Ultrathin Wafer Production Tool
Twin Creeks Technologies has announced Hyperion: a wafer
production system that dramatically reduces the cost of solar modules and semiconductor
devices by reducing the amount of silicon and other substrate materials by up
to 90 percent.
The key to Hyperion is thinness. Taking advantage of a
technology called Proton Induced Exfoliation (PIE), Hyperion generates
monocrystalline wafers that are less than 1/10th the thickness of conventional
wafers. With thin wafers, manufacturers can profitably produce solar cells and
other devices well below today’s best-in-class cost structure. Twin Creeks
estimates that Hyperion will permit manufacturers to produce solar cells for
under 40 cents a watt in commercial-scale volume production facilities with
prices declining over time.
“The thickness of wafers today is based on wafer slicing
capabilities and the handling requirements for device processing. In reality,
only the very top layer of a substrate plays an active role in generating
energy or transmitting signals – the rest is wasted," said Dr. Siva Sivaram,
CEO of Twin Creeks. “By eliminating excess material, we will help solar
manufacturers produce modules that compete with grid power and open up new
markets for chip makers."
With PIE, Hyperion effectively uses atoms as a scalpel.
Hyperion embeds a uniform layer of high-energy protons, which are hydrogen
ions, into monocrystalline wafers to a depth of up to 20 microns. When heated, this new layer expands, cleaving
the top surface from the donor wafer to form an ultra-thin wafer that is
otherwise identical to the original. The ultra-thin wafer is then further
processed into solar modules or semiconductors. Creating wafers with PIE also
eliminates the kerf, or wasted silicon, in solar manufacturing.
Hyperion is compatible with a wide variety of
monocrystalline wafers—including germanium (used to make concentrated PV solar
modules), gallium nitride, sapphire and silicon carbide (LEDs and power
electronics). Twin Creeks has initially concentrated on helping manufacturers
of crystalline silicon solar cells because of the urgent need to cut the cost
of solar power. The lessons learned will further allow manufacturers to employ
Hyperion for other applications, such as CMOS sensors.
By reducing the amount of silicon required in solar
modules by 90 percent, Hyperion makes the entire silicon wafer value chain more
efficient and dramatically lowers the capital needs of its customers.
Manufacturers don’t need as many saws, furnaces and crystal pullers to make the
same amount of wafers.
Hyperion improves the monocrystalline silicon value
proposition in other ways as well. In addition to being much lighter than
conventional solar cells, cells produced with Hyperion wafers are also bendable,
allowing manufacturers to consider flexible packaging and encapsulants for
modules instead of glass. Additional
layers of photovoltaic material can be added to wafers as well: Twin Creeks has
produced heterojunction solar cells, which combine crystalline and amorphous
silicon, in its development centre. Over time, the combination of lower cost
and lighter packaging will allow Twin Creeks customers to expand into other
markets such as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) and consumer
In keeping with providing a true manufacturing solution,
Twin Creeks has developed intellectual property for creating and handling
ultra-thin wafers as well as producing finished solar cells. This intellectual
property can be licensed to Twin Creeks customers.
The company, in collaboration with the state of
Mississippi, has built a commercial demonstration plant in Senatobia,
Mississippi where Twin Creeks and its customers can fine-tune processes for
generating ultra-thin solar modules and wafers with Hyperion. Senatobia is
currently capable of producing 25 megawatts of solar cells a year and will be
expanded to 100 megawatts. The company has obtained UL and TUV certification
for heterojunction technology-based panels made at its Senatobia facility.