RF Micro Devices has been making semiconductor microchips for the wireless communications industry for years, shipping some 2 million every day. Semiconductors are vital to both wireless devices and solar power panels. So it stands to reason that RF Micro might have a leg up on the other new solar players in experience and expertise; a notion RF Micro executives see as fact because of both experience and existing manufacturing equipment.
So without delay, the Greensboro, N.C. company is diving into the solar cell manufacturing sector, manufacturing, as you might expect, micro-solar cells for concentrating photovoltaics (CPV). RF Micro likes its chance over competition in the young-but-hyped sector of the solar industry because, unlike those rivals, RF already has millions of dollars of manufacturing equipment at its disposal. And it won’t have to change that equipment at all to start producing solar cells.
With that advantage in mind, RFMD has come onto the solar scene with bold expectations. First of all, they plan on mass producing their solar cells within two years and confidently plan to create the world’s most efficient cell. CPV utilizes mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto tiny but highly efficient solar cells. The most efficient solar cells of any kind on the market today convert, in real-world scenarios, about 20 percent of the sunlight that strikes them. The most efficient cells tested in the lab are about 40 percent efficient. RFMD wants to do better than all that, and do it cheaply.
“It is a major accomplishment in the fact that we are on a two-year program to develop what we believe will be the world’s most efficient photovoltaic cell,” said Jerry Neal, Executive Vice President for Strategic Development at RFMD. “The exciting thing about it is we’re able to use our existing equipment that we use to make semiconductors to make cells.”
RFMD has a cooperative agreement with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to develop its CPV-bound solar cells. The company is certainly not the only solar firm to have innovative solar cells in the works, but nobody else in the throes of research and development have the sort of manufacturing structure already online that RF has. Yet RF Micro, like those other companies, is still in the development phase and there are a lot of “ifs” involved, despite the confidence and excitement coming from company brass.
Although, if RF Micro Devices can come up with that high-efficiency solar cell within its planned time frame, having all that ready-to-go, time-tested manufacturing equipment would be like a nitro boost to its standing in the solar industry.
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