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November 01, 2008

"black" Silicon

Interesting stuff. They have manufacturing scalability issues though.

...captures nearly all of the sun's light. "It is basically a sponge for light, both visible and infrared," says CEO Stephen Saylor...
The cool thing is that its picking up in the IR spectrum as well as visible, which traditional silicon is pretty useless for. Its usefulness as a power generating technology remains to be seen, but it looks pretty good for improving light sensor performance. Sounds like they've gotten a ~200X reduction in the amount of power needed to operate a light sensor.

More info HERE and HERE.

That they talk about doing a melt and recrystallization suggests pretty high power pulses. There's no mention of what the beam width is when they do this, so it could be a pretty narrow beam -- which is where their scalability problems may be coming from. You can't do nano-scale operations and produce shit by the square mile in any practical manner.

We were initially doing this sort of pinpoint stuff, but managed to get good results with a beam the optics fan out very wide. Using wafer based technology is also a very limiting factor for scalability and manufacturing cost -- one of the basic problems with traditional silicon. Nano-solar got around this with the magic goop they spray on a flexible substrate and dispensed with wafers entirely. We'll be eliminating wafers as well in what I'm working on. They cost too much and are limiting on your final material form factor. Wafers are fine for proving concept in the lab, but they really kinda suck when you want to roll high volume manufacture and have nonrestrictive form factors in the final product.

I've occasional mentioned that there will be a slew of new material science developments over the next 10 years that will be transformational for the US economy and industry. What these folks have managed to do with silicon is a small taste of what's to come. There'll be a lot of novel processing of common materials that get them to behave in ways that are very uncommon. Science is just starting to scratch the surface of how materials really behave at the nano-level, and traditional processing methods, like ion implantation, have intrinsic limitations to the kind of elements you can process with them. That is going to change. Actually it has already changed ;->

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posted by Purp at 12:38 AM

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