Scientists at Natcore Technology Inc. (TSX-V: NXT; Pink Sheets: NTCXF) have discovered methods to increase dramatically the rate at which thin films are grown using Natcore's proprietary liquid phase deposition (LPD) process.
Natcore's research team working at the Ohio State University facilities has discovered how to increase the rate of LPD film growth by up to ten times. Importantly, the small-area films grown with this accelerated process show film quality equivalent to that of the full-area films grown with the slower LPD process. Work continues to scale-up the faster process to uniformly and completely coat multiple wafers simultaneously. This scale-up ability had already been established by the slower process.
The dramatically increased LPD growth rate guarantees that Natcore's coating technology will integrate smoothly into silicon solar cell fabrication lines the world over. This is an important achievement with far-reaching implications not only for solar cells, but also for optoelectronic devices, semiconductors and other applications.
Natcore is proceeding with a patent application for this invention. Further details will be released once this protection is achieved.
Film Passivation Discovery Adds to Reach of Natcore's LPD Process
Natcore researchers have also discovered a method to passivate the surface of the solar cell on which a silica film has been grown using Natcore's LPD process.
Passivation is the process of filling the dangling atomic bonds at the surface of the solar cell, as well as reducing the numbers of defects that always exist in the upper region of the cell body. It is critical to enabling production of long-term, high-performance silicon solar cells.
In Natcore's refined LPD process, this necessary passivation is achieved using the same production steps normally applied to the solar cell to create its top and bottom metal contacts — no additional heating cycles are required. The synergistic nature of Natcore's technology with existing cell fabrication steps will greatly simplify the standard silicon solar cell manufacturing process.
Very importantly, recent developments in silicon solar cell manufacturing R&D have shown that significant gains in cell performance can be achieved with ever-thinner silicon wafers by passivating the rear surface of the cell with a layer of silica underneath the full-coverage aluminum back contact. This step has not yet been included in actual manufacturing because it presently requires the deposition of the silica film by thermal vacuum processes that are too cumbersome and costly to implement.
In contrast, Natcore's newly discovered passivation process using its LPD technology could enable manufacturers to incorporate this vital step in their manufacturing lines in a simple and cost-effective manner, and represents an important new commercial application for Natcore's technology.
Natcore is also applying for patent protection for this discovery. More details will be forthcoming after filing.
China Joint Venture Progressing Well
Natcore's joint venture with the Zhuzhou Hi-Tech Industrial Development Zone and Chuangke Silicon Ltd. is progressing quickly, as expected. Necessary corporate structures and banking relationships have been created, hiring of staff has begun, and funding and build-out of facilities are now ready to proceed.
"We've been deeply impressed with the capabilities and enthusiasm of our new partners," reports Chuck Provini, Natcore's president and CEO. "In fact, even as we begin transferring our anti-reflective coating application to China, we have already begun exploring additional applications to incorporate into our joint venture. We are going to hit the ground running, and fully expect great achievements from this partnership."
"At the same time," notes Provini, "we remain dedicated to the development of similar joint ventures in the United States and Canada for different applications of our technology. We are presently in discussions and negotiations with industry and venture capital groups toward that end. While there is no guarantee that such talks will ultimately result in agreements, we are very optimistic and excited about the possibilities."