Twin Creek Introduces Thinner Cheaper Solar Cells

The world of solar energy is one of the most vibrant energy production technology on the horizon. The reason is simple, it’s a green technology, providing power without any of the current side effects of coal burning or other methods used today. As such, it’s not surprising that many companies are trying to get solar energy production to be more efficient, and putting a lot of thought into manufacturing models. It seems now that Twin Creek, a small company in California, found a way to reduce the code of producing solar cells by almost half, and create these cells to be flexible, which would allow them to be integrated into buildings without the need to find perfect angles.

The basic problem with solar cell production is that when a silicon wafer is created in order to create the solar cells, it’s hard to get it thin enough. The current limit is around 200 microns, under which the silicon sheet starts to brittle. But now, Twin Creek has developed a new manufacturing technology, and a new machine that can create these wafers to be around 20 microns. The process uses hydrogen protons which get sent against the sheet of pure silicon, and creates bubbles which helps peel off sheets off of the material, without causing problems. The method isn’t new, and has been observed before, but the production of solar cells presented unique challenges that hadn’t been overcome before. By using modern engineering and technologies developed in-house, the company managed to create a brand new type of solar cells, and the whole process saves money on the material cost, which means the resulting solar cell costs just 50 cents instead of 85 cents.

Hyperion, the name of the machine producing these new cells, is being evaluated now by several leading solar manufacturers, and CEO Siva Sivaram is confident that it will enter production next year. The company is filled with experienced engineered, and backed by a $93 million investment from Crosslink Capital, Benchmark Capital, Artis, DAG Ventures, and a Taiwanese funding group, along with $30 million from the state of Mississippi, where they built a demonstration plant. If the machine is adopted by manufacturers, it would make solar energy much cheaper to install, often times going lower than current power consumption, which could be a breakthrough for getting a lot of people and businesses to adopt a green technology. The initial investment to actually buy the machines still involves millions of dollars, and it’s unsure yet how many manufacturers will be ready to take the jump.

Whether this advancement is what’s needed to get governments and organizations to embrace solar power fully or not, there’s no question that scientists around the world believe that humankind needs to move to cleaner, more renewable energy models, instead of relying on things like gas, petrol and coal. Technology breakthroughs like this certainly help move the world in the right direction, and make solar energy a more attractive proposition for boards and caucuses around the world.

2011 Green Year in Review

As we bring 2011 to a close, we look back on a year filled with green technology. Primarily brought on by President Barack Obama, the US has seen a rise in the amount of green technology and green investments. 2011 was wrought with the United States trying to compete with overseas agencies who manufacture green technology such as solar panels, alternative fuels and other products. 2011 was also the year of the Solyndra scandal. Solyndra was backed by the United States to the tune of 500 million dollars which later turned out to be a complete waste.

Mayor Emanuel won a substantial grant from the federal government to implement green efforts in the Chicago area. Chicago has seen a number of green grants. Some organizations that also received green grants were, Ford and the Chicago Transit Authority. One of the biggest stories in the green movement was the how the Navy is testing alliterative fuels for their Mean Green Killing Machine, an eco-friendly ship that has the ability to transport up to 24 troops. The ship is 49 feet long and burns a 50-50 blend of diesel and algae based fuel. The Navy also has an eco-friendly fighter jet, the F/A-18 Super Hornet.

But the Navy wasn’t the only organization that was releasing their own eco-friendly vehicles. 2011 was also a big year for car manufacturers. The Chevy Volt, Toyota’s Prius and the Volkswagon Bulli were the talk of the town in green technology. 2011 was also a year of great home technology. The home solar kit was offered for the first time through Costco. This kit has the ability to store solar energy in a generator to power an entire home.

When the recession hit, many people in America’s heartland were affected. The loss of jobs was devastating to families. However, a lot of jobs were created in 2011 to help install and maintain wind energy through turbines. Michigan was another region that was hit hard when car manufactures closed up shop. But thank to OnSite Energy, there is hope that jobs will become affluent in the new year. OnSite Energy is trying to turn urban lots into centers for manufacturing biofuels.

Clean Technology ExFOB

This week the U.S. military hosted 13 different vendors invited to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California to demonstrate various new clean technologies which may hastily be developed to assist soldiers on the ground in spots like Afghanistan.

This is the third ExFOB event that the military has held. Erstwhile ExFOBs resulted in the Marine Corps acquiring new tools for reducing fuel and water demand on the battlefield. Now ExFOB 2011 has moved the focus over toward two main areas: concentrated solar harvesting technology and tactical vehicle fuel efficiency.

As outlined in a Federal Business Opportunities posting, in the solar category the military was searching for concentrated harvesting systems like lens-focused photovoltaics and solar thermal dishes powering Sterling engines, as well as concentrated passive solar water heating systems. As far as fuel efficiency, it searched for ways to improve fuel efficiency for tactical vehicles while idling or static, including bolt-on auxiliary power units and better engine or power train efficiencies, in concert with “other automotive technologies such as cold and hot weather idle free solutions for vehicle climate control, reduction of parasitic loads, or any other automotive solutions designed to improve vehicle fuel efficiency.”
CoGenera Solar was among the companies which put out word about its involvement in ExFOB 2011 saying that:

“The military is interested in Cogenra’s technology as a means to most rapidly and effectively enhance the self-sufficiency of FOBs roughly the size of a Marine Corps Company (approximately 200 Marines) by utilizing the sun to produce both power and hot water at remote locations…”

International Battery and NEST Energy Systems were two more vendors at ExFOB, which joined forces to demonstrate a system they said reduces fuel consumption in medium tactical vehicle replacement (MTVR) trucks – that use excessive idling as a means of generating electrical energy – by up to 75 percent. The companies said MTVRs are “frequently used to provide peak (2.5 kilowatts) power for ground-based systems, like, laptops, radios, blue-force trackers, etc.” For the purpose of the demonstration, the system was to be paired with a 430-watt portable solar panel in order to charge the unit.

