IBM has announced the development of a thin film solar cell with an efficiency of 9.6% – a whopping 40% increase from its previous prototypes. An efficiency of 9.6% isn’t terribly impressive compared to the 18% previously achieved by NREL in the laboratory, but IBM’s thin film is a completely different type. What makes IBM’s thin film unique is that it is made up of cheaper and more common materials – not the expensive stuff traditionally used in making solar cells. IBM’s progress, which they claim as a record for this more affordable cell, could significantly bring down the cost of thin film solar power.
IBM has been working for about nine months on the development of this new thin film technology using materials like copper, tin, zinc, sulfur and/or selenium instead of the traditional (and more costly) copper indium gallium selenide or cadmium telluride. In addition, the solvent they are using in the manufacturing – hydrazine – decomposes easily and does not leave impurities on the film which can impede performance.
The project is still quite new and IBM expects to develop the project further, although they have no interest in manufacturing the cells, opting rather to license out the technology when the time comes. Here’s hoping that IBM’s breakthrough will lead eventually to a significant decrease in the cost of thin film solar.