Open Competition 3 - Chemistry and Materials
New Routes to Ultra-Low-Cost Solar-Grade Silicon for Renewable Energy Generation
Develop industrial refining processes to produce low-cost, high-purity silicon feedstock in virtually unlimited commercial quantities for the solar cell industry.
Sponsor: Dow Corning300 Executive Drive
Newark, DE 19716
The solar cell industry depends on purified silicon, and continued growth depends on having an unlimited source of pure silicon feedstock at costs at least five times lower than currently available. Currently, solar cell makers rely on the silicon "waste" of the microelectronics industry, whose quality is far superior to what the solar cell industry needs. However, the demand for this waste soon will outstrip the supply. Without new sources of refined silicon, the solar industry likely will face a severe supply crisis in several years. In a joint effort, AstroPower, Dow Corning, and Crystal Systems propose to use metallurgical refining processes, such as those used in steelmaking, to produce low-cost, high-purity, and unlimited silicon feedstock tailored to the solar cell industry. Three new methods will be used to reduce impurities such as boron and phosphorous which are resistant to removal. The object of this three-year project is to produce silicon sheets and wafers that can be fabricated into high-performance, low-cost photovoltaic solar cells. The source of risk lies in optimizing processes that can sufficiently reduce boron and phosphorous and be implemented on an industrial scale. The investment climate for high technology remains unfavorable, such as that proposed in this project, and the partners lack the funds to complete the needed research in time to avert the feedstock crisis expected in three to five years. ATP funding could help avert a potential silicon feedstock crisis. This technology could reduce the cost of solar cell modules, greatly expand their use, and allow solar power to substantially provide as much as 15 percent of peak electricity-generating capacity by 2020. Because current trends overwhelmingly favor foreign competitors, this technology could prevent the extinction of the American solar cell industry and reverse its decline. Potential applications include silicon substrates for light-emitting diodes and electrochemical devices for solar-powered generation of hydrogen.