Silicon solar cell

SwanseaUniversity’s School of Engineering has teamed up with local wafer reclaim group Pure Wafer to develop a low-cost solar cell fabricated from recovered silicon.

The silicon used is a waste product from Pure Wafer’s main semiconductor wafer reclaim business. Researchers at the university hope that its use will lead to significantly cheaper photovoltaic (PV) modules for the development of solar panels and renewable-energy plants.

Simon Conway, Pure Wafer’s technologies leader, said: ‘The project consortium, which also involves three other Welsh businesses, aims to manufacture low-cost, high-efficiency PV modules in Wales by 2010.

‘We are also developing novel thin-wafer technology, which reduces the amount of silicon used in the solar cells, cutting costs even further,’ he added.

Pure Wafer, which announced on 17 March that is has suspended trading on AIM, usually ships the silicon overseas to be reprocessed into lower-quality crystalline PV cells – a material that dominates 90 per cent of the solar market. The cells developed by Pure Wafer and Swansea University have been incorporated into modules made up of around 90 connecting cells that can generate a larger amount of electricity.

Speaking of the project’s initial findings, Dr Owen Guy, a lecturer in electronics at Swansea’s School of Engineering, said: ‘Our first prototype cell achieved an efficiency of 14 per cent, but we hope to get closer to 20 per cent with our next attempt – five per cent better than current commercial cells.’

Keith Baker, Pure Wafer’s chief operating officer, said: ‘Climate change and the limited supply of fossil and nuclear fuels demands urgent action to generate renewable energy. The PV market is expected to grow rapidly within the next 20 years. It is already worth more than $9bn [£6.3bn] annually worldwide and silicon cells account for 90 per cent of today’s solar electricity.

‘This project is a shining example of how the university and businesses can work together to develop key technologies that will lead to high-skilled jobs, economic growth and a cleaner environment,’ he added.

Pure Wafer and Swansea’s School of Engineering are hoping to increase the scope of their research and are currently in the process of applying for Academic Expertise for Business (A4B) funding from the Welsh Assembly Government.