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WATCH: Solar company makes ambitious claims for new silver-free cell


In a move expected to drive down costs to the industry, Natcore Technology says it has developed  a way to swap silver for aluminum in its solar cells.

Silver is a highly conductive metal, and that efficiency is one reason it has been used in solar cells for nearly 60 years.

When sunlight hits a silicon cell, it generates electrons, and silver has been used to collect these electrons in order to form a useful electric current.

But it is also expensive, and that’s why Natcore has been working on eliminating silver from the mass production process of the all-back-contact silicon cells.

Natcore Technology says that silver accounts for more than 10% of the cost of current units, so shaving that cost off each unit could give the cells a competitive edge.

The small team of five researchers, led by David Levy, claims the aluminum in the cell costs less than 1% of the cost of the silver, and is just as efficient.

“The ability to get rid of that immediately can cut a large amount of cost out of the cell, and in a way of thinking, may allow you to do other things you couldn’t do because the cost of the silver was so high,” says Levy.

By eliminating silver, solar cell production will also be less exposed to changes in the price on the precious metals market. 

Scientists used a proprietary technique, called laser doping, to apply pin-sized contacts to the back of the silicon cell.

Natcore plans to file a provisional patent application by the end of August.

Watch as Natcore's lead researcher discusses the swap from silver to aluminum in solar cells.


Watch as scientist discusses part of the solar cell production process at Natcore Technology.


Sasha-Ann Simons joined the team at WXXI News as a Multimedia Reporter/Producer. She most often tells stories about the innovation economy and technology in upstate New York as part of a journalism collaborative, and is a fill-in host and regular contributor to WXXI-TV's weekly news magazine program, Need To Know.