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Sliver® cells address the major issue relating to the uptake of solar electric systems – the cost. Sliver® cells use up to 90% less silicon compared with mono crystalline cells of equivalent output resulting in lower module costs.
Sliver® cells were invented and developed by the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSES). Origin Energy, an Australian energy company, has committed $35 million to a manufacturing plant in Adelaide, and modules made of Sliver® cells will be commercially available from 2005.
The output of 72 conventional cells is the same as that from 2 wafers when the wafers are manufactured into Sliver® cells.
Flexible modules can be created by suitable encapsulation of the Sliver® cells (which are flexible due to their thinness).
Building-integrated Sliver® modules take advantage of the fact that any degree of module transparency can be easily achieved by adjusting the Sliver® cell spacing.
The invention of Sliver solar cell technology in 2000 by Dr Klaus Weber and Professor Andrew Blakers of the Australian National University is a fundamental breakthrough. Sliver cell technology uses standard materials and conventional techniques in novel ways to create thin single crystalline solar cells with superior performance at significantly reduced cost. Sliver cells are fabricated on single crystal silicon – the gold standard of the PV industry. Sliver modules are manufactured using techniques adapted from conventional module manufacture. Mature Sliver modules will use only conventional materials. Sliver modules can be efficient, low cost, bifacial, transparent, flexible, shadow-tolerant and light-weight. Sliver technology has the potential to be a comprehensive long-term solution for PV. Standard single crystal silicon wafers around 1 mm thick are used as the starting material for the Sliver cell process. Low cost micromachining methods are used to create many narrow parallel grooves that extend vertically through the wafer but do not extend to the wafer edge. The grooves lead to the creation of an array of thin, parallel, silicon strips, referred to as “Slivers”, confined in the wafer, and held in place at their ends by the un-grooved part of the wafer, referred to as the wafer frame. The entire wafer, containing up to several thousand Slivers, is then processed using standard techniques to turn each of the Slivers into a solar cell.
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The key to understanding the significance of Sliver technology from the cell processing perspective is to recognise the fundamental difference between conventional cell processing and Sliver cell processing. In the conventional cell process, cells are formed on the wafer surface – essentially a 2-dimensional process. In the Sliver cell process, cells are formed in the wafer volume – essentially a 3-dimensional process, which produces a dramatic increase in the active surface area of solar cells per unit volume of silicon consumed and per wafer that is processed.