Europeans have made it their mission to develop and use alternative sources of energy, like solar. But despite being clean and fairly easy to use, solar energy systems can be expensive. Enter a team of European researchers who have successfully increased the efficiency of the system’s central component and cut production costs by more than half.
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The project's development of sophisticated manufacturing technology for crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules was instrumental in helping the EU meet its 2010 targets on the costs of photovoltaic power.
The CRYSTAL CLEAR (Crystalline silicon photovoltaic: low-cost, highly efficient and reliable modules) project focused on crystalline silicon modules, which are used in around 9 out of 10 solar energy systems sold worldwide. The project partners focused on developing state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies that reduced the production cost of solar modules to around EUR 1 for each watt produced. The achievement effectively reduces the cost of solar systems. The team also cut the amount of material needed to produce each module, further boosting their environmental profile.
CRYSTAL CLEAR was to ensure the manufacturing process results in tailor-made modules. It was important for the research r-team to follow through on this because the modules need to be easily adapted for use in very different situations and locations. This feature allows manufacturers to meet individual customer needs and boost product lifetime and reliability.
The CRYSTAL CLEAR project was split into seven sub-projects: feedstock, wafers, wafer-equivalent approaches, cell technology, modules, environmental sustainability, and integration. 'Feedstock' refers to the silicon that solar cells are made from, while research into 'wafers' focused on solar silicon material production and the 'wafering' of the materials through multi-wire slurry saving and diamond-wire cutting.
After assessing 'wafer-equivalent approaches’, the team investigated and developed crystalline silicon thin-film solar cells. The resulting technologies can be produced at a lower cost than traditional wafers.
Advances in cell technology resulted in cell designs and production processes that decreased processing costs by 40 percent.
The researchers then went on to update the lifecycle assessment (LCA) of current crystalline silicon production technology and cut the energy payback time in their demonstrator modules. (Researchers use LCAs to assess environmental impacts linked to all stages of a product's life – from cradle to grave – and to help them avoid a limited outlook on environmental challenges.) The reductions amounted to 18 percent for the multi-crystalline silicon and 25 percent for the mono-crystalline silicon demonstrator modules.
With EUR 16 million in funding under the 'Sustainable development, global change and ecosystems' thematic area of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), CRYSTAL CLEAR was led by Energieonderzoek Centrum Nederland (ECN). Other project partners included research and industry experts.