AI News, Building Better Solar Cells, at Robot Speed

Building Better Solar Cells, at Robot Speed

Testing out new types of solar cells at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Process Development and Integration Lab used to involve multiple rooms, numerous pieces of equipment and any number of possible sources of error or accident.

The lab now has several robotic bays that have automated the process of making new solar cells with varying base components, streamlining the process to an extreme degree.

It pivots and dishes like a point guard, sifts like a master chef, analyzes like a forensics expert and does it all while maintaining a vacuum seal on the entire process.'

Solar technology companies working toward that goal will now be able to use the NREL robot army to rapidly speed up testing of new materials and formulas for their cells.

Science and Technology Facility

Solar cell, thin-film, and nanostructure research are conducted in our Science and

Designed specifically to reduce time delays associated with transferring technology

to industry, the STF's 71,000 square feet is a multi-level facility of lab space,

advanced material synthesis, characterization, and general support laboratories.

The STF provides numerous capabilities for a wide range of scientific investigations.

around a system using a central robotic arm to transfer samples.

Three cluster tools allow RD on specific photovoltaic materials, which can be deposited,

processed, measured, and characterized using the process development and integration

The materials are silicon, copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS), and cadmium telluride (CdTe).

Some measurement and characterization techniques represent an integrated tool set that uses a robotic transfer chamber to connect capabilities covering electrical/optical,

The atmospheric processing cluster tool allows scientists to work on processes that do not require high-temperature, high-vacuum

Our ISO 5 (class 100) cleanroom has humidity control to maintain superior particulates

The 156-mm silicon wafer toolset includes the following two central

features: a Singulus 13-bath, automated wet-bench processing tool, and a Tetreon four-stack

insulators by spray deposition of nanoparticles helps close the gap between cell and

Equipment dedicated to the study of PV materials and devices including optical diagnostics,

in-situ electro-optical characterization techniques to develop new in-situ diagnostics

infrared, and Raman scattering are experimental techniques used to develop new diagnostic

capabilities ultimately provide a platform for the study of in-situ real-time control

This lab is used to study PV surface and interface morphologies of interest to the

Deposition techniques to deposit various semiconductor layers necessary to form the

Development of absorber, window, and metal contact thin-film layers for Cu(In,Ga)Se2-based PV devices are performed in this area of the lab.

deposited by physical vapor deposition methods and other hybrid methods to integrate

to develop materials and investigate function of various front- and back-contact schemes

in-situ plasma etching and reactive-ion etching within vacuum chambers prior to material

Chemical (wet) processes are used to deposit metal, oxide, and semiconductor thin

films for existing programs, as well as research to develop novel processes and materials

coupled plasma spectroscopy required for elemental compositional analysis of bulk

NREL's new robots scrutinise solar cells

The robot working with silicon can build a semi-conductor on a six-inch-square plate of glass, plastic or flexible metal in about 35 minutes.

It pivots and dishes like a point guard, sifts like a master chef, analyses like a forensics expert and does it all while maintaining a vacuum seal on the entire process.

And the silicon robot is one of just 6 such robots in 6 bays in NREL's Process Development and Integration Laboratory (PDIL), the place where industry is starting to turn to test their newest cells.

The bay that uses silicon as the semiconductor for solar cells was the first to begin operating and holds all the speed and performance records so far.

In each bay, the central transfer robot is the hub, operating like a jukebox, delivering the plate to chambers that can deposit micron-thin layers of chemicals to build the semi-conductors, or test and measure the growth of the crystals that make the cells.

A vacuum transport tool can take the sample plates to the different, yet compatible, bays to see how an unusual process might bolster the power of a cell.

NREL scientists are hoping their PDIL facility will help industry close that gap sooner by bringing lab-like precision to industrial-type processes.

For example, NREL last month signed a cooperative agreement with Climax Molybdenum of Empire, Colorado, which wants the lab to help test a new process of building sodium into the molybdenum layer of solar cells and then sputtering that sodium onto the CIGS layer.

NREL two years ago set a world record for the efficiency of a thin-film solar cell, when its CIGS cell was able to convert to electricity 20% of the energy it absorbed from the sun.

Today's roof-top solar panels typically are able to convert about 10 or 11% of the sun's energy, although there is a large range of between 8% and 20% efficiency.

Repins envisions that with the 20% formula as the template, in a few years companies can roll out kilometre-long sheets of solar cells and still achieve 16% efficiency —

It means solar panels can be smaller and generate the same amount of energy, and that means lower materials costs, lower factory costs and lower installation costs.

The goal is to answer previously unanswerable research questions, while controlling and characterising the surfaces of the cells, developing new techniques and devising new structures.

The ultra-high vacuum environment allows scientists to study the role of impurities and defects, as well as what happens when the metals are deposited at the fast rate demanded by industry.

Hydrogen Production and Delivery

Researchers at NREL are developing advanced processes to produce hydrogen economically

Text Version Certain photosynthetic microbes use light energy to produce hydrogen from water as

photobiological hydrogen production technology must overcome the inherent oxygen sensitivity

screening for naturally occurring organisms that are more tolerant of oxygen and by

creating new genetic forms of the organisms that can sustain hydrogen production in

switch (sulfur deprivation) to cycle algal cells between the photosynthetic growth

biomass into sugar-rich feedstocks that can be directly fermented to produce hydrogen,

thermocellum, that can ferment crystalline cellulose directly to hydrogen to lower

a liquid product (bio-oil) that contains a wide spectrum of components that can be

are currently focusing on hydrogen production by catalytic reforming of biomass pyrolysis

Contact: Richard French The cleanest way to produce hydrogen is by using sunlight to directly split water

generate sufficient voltage to split water and are stable in a water/electrolyte environment.

efficient, lower cost materials and systems that are durable and stable against corrosion

Contact: John Turner or Todd Deutsch NREL researchers use the High-Flux Solar Furnace reactor to concentrate solar energy and generate temperatures between 1,000 and 2,000

processes offer a novel approach for the environmentally benign production of hydrogen.

Very high reaction rates at these elevated temperatures give rise to very fast reaction

sources are naturally variable, requiring energy storage or a hybrid system to accommodate

electricity during times of low power production or peak demand, or to use the hydrogen

Researchers at NREL's Energy Systems Integration Facility andHydrogen Infrastructure Testing and Research Facility are examining the issues related to using renewable energy sources for producing

and investigates design options to lower capital costs and enhance performance.

accelerated testing and cycling of 700 bar hydrogen dispensing hoses at the Energy Systems Integration Facility using automated robotics to simulate field conditions.

View the video of the robot, which mimics the repetitive stress of a person bending and twisting

a hose to dispense hydrogen into a fuel cell vehicle's onboard storage tank.

perform mechanical, thermal, and pressure stress tests on new and used hydrogen dispensing

NREL-developed hydrogen analysis case studies provide transparent projections of current and future hydrogen production costs.

New Robots Build Prototype Solar Cells in 30 Minutes, Then Evaluate Their Own Work

One squat multitasking robot can build semiconductors for solar cells on six-inch-square plates of glass, plastic or flexible metals in just over half an hour.

Six of these tireless mechanical workers, chugging away at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado, will allow private companies to come rapidly prototype and test their newest formulas for creating solar cells.

A transportation system can even move the sample plates around to different robot bays to try out different processes that might enhance a solar cell's power.

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