Monday, November 17, 2008

Lower-Priced Silicon Cutting Panel Costs

Finally, something new in crystal silicon technology. Well, it's not actually new so much as it was passed over for purer silicon chips. Now upgraded metallurgical grade (UMG) silicon is one answer to lowering panel costs possibly stealing some fire from various thin-film products.

Blue Square Energy of North East, Maryland announced Nov. 5 that it has produced a 14.6% efficient solar cell with its patent-pending Bright Point technology. It's one of the highest efficiency UMG cells in the world and verified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

"What we've been able to accomplish is a major milestone towards achieving our goal of creating low-cost solar energy for homes and businesses," said Joseph Babin, CEO of BSE. "This proves that inexpensive silicon typically considered unsuited for the solar industry can be utilized to create solar energy that is price accessible for most Americans. Solar modules made with our Bright Point technology will soon be the best choice for those who care about our environment and their wallets -- and want to save both."

Most UMG silicon is slightly less in purity than the 99.9999+% seen in high-grade silicon panels today. UMG silicon contains either boron, phosphorus or iron reducing purity to 99.7% to 98%. This slight difference means significantly reduced cost for silicon panels because lower-grade silica becomes acceptable and less cost is incurred refining it. High-grade silicon runs about $200 per kilogram; UMG silicon can range between $20-$50.

Other developer/manufacturers of UMG panels are Q-Cells AG (Germany), LDK Solar (producing UMG silicon for Q-Cells in China), Hemlock Semiconductor Corporation (Michigan), REC Solar (California) and Evergreen Solar (Massachusetts).

(Special thanks to John Perlin for his input on this article.)


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