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Optical cavity furnace can boost solar cell efficiency

By Scott Jenkins |

Using an array of lamps inside a highly reflective chamber, the optical cavity furnace (OCF) takes advantage of photonics effects to help manufacture solar photovoltaic cells with higher efficiency than those made by conventional rapid-thermal-processing (RTP) methods. In addition, the OCF can reduce cost and raise efficiency of the manufacturing process itself. Scientists at the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL; Golden, Colo.; www.nrel.gov) developed the OCF to harness the ability of photons to effect atomic-level changes that are important to solar-cell process outcomes, such as avoiding iron and other impurities, creating junctions and improving electronic properties. NREL engineer Bhushan Sopori remarks, “Optics can make a lot of things happen at the interfaces in a cell, where, for example, metal can reflect the light and speed the diffusion of impurities.” The photonics effects offered by the OCF-based manufacturing process could boost cell efficiency by up to four percentage points, Sopori adds. Aside from the photonic effects on the cells, the OCF allows a lower cost, lower-energy process. An OCF costs half or less than an RTP furnace, and uses half as much energy. Heat losses…
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