Flat Panel LCD TV Technology Paves Way to Cheaper Solar
The big manufacturing equipment that has helped bring down costs for flat-screen TVs based on liquid-crystal-display (LCD) technology may soon bring prices for solar electricity more in line with prices for electricity from the grid. Applied Materials, a company based in Santa Clara, CA, that supplies manufacturing equipment to LCD makers, as well as to major microchip makers, has converted its equipment to produce thin-film silicon solar cells that are cheap enough to compete with more conventional solar cells. This may eventually lead to much cheaper solar power.
Applied Materials first announced its intent to produce equipment for the solar industry last year. Since then, it has sold equipment to several solar-cell manufacturers, including Germany's Q-Cell, one of the largest solar-cell makers in the world. Last month, Applied Materials announced a new production line that further automates the process. The equipment manufactures solar cells from thin films of amorphous silicon, a material that's cheaper and more readily available than the crystalline silicon used in most solar cells.
Applied Materials had considered entering the solar market for more than 15 years, says Craig Hunter, the company's general manager for thin-film products. The processes used to make liquid-crystal displays, which involve depositing extremely thin yet uniform layers of silicon and other materials on large pieces of glass, are nearly identical to those required to produce solar cells made of thin films of silicon.
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