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Twin Creeks reveals multi-tasking production system for super slim wafers

Using PIE technology, the firm's new tool produces monocrystalline wafers that are less than a tenth of the thickness of conventional wafers used in solar, semiconductors and wireless devices


Twin Creeks Technologies has unveiled Hyperion; a wafer production system that drastically reduces the cost of solar modules and semiconductor devices.

The company says it can cut the amount of substrate materials by up to 90 percent.

Twin Creeks' Hyperion 2 wafer production system

The key to Hyperion is thinness. 

Taking advantage of a technology called Proton Induced Exfoliation (PIE), Hyperion generates monocrystalline wafers that are less than a tenth of 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 allow manufacturers to produce solar cells for under 40 cents a watt in commercial-scale volume production facilities with prices declining over time.

Hyperion 3, the third-generation wafer production system designed and built by Twin Creeks, is the company's first commercial offering. It is available for shipment now.

"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," says 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 uses atoms as a scalpel. The machine embeds a uniform layer of high-energy protons, which are hydrogen ions, into monocrystalline wafers to a depth of up to 20 µm. 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. These include germanium (used to make CPV solar modules), GaN, sapphire and SiC (which are used to manufacture LEDs and power electronic devices). 

In the past, Twin Creeks 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, Twin Creeks says the Hyperion can makes the entire silicon wafer value chain more efficient and will dramatically lower the capital needs of its customers. Manufacturers won't need as many saws, furnaces and crystal pullers to make the same amount of wafers.

Hyperion is claimed to improve the monocrystalline silicon value proposition in other ways too. Apart from 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 electronics.

In keeping with providing a true manufacturing solution, the company says it has developed intellectual property for creating and handling ultra-thin wafers and 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 MW of solar cells a year and will be expanded to 100 MW. The company has obtained UL and TUV certification for heterojunction technology-based panels made at its Senatobia facility.


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