Silicone to Protect Silicon Solar CellsCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: August 24, 2012 04:40AM
A small peeve of mine, which does not come up often, fortunately, is people flipping silicon and silicone. Silicon is a semiconducting element while silicone is a polymer comprised of multiple elements. You would never use silicone to make a CPU and silicon oven mitts would not work well, but we may soon be finding both in solar cells. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems have discovered that laminating silicon solar cells with silicone makes them more resilient.
Because silicon is so fragile, solar cells are laminated with ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) to protect them. Different material offer different levels of protection, so the researchers decided to test silicone, with the help of Dow Corning Corporation. It turns out silicone does a very good job of protecting the cells, even at temperatures as low as -40 ºC.
While the laminate may not greatly impact the efficiency of a solar cell, they do have a major impact on if a design is economically viable. The cells are already expensive, so any means to protect them from damage is immediately valuable and can even reduce costs. Some of the thickness of the silicon is there for strength but if the laminate can assume that role, less silicon can be used, which will drop the price.