Ion cannons can make solar panels for half the cost

When I think of ion cannons, I think of disabled Imperial Star Destroyers. When the folks at startup Twin Creeks Technologies thinks of ion canons, they think of a way to make solar cells that are thin, flexible, efficient and super cheap. Massive futuristic weapons: what can't they do.

To make a solar panel, all you have to do is take a big hunk of silicon and slice it into wafers, stick electrodes on it, cover it in glass and put it somewhere sunny. Easy. The process of slicing those wafers is usually done with wire saws, though, which causes two problems: first, the silicon has to be left thick enough to keep it from fracturing, which means that each slice measures about 0.2 millimeters. This is about 10 times as thick as the wafer needs to be to work. And secondly, each time the wire saw slices off a new wafer, it turns about the same amount of silicon into dust. Overall, 90% of the silicon is completely wasted, which makes everything less efficient and more expensive.

Enter the ion cannon. And for the record, this is an actual, honest-to-goodness ion cannon, named Hyperion (pictured above).

Twin Creeks created it (using a customized particle accelerator that's ten times power powerful than anything else available) to inject hydrogen ions into silicon sheets. The sheets are then heated, the hydrogen ions expand into vapor, and the silicon splits apart into wafers that are only 20 microns thick without wasting any material at all. Metal backing makes the wafers strong yet flexible, and Twin Creeks says that the company is able to reduce the overall panel cost from 80 cents per watt to just 40 cents per watt.

At 40 cents per watt, Twin Creeks can make solar panels that are competitive with Chinese imports, and it's planning to deploy its ion cannons (ion cannons!) to other manufacturing plants in the United States.

It's just too bad that it's still too late for Alderaan.

Twin Creeks, via MIT

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