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Black Silicon Etching

Stage: Development

The world’s total renewable-based power capacity will grow by 50% between 2019 and 2024. This increase of 1,200 gigawatts is equivalent to the current total power capacity of the United States. Solar PV accounts for 60% of the rise. The PV industry is looking to lower the high costs and increase the efficiency of solar power. Scientists at NREL have designed a new process, Black Silicon Etching, that has a confirmed conversion efficiency of 16.8% in a cell without conventional antireflection coatings. This surpasses the previous black silicon record by 2.9%. Additionally, this new technology could lower the Levelized Cost Of Energy (LCOE), or the lifetime cost per unit of energy, by 2.5%.

The winner of a 2010 R&D 100 Award, Black Silicon Etching is an innovative technology that both increases the efficiency of solar cells and decreases the capital costs of producing them. Black Silicon Etching is a one-step process using gold nanoparticle catalysis to etch nanopores into the surface of a silicon wafer, producing a density-graded black surface. The near-complete lack of reflection from the surface of the material means it can absorb more sunlight, and more electricity can be produced. Current technologies first texturize the silicon wafer and then coat the cells with an antireflective layer, which takes 8 to 30 minutes; this two-step process produces cells that reflect 3-7% of the light. NREL’s Black Silicon Etch process requires less than three minutes to complete at room temperature, and creates PV cells that absorb more than 98% of the incident light. Additionally, the cells created will have improved performance during morning, evening, and diffuse light conditions, since the black material can absorb light at incident angles which conventional cells reflect. Black Silicon Etching has been proven to be 16.8% efficient for single-crystalline silicon cells and 14.9% efficient for multi-crystalline cells, eclipsing the best previous density-graded antireflection solar cells which are 13.9% efficient.

Solar cell manufacturing is an expensive, capital-intensive process. Black Silicon Etching is a scalable technology that reduces the capital costs of PV manufacturing. This new process reduces the LCOE by 2.5% which includes $6-15 million capital savings on standard 100MW PV lines. Additionally, this novel process reduces the use of hazardous gases, can be performed with any simple wet-chemistry equipment, consumes less power and generates fewer greenhouse gases, and is easily inserted into 85% of the market’s current manufacturing processes. Black Silicon Etching could greatly improve current PV technologies by increasing the conversion efficiency and decreasing the costs of solar power while integrating smoothly into legacy manufacturing systems.

For more information, please contact Bill Hadley at:


ROI's 07-10, 09-10, 09-69

Applications and Industries

  • Solar cell manufacturing
  • Other photovoltaic industry uses


  • Potential for more efficient solar cells
  • Better morning, evening, and diffuse light performance
  • Less expensive to produce antireflection material
  • Shorter, one-step process to produce
  • Easily integrated into legacy manufacturing processes
  • Reduced hazardous gases, power consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing

  • U.S. Patent #'s 8,075,792 ; 9,034,216 ; 8,828,765 ; 9,076,903