Solar cells (Generating energy)
Traditional sources of energy such as oil, coal and gas are limited and pollute the environment. Why then not turn to an energy source which will last a lot longer: the prospects for solar energy have never been better.
As the world leader in germanium, a very rare material, Umicore has been active in this sector for quite some time: our extremely thin and pure germanium substrates (or wafers) are very popular as the base material for solar cells in space, where size, efficiency and power are crucial. These substrates are used in the majority of the satellites launched today … satellites that have turned the world into the global village it is now, using modern means of communication.
These rare germanium-materials are also descending to earth: using an array of lenses and mirrors, solar beams are concentrated on a tiny germanium wafer. This requires a lot less germanium and limits the cost difference with silicon, which is cheaper but less efficient. More info can be found in our presentations section on our Investor Relations website.
Next to that Umicore also specializes in the manufacturing of sputtering targets for Thin Film Based Solar Cell application, with a clear focus on transparent conductive oxide targets such as Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) and Aluminum doped Zinc Oxide ( AZO).
DID YOU KNOW
Umicore is out there, looking for ‘little green men’?
Our germanium substrates are used as the base material for the solar panels used on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers, the mobile robots which have been exploring the red planet since April of 2004. Initially, the mission of Spirit and Opportunity was to last only 90 Mars days (92 days back here on earth) but more than three years on, both robots continue to be operational, partly thanks to the solar cells, a real show of force on a planet where temperatures change by up to 100 °C within one day!
Germanium substrates constitute the building blocks of very efficient solar cells which are primarily used in satellite solar panels. Germanium-based solar cells are up to twice as efficient in converting solar power into electricity than the traditional, silicon-based, cells. Other layers of materials are “grown” on top of the germanium substrate: they each convert part of the solar spectrum into energy.