Solar and Clean Energy Helped by New Thin Film

First Posted: Jan 19, 2013 04:30 PM EST

It's a win for solar energy. Scientists at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, have created thin film solar cells with a new record efficiency of 20.4 percent for converting sunlight into electricity.

The thin film, which is highly flexible, is made up of cells based on CIGS semiconducting material (copper indium gallium (di)selenide). It's known for its potential to provide cost-effective solar electricity. For years, scientists and engineers have tried to develop a way to make solar electricity effective and affordable on a large scale. These new thin film solar cells may a step in the right direction for doing just that.

The team that created the new technology modified the properties of the CIGS layer, grown at low temperatures. The layer absorbs light and contributes to the photo-current in solar cells. Although in previous versions the cells were not as effective at converting sunlight into electricity, this new version is a huge leap forward in solar energy.

Since thin film is both lightweight and flexible, it could be used for numerous applications such as solar farms, roofs, facades of buildings, cars, and portable electronics. In addition, it can be produced using continuous roll-to-roll manufacturing processes. That could offer major cost reductions when compared with standard silicon technologies.

Currently, the scientists that developed these new thin film solar cells are collaborating with Flisom, a start-up company that is involved in the industrialization of flexible CIGS solar cells. In the future, these cells could be powering your home, office, or even your cell phone. 

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