Robots from NREL build better solar cells

NREL robot to make and test solar cells
The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has come up with a robot that makes thin-film solar cells faster and with more precision than ever before. According to the NREL press release, the robot can build a semi-conductor on a six inch square piece of plastic, glass or flexible metal in about 35 minutes.  The robot “pivots and dishes like a point guard, sifts like a master chef, analyzes like a forensics expert and does it all while maintaining a vacuum seal on the entire process.”  It’s also been described as a solar cell jukebox, since it can shuffle tools in and out to make and analyze the cells.   Additionally, the robot analyzes the completed cell for any glitches and light absorption characteristics.  According to NREL scientist Ingrid Repins, “It used to require us to go to, let’s see, one … two … three … four … five labs to do the same thing.”

NREL has created 6 of these robots so far – each robot is in a different bay at NREL’s Process Development and Integration Laboratory (PDIL).  The first robot worked with silicon for the semiconductor material, then the next three bays were for stand along characterization, integrated characterization and atmospheric processing.  They’ve recently added a new robot that uses CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) for its solar cells and they’re currently installing a robot that will work with cadmium-telluride cells.  NREL scientists hope that their new robots will allow solar cell companies to quickly and easily test new formulations and methods for production.  For example, NREL recently signed an agreement with Climax Molybdenum of Empire, Colorado.  The company wants to use the robots to test their new process for creating CIGS solar cells.

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