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Context of '2002: ATS Silicon Bead Solar Cells Much Cheaper than Previous Cells'

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Bell Laboratories scientists Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson develop the silicon photovoltaic cell, launching the US’s photovoltaic technology industry. The PV cell is the first to convert enough solar energy to run everyday electrical equipment. Chapin had been working on magnetic materials at Bell Labs, and wanted to develop a source of power for telephone systems in remote humid locations, where dry cell batteries degraded rapidly. Chapin determined that solar energy was the most promising of the alternative energy sources available, but found the existing selenium solar cells (see 1883 and 1940) far too inefficient. Fuller and Pearson were working together to control the properties of semiconductors by introducing impurities. When the two introduce gallium and lithium to a piece of silicon, they create a p-n junction, allowing electrical current to be generated. The silicon cell produces far more electricity than they had anticipated. Pearson informed Chapin to concentrate on silicon cells, and the three work together to improve the properties of the silicon cells. Eventually, the three use a silicon cell with boron and arsenic impurities to create a satisfactory solar cell, and link several together to form what they call a “solar battery.” Their battery produces energy at about a six percent efficiency rating. Bell publicly demonstrates the new battery by using it to power a toy Ferris wheel and a radio transmitter. The New York Times writes that the silicon solar cell “may mark the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams—the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.” Bell Labs later produces a PV cell that achieves 11% efficiency. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; American Physical Society, 2013]

Entity Tags: Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson, Bell Laboratories

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

The US’s Vanguard I space satellite uses a small solar array, generating less than one watt, to power its radios. Later that same year, the Explorer III, Vanguard II, and Sputnik-3 satellites all use PV-powered systems (see 1956-1958) to power its systems. While commercial uses for solar energy in the United States (see 1955) is less than successful during this period, silicon solar cells become a mainstay of satellites and subsequent space exploration vehicles. In 1962, Bell Telephone Laboratories launches the first telecommunications satellite, Telstar. This satellite generates 14 watts of electricity via its PV cells. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, 2013]

Entity Tags: Bell Laboratories

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

ATS Automation Tooling Systems of Canada begins marketing its Spheral Solar technology for producing solar cells. The ATS cells use tiny silicon beads bonded between two sheets of aluminum foil. The cells are much lower in cost than multicrystalline silicon solar cells. The technology was invented by Texas Instruments in the early 1990s, but that firm did not follow up on initial research. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: ATS Automation Tooling Systems

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

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