In the U.S., most electric utilities rely on fossil fuels – oil, coal and gas – to generate the power needed to meet the demands of customers. As energy prices rise and relations with oil producing nations become more uncertain, scientists across the country are advancing technologies that will produce cleaner, greener power made here at home.
Researchers see solar energy as one path to securing the nation’s energy independence while creating a cleaner environment. In spite of advances in solar technology, solar power is still considered by many to be too expensive and inefficient to be a cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels.
A small technology firm based in Red Bank is poised to change that perception and make solar better and cheaper in the not-so-distant future.
Natcore Technology, headquartered at 87 Maple Ave., is working on three breakthrough technologies that will make solar energy cost-competitive with older forms of electric power generation.
For Natcore, the solution to making solar energy competitive can be found in something called liquid phase deposition (LPD). LPD is fueling Natcore’s research and development of black silicon, tandem solar cells and flexible solar cells, three technologies that will revolutionize the production of solar energy. Black silicon will lower costs and increase efficiency. Super-efficient tandem cells will double the power output and flexible cells will be cheaper to produce than those on the market today.
Just recently, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) granted a patent license agreement to Natcore to develop a line of black silicon products that, when made available commercially, will create solar panels that are cheaper and more efficient.
Natcore’s research into a process known as “liquid phase passivation,” conducted at Rice University in Texas and Ohio State University, provided the “missing link” needed to make the NREL’s black silicon more efficient.
One major shortfall in today’s solar cells is that they absorb – and thereby convert into electricity – only a small amount of the sun’s rays. When the sun hits solar panels at an angle, any time other than noon, about 40 percent of the sunlight is reflected away.
Natcore’s passivation process takes the flat surface of NREL’s black silicon discs and creates “micropores” that makes the silicon absorb more sunlight at all times of day. The end result will be solar cells that reflect away only about 1.5 percent of sunlight.
Not only will the new solar cells be more efficient, they’ll also be cheaper.
“Double the output, halve the cost,” says Chuck Provini, Natcore’s president and CEO in a recent release. “That’s our mantra. To make solar cells cost-competitive, we must reduce their cost and increase their output. The combined NREL-Natcore technologies will reduce cost by eliminating the need for thermal oxidation. And they’ll increase output by enabling cells to be more productive throughout all daylight hours.”
We’re combining NREL’s black silicon technology with our LPD and passivation technologies,” Provini adds. “We’ll optimize the combined processes and incorporate them into our AR-Box. AR-Box enables use of an all-liquid phase process for creating ultralow reflectivity, high-performance silicon solar cells at high volume production rates.” AR-Box is Natcore’s device that uses the company’s liquid phase deposition (LPD) process to grow antireflective (AR) coatings on silicon wafers.
Provini headquartered Natcore in Red Bank to be near his home across the Navesink River. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma, Provini is a former Marine Corps officer. He spent his civilian career on Wall Street, with positions that include president of Ladenburg Thalmann Asset Management and a director of Ladenburg Thalmann, Inc., one of the oldest members of the New York Stock Exchange, and president of Laidlaw Asset Management, as well as chairman and chief investment officer of Howe & Rusling, Laidlaw’s Portfolio Management Advisory Group.
Provini was brought in to Natcore by the company’s founders, Dr. Dennis R. Flood, a scientist with more than three decades of experience in solar technology who serves as Natcore’s chief technology officer, and Andrew Barron, a Rice University professor of materials science and consultant to Natcore. The company is the exclusive licensee of a new thin-film technology developed at Rice.
Natcore is a public company traded on the TSX Venture Exchange, formerly known as the Canadian Venture Exchange. For more information, visit www.natcoresolar.com.