Giant CdTe crystals grown quickly for solar panels

January 28, 2020 //By Nick Flaherty
Researchers in the US have developed a technique to build a 1.2kg crystal of cadmium telluride CDTe in less than a day for next generation solar panels
Researchers in the US have developed a technique to build a giant 1.2kg crystal of cadmium telluride (CdTe) in less than a day for next generation solar panels.

Researchers at Washington State University have developed a more efficient, safer, and cost-effective way to produce cadmium telluride (CdTe) material for solar cells.

The researchers showed they could rapidly grow a large amount of high-purity CdTe material, producing a1.2kg crystal in one day. Crystals up to 20kg can be grown say the team. 

The technique uses a high-pressure furnace to produce large amounts of the needed crystal feedstock material and is 45 percent more cost effective than the industry standard and is scalable, which could make CdTe solar technology less expensive than natural gas. The crystal material produced also has better electrical properties than what is currently available.

CdTe photovoltaics are a newer technology than popular silicon solar cells and are competitive in terms of efficiency. They also perform better in hot and humid weather. While CdTe solar cells could provide significant advantages in cost and efficiency over silicon, they currently make up less than 10 percent of the solar market, mostly for large utilities as a result of the cost.

"Right now there is a huge kink in raw material production," said Santosh Swain, research assistant professor with the Institute of Materials Research and a co-author on the paper. "The solar industry has steadily increased device efficiency and fabricating devices, but further efficiency gains and cost reduction require improvement in CdTe material properties."

The current manufacturing process involves cooking the CdTe material in a sealed glass tube to contain the reaction. It takes a long time, the tubes are not reusable, and the silica glass is limited in how much heat, mass, and pressure it can take. Because of concerns about the material exploding, the industry is limited in the size of crystals they can grow. To make solar cells, the crystals are then evaporated onto glass substrate to make the thin films.

The new technique uses a strong graphite crucible, and the material is cooked in a high-pressure Bridgman furnace.  The high-pressure

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