A US startup backed by Bill Nye has promised to make solar panels 60% cheaper to manufacturers by using particle acceleration to slice microscopically thin silicon wafers. As well as this, their methods appear to reduce waste materials by 50-100 times in the manufacturing stage.
Who are they?
Rayton Solar is a California-based solar energy company with the mission of creating the world’s most cost-effective source of energy. They have discovered that by combining the scientific knowledge and application of particle acceleration and solar technologies, they are able to leverage a more efficient way of converting solar energy. With renewable energy such a booming industry right now, it seems they have entered the market at the perfect time.
The company has already raised close to $8 million, thanks to $7 million in equity reservation investments and $844,000 from their crowdfunding campaign.
As one of the world’s most famous, personable and easily recognisable scientists, Bill Nye was the perfect face for Rayton Solar’s promotional video (see bottom of the article). The host of the self-titled show ‘Bill Nye The Science Guy’ visited Rayton Solar’s headquarters and starred in the video to give added weight to their innovative energy concept.
How does particle acceleration work?
The why in this case is equally as interesting as the how. Founder Andrew Yakub was working with a solar installation company when he decided to follow up an idea he’d had as a design engineer at the UCLA Particle Beam Physics Laboratory. He’d recognised the wastefulness when cutting silicon wafers and wanted to find a way to do it more efficiently. While working in solar energy, a federal grant that allowed this company to install solar panels effectively was about to expire, and so he got to work.
With subatomic particle acceleration, they are able to smash protons and heat into the atoms of a chunk of silicon, knocking off thin layers (wafers), rather than sawing the silicon. The wafers are now just 3 microns wide, as opposed to 200 from sawing. This process will allow them to create 100 solar panels with the same amount of silicone as their competitors.
With a proton particle accelerator costing around $2 million, Rayton Solar expects to be able to make enough panels to make 6 megawatts of energy each year. This translates roughly to 1,000 homes, which over time, with further machines and the repeated use of these panels will save many millions of dollars. The energy produced will be far cleaner than using fossil fuels, but will also be significantly cheaper.
There is some debate as to how well Rayton Solar’s panels will work. With the wafers being just 3 microns in thickness their ability to collect light photons is reduced. Founder Andrew Yakub claims that despite this, they work only with the top 0.01% quality of silicon, meaning that the efficiency is then greatly increased, by even as much as 25%. This high-grade silicone is ten times more expensive than general silicon, but since much less is being used, it balances out.
The long-term plan?
“Our plan is to prove this works with one machine at a commercial scale as a proof of concept,” says Yakub, “then we can license the technology out to larger manufacturers.”
If this ‘science experiment’ proves successful, particle acceleration will revolutionise a solar panel industry that is fairly new, and according to Bill Nye is ‘really not that good’.