Heavy Metal: More Business For China

“Seventeen metals on the periodic table of elements are the commotion from Tokyo to Washington, D.C.”

Writes Catherine Ngai of National Geographic.

Rare-earth metals or REMs are composed of element number 21, scandium; number 39, yttrium; and the 15 lanthanides, numbers 57-71, on the periodic table. They are often found in clusters, but you would not call them rare.

These metals are crucial ingredients in making motors and batteries for hybrid and electric cars, Low energy light bulbs, solar panels and wind turbines.

And outside of the green energy forum, they are crux also in the art of weapons building. “Smart bombs” which use neodymium-iron-boron magnets to control their direction when dropped out of an aircraft, yttrium-aluminum-garnet used in determining the range of enemy targets at far distances, lasers that employ neodymium and neodymium-iron-boron permanent magnets used for sound system components utilized in psychological warfare are among their numerous practical uses.

The only U.S. mine, near the Mojave National Preserve in Mountain Pass, California, became inactive in 2002 after 50 years of production, due to economic and environmental issues.

The Chevron-owned mine was taken over in 2008 by Molycorp Minerals LLC. A company that spent more than $400,000 since 2008 lobbying Congress about rare-earth minerals.

In 2009, 90% of the U.S. imports for rare-earth metals were from China, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Though, according to USGS, the figure this year is 9%.

Consumption of the products which use rear-earth metals has decreased radically during the economic downturn, according to a USGS report. A 55% decrease from $186 million imported in 2008, in 2009, the estimated value of these products imported by the United States was $84 million, a 55% decrease from $186 million imported in 2008.

On the other hand, looking toward the future, the demand for rare-earth minerals would rise as electric cars and more alternative energy and efficiency applications comes on the market. There is a rumor that China plans to stop exporting their metals in 2012, reserving them for their own economic exansion, though this stands to be verified.

China now exports roughly 30,000 tons a year; only one-fourth of the world demand.

In order to facilitate the building of more “green” technology, the world will require 200,000 tons of rare earth elements by 2014.

One solution is to offer China an incentive by spawning more imaginative green technology ideas. This is if lobbying Congress to utilize whatever is at America’s disposal proves ineffectual, or if that supply eventually vanishes.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

Call it range anxiety – call it what you want. Electric car drivers worry time and again that they won’t have enough juice to make those long trips. And so, as is too often the case, the question of pragmatism becomes a hurdle for greensters and those on the fence.

As they continue to push to sell more battery-powered cars, it’s a fear that automakers must overcome.

Due out late this year, Nissan’s all-electric Leaf can travel just 100 miles on a single charge. That’s perfect for a commuter but not the Jack Kerouac cross-country sojourner type.

One guy who once owned an electric car, Mr. Bob Shafron said:

“I think the Leaf is a beautifully designed vehicle, but 50 miles in one direction is just not enough…I think they are going to run into problems in markets like L.A., where things are spread out.”

The Monrovia-based maker of unmanned surveillance planes and quick-charge systems for electric vehicles and wind turbines, AeroVironment, secured a contract to install and provide home-charging systems for Nissan’s Leaf:

“When a customer goes to Nissan they will be able to schedule a home assessment with a licensed electrical contractor that will be part of our nationwide network”

said Steven Gitlin, AV’s vice president of marketing strategy.

Car Charging Group, Inc an owner and provider of electric vehicle charging stations with a mission to build a nationwide infrastructure, compliments California regulators who voted to make it easier for electric car charging companies to resell power in California at the California Public Utilities Commission Meeting held recently:

“For years, California has set the standard in green technology. It is great to see the state pave the way for electric vehicle charging companies and allow them to sell power in the state,” Car Charging Group CEO Michael D. Farkas said, “This opens up the gateway to bring revenue from EV charging stations and helps our company fulfill its mission. Furthermore, if other states follow in California’s footsteps, the national initiative would allow our company to price the cost of our services competitively benefiting property owners and consumers.”

Slightly more expensive and also hitting show room floors soon is GM’s $41,000 Volt. President Barack Obama was recently photographed driving in one.

Meanwhile, another fine example has been set by the Israeli company, Shai Agassi’s Better Place is opening a visitor center in a Tel Aviv suburb, situated in a renovated oil tank at the Pi Glilot fuel depot.
The center invites the public to hear about the Better Place vision (electric cars and charging stations, already setup in Jerusalem and parts of Europe), learn how the system will work, and test drive the cars.

Agassi had this to say:

“With the Better Place project, for the first time, we in Israel are providing a solution for one of the biggest global problems…By a happy coincidence, the Israeli government announced today that it was calling for a national plan to reduce Israel’s dependence on fossil fuels. I promise you that we had nothing to do with it, but we are happy about it because it shows where we’re going.”

Better Place Israel CEO Moshe Kaplinsky, a former deputy chief of the IDF General Staff, said that the company has signed agreements with 92 different Israeli companies who have agreed to convert a portion of their fleets to electric vehicles.

Motorola, Strauss and Netvision are among these companies.

The Times They Are a-Changin’