Twin Creeks Technologies has launched its first commercial tool, Hyperion 3, a commercial wafer production system, claimed to dramatically reduce the cost of solar modules and semiconductor devices, by reducing the amount of silicon and other substrate materials used, by up to 90%.
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. Replacing conventional wafering technologies has the potential to lower costs and provide ultra-thin substrates that can be employed in more flexible packages and applications, while reducing wafer breakage.
Hyperion 3 is the third-generation wafer production system designed and built by Twin Creeks, but is the company's first commercial offering. Using a process called proton induced exfoliation (PIE), Hyperion generates monocrystalline wafers that are said to be less than 1/10th of the thickness of conventional wafers. 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. Twin Creeks estimates that Hyperion will permit manufacturers to produce solar cells for under 40 cents per watt in commercial-scale volume production facilities with prices declining over time. In addition to being much lighter than conventional solar cells, cells produced with Hyperion wafers are also flexible, 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 center.
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).
A single Hyperion 3 system is claimed to process over 1.5 million thin wafers per year, enough for more than 6MW worth of solar cells. 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.
March 2012 onwards.