clear that Twin Creeks’ innovative manufacturing technology is a leap in the right direction.

Emerging Tech

An A.I. is designing retro video games — and they’re surprisingly good

Researchers from Georgia Tech have demonstrated how artificial intelligence can be used to create brand-new video games after being shown hours of classic 8-bit gaming action for inspiration.
Emerging Tech

Robots are going to steal 75 million jobs by 2025 — but there’s no need to panic

According to the World Economic Forum, robots and A.I. will take 75 million jobs from hardworking humans by 2025. That's the bad news. The good news is that they will create far more jobs than that.
Emerging Tech

How do 3D printers work? Here’s a super-simple breakdown

How do 3D printers work, exactly? If you ever wondered how these magical machines create 3D objects in a matter of hours, then look no further than this dead-simple breakdown of the four most common printing technologies.
Emerging Tech

Forget hands — this 3D-printed clock keeps time using nothing but marbles

Based on the innovative rolling ball clock design created by Harley Mayenschein in the 1970s, this awesome 3D-printed variation is yours to make at home, courtesy of free instructions.
Deals

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…
Smart Home

Amazon might open 3,000 cashier-free Amazon Go stores by 2021

According to new reporting by Bloomburg, anonymous sources within Amazon say that CEO Jeff Bezos is considering opening up to 3,000 of the company's cashier-less, experimental Amazon Go stores by 2021.
Emerging Tech

Wormlike motion sculptures show how athletes move in 3D

Researchers at MIT have developed a system that offers athletes a unique way to visualize their bodies in motion. An algorithm scans 2D videos of a person in motion, and generates data points that can be 3D-printed into "motion sculptures."
Emerging Tech

Harvard’s soft robotic exosuit adapts itself to the needs of every wearer

Harvard engineers have developed a new multi-joint, textile-based soft robotic exosuit, designed to help soldiers, firefighters, and other rescue workers. Here's what makes it so exciting.
Emerging Tech

These flying cars want to take your commute to new heights

The future is closer than you'd think: Companies around the world are working on flying car models, with many successful tests! Here are all the flying cars and taxis currently in development, and how they work!
Computing

Tap Strap wearable keyboard gains support for VR applications

TAP System's wearable keyboard gains support for virtual reality, now compatible with Windows Mixed Reality, Oculus Rift, and HTV headsets. Type and tap for up to eight hours in VR without needing to look at a physical keyboard.
Emerging Tech

Robot jellyfish could be used to patrol fragile coral reefs

Could schools of robotic jellyfish soon be patrolling the world’s oceans, monitoring fragile environments such as coral reefs? A team of United States researchers certainly thinks so.
Emerging Tech

Versatile robotic skin gives stuffed horse, other inanimate objects some giddyup

Researchers at Yale University have developed a new sensor-packed robot skin that can be wrapped around inanimate objects, such as toys, to transform them into functioning robots.
Emerging Tech

JackRabbot 2 is Stanford’s friendly new campus-roaming social robot

JackRabbot 2 is a robot developed by researchers at Stanford University -- designed to navigate around the campus, while carrying out friendly interactions with the humans around it.
Emerging Tech

New sustainable plan to mitigate climate change involves… a hot dog cooker?

Chemists have demonstrated a new, energy-efficient method of pulling carbon dioxide directly from the air. The secret ingredients? An air humidifier and a solar-powered hot dog cooker.