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  • When I first heard about using particle accelerators to create solar panels, I thoughtwhat?!

  • I must not understand how solar panels are made. Or how particle accelerators work? And

  • yes, there's a key, unglamorous step thatunless you're fairly familiar with solar

  • manufacturing technology (which I'm not) – you probably wouldn't think of, and

  • it's in this step where a particle accelerator turns out to be useful: cutting silicon into

  • the really thin wafers that are the key component of a solar panel.

  • However, even this wasn't at all what I first thought, which was something like slicing

  • through the crystal with a super powerful particle beam. That sounds awesome, but the

  • actual technique is much less insane and much more clever.

  • Ok, so a typical solar panel cell begins as a carefully grown cylinder of silicon atoms

  • arranged in a regular crystal lattice, which are then trimmed and cut into wafer-thinwafers.

  • Some of which retain curved corners as hallmarks of the original cylindrical crystal.

  • Then the wafers get covered with other metals, anti-reflective coatings and electrodes, and

  • so on, to be able to capture the sun's energybut the part we want to focus on is the

  • cutting. Because when you cut something with a saw, like silicon wafers normally are, there

  • are two problems: one, you can't cut a slice too thin otherwise it might get brokentypical

  • solar panel wafers are cut to about 0.15 millimeters. And two, unlike a knife which cuts by separating

  • and wedging two pieces of material apart, a saw cuts with teeth that gouge and eat away

  • at the material, turning it into saw-dust and leaving a gap called a kerf. In the case

  • of silicon wafers, the gap is roughly the same width as the wafers themselves, which

  • means about half of the original material goes to waste!

  • This is where particle accelerators come innot as a high powered ablative cutting particle

  • beam, but by taking advantage of the physics of crystals. If instead you shoot protons

  • with a certain energy at the flat face of the silicon cylinder, those protons will embed

  • themselves into the silicon. The depth depends on how much energy they have, and the thinner

  • you want, the less energy they take, so you can easily pick something super thin. But

  • whatever thickness you choose, once inside the silicon crystal lattice, the protons kind

  • of push it apart and create stress; if you heat the whole thing up, a wafer will break

  • right off, cleanly cleaving along the crystal lattice lines where the protons were. So,

  • if after the protons are embedded, but before the heating, you glue this proto-wafer onto

  • a piece of glass or plastic, and then heat it up, you end up with a nice thin wafer of

  • silicon attached to a durable (and possibly flexible) material, with no waste silicon

  • whatsoever. To me, this is clever physics engineering!

  • Of course, a particle accelerator is much more expensive than a saw, so there must be

  • some upsides to itthe biggest is that, by using significantly less silicon per wafer

  • and not losing any silicon in the cutting process, it's possible to justify using

  • much more expensive silicon that's better at capturing sunlight, meaning the resultant

  • solar panels for a given power output are smaller and need less other material to make

  • them and hold them up, hence they're cheaper. Hopefully enough cheaper to make up for the

  • extra costs of using a particle accelerator to part silicon!

  • The company that's trying to use the particle-accelerator technology I talked about in this video to

  • make solar cells on a commercial scale, this company is called Rayton Solar. This is a

  • challenging and expensive endeavor and they're looking for investors, so they sponsored this

  • video to get the word out - I'm not going to make any endorsement – I

  • mean, I'm neither an investment expert, nor a solar industry expertbut I do believe

  • strongly that we need both political and technological solutions to secure our planet's energy

  • future, so I'm happy to help Rayton reach a broader audience to help give them a chance

  • for this clever idea to succeed, and I'm making a small investment myself. Hopefully

  • they'll end up being one of the many many pieces that come together to provide a civilized

  • long-term future for humanity on earth.

When I first heard about using particle accelerators to create solar panels, I thoughtwhat?!

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B2 silicon particle solar wafer accelerator thin

Solar Panels Made With a Particle Accelerator?!

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    Summer posted on 2021/10/08
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