Gallery: IBM Releases Cheaper, 40% More Efficient Thin-Film Solar Cell


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.

+ IBM Research

Via Environmental Leader


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  1. German Armory Transform... August 27, 2010 at 1:00 am

    […] of the former tank armory to tuck a campus underneath, while the roof was replaced with translucent thin-film solar panels. The vocational school is a excellent example of green architecture that exposes students to […]

  2. SolarTownSara July 29, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Though it is less than ideal to think of energy consumption as a “choose your poison” decision, the chemicals that go into making solar panels are controlled, and still simply don’t compare to the mercury vapor, toxic level of CO2 and ozone, Sulfur dioxide, etc spewed into the atmosphere by coal-fueled power plants. I have yet to hear about an entire population of people developing respiratory problems or any other life-impairing illness due to solar panels.

  3. eldon April 14, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Hydrazine is child’s play compared to the other nasty chemicals use in standard silicon manufacture.

  4. bpg131313 February 12, 2010 at 1:30 am

    Hydrazine is also used with some of our fighters (like the F-16), It’s not really friendly stuff, but IBM looks to be using it as a solvent that is removed completely in the manufacturing process. I’m sure they are making sure that this stuff is properly handled.

    As for the solar panels, I’m looking forward to getting to see them. If they are used to shingle a complete roof, the power generated might be substantial enough to offset the cost in a reasonable amount of time. I guess it’s up to IBM to get these things out into the real world for us all to test. I still love my silicon though.

  5. WBrooke February 11, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    I thought Hydrazine was a poisonous rocket fuel that they use to power satelite positioning thrusters.

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