MELBOURNE (2 October 2018) – Trina Solar, the global leader in total solar energy solutions, has been shifting production towards the manufacture of PERC silicon solar cells, a technology first invented and later developed by scientists at the University of New South Wales.
Australia, particularly the University of NSW and Australia National University (ANU), is a key partner of Trina Solar in development of solar cell technology for the global market, says Dr Pietro Altermatt, principal scientist at Trina Solar.
“When it comes to solar cell research and development, Australia is among the best in the world,” he says, adding that Trina Solar has helped fund solar cell research at the two Australian universities.
“The University of NSW has the largest and best-known university PV research group in the world,” saysAltermatt, adding that this Australian university has been one of the main global trend-setters for research and development into solar cells.
PERC technology was first invented by scientists at the University of NSW in 1983. These scientists, led bythe university’s Professor Martin Green, published a research paper on PERC technology in 1989.
Scientists from around the world then picked up on the university’s PERC innovations and worked tosimplify the manufacturing process for PERC cells.
But silicon, for solar cells, needs to be very pure. PERC cells were found to have small defects in the silicon or impurities caused by metals. This meant one of the challenges researchers had to overcome, was finding a way to remove the defects and impurities in the silicon. This issue partly explains why it took decades forthe university’s invention in the early 1980s to become commercially viable today.
“We started working with the University of NSW nearly 10 years ago on PERC cell technology and westarted working with the university on hydrogenation about three to four years ago. We were quite earlyon working with the university on hydrogenation,” says Altermatt.
Hydrogenation is a process that the university successfully developed in the lab and then commercially. It is a process whereby hydrogen atoms, inside the silicon crystal, dock to impurities and defects to make them harmless.
“We have also worked with the University of NSW on ‘characterization’, which involves testing cells indetail. This helps us to identify how the cells can be improved or identify if there is a problem,” saysAltermatt.
“We give the university cells, from our production line, for this research work,” he adds.
PERC cells now account for about a third of the world’s solar cell market and is forecast to account formore than half the market in 2022.
“Trina Solar has been working to market solar systems with PERC technology to consumers around theworld so we can help people to switch to renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions,” says Altermatt.
“The market response to the PERC technology has been outstanding,” he adds.
PERC stands for passivated emitter and rear cell. Passivated means that defects at surfaces do not reduce the power. The PERC cell is passivated at both the front emitter and at the rear. In earlier cells, the rear surface reduced the power.
While Trina Solar has worked with the University of NSW on PERC cell technology, hydrogenation and characterization; it has also worked with ANU.
“ANU is doing excellent work in researching defects in silicon and new types of layers that can be applied to the front and back of the silicon wafer to passivate, so the cell generates more electricity.”
“It has also been researching ways that these thin layers can be applied to the silicon wafer more cheaply,”he adds.
“ANU has recently done ground breaking work to passivate metal contacts by putting thin layers betweenthe silicon wafer and the contacts. Such ‘passivated contacts’ will be decisive for cell improvements in thenear future. ANU right now is paving the way for the future of solar cell improvements.”
Altermatt says: “Most researchers would agree that the modern solar cells coming onto the market today,would not be so efficient and so cheap to produce if it hadn’t been for the research done by both theUniversity of NSW and ANU.”
He says it is important for industry to work with tertiary institutions to drive product innovation.
Trina Solar helps to fund both ‘blue sky’ research and applied research.
“You cannot commercialise all ‘blue sky’ research, but ‘blue sky’ research is very important because it iswhere innovative and original ideas are born. If you only do applied research, then all you end up with isoptimization and ways to improve existing technology,” says Altermatt.
“To mass produce a modern solar cell, there are eight different manufacturing processes to go through, otherwise known as fabrication steps. Five of the eight fabrication steps are the result of ‘blue sky’ research done mostly by universities,” he says.
“In blue sky research you are free to develop new ideas and follow your ideas. This is the foundation of asuccessful industry,” he adds.
Besides working with tertiary institutions to foster innovative ideas that may ultimately have useful commercial applications, Trina Solar also likes to work with tertiary institutions because it is a way to foster and identify talent.
“When the PhD students eventually graduate, they look for a job and we hire them because we know them, we’ve worked with them and we know their skills and capabilities,” says Altermatt.
About Trina Solar
Trina Solar is a world leading and total solutions provider for solar energy. Founded in 1997, Trina Solar develops proprietary smart PV solutions for large power stations as well as commercial and residentialsolutions, energy storage systems and photovoltaic modules. As the world’s leading provider of integratedsolar energy solutions, Trina Solar has also taken the lead in the world of energy IoT (internet of things). It is committed to becoming a global leader in this new and emerging sector. For more information, please visit www.trinasolar.com.