Sunovia Energy Technologies, Inc. and EPIR Technologies, Inc. (EPIR) are pleased to announce the completion of Phase I of the expansion of the world class Electro-Optic manufacturing facilities at EPIR in Bolingbrook, Ill., just west of Chicago. Electro-Optic technologies include advanced solar modules, infrared (IR) detectors and components and biosensor-decontamination devices.
Sunovia and EPIR have exclusively partnered to commercialize solar and infrared technologies for the renewable energy and night vision markets. Sunovia is the exclusive marketer of all products, technologies and intellectual properties that are developed at the facility, and currently owns a significant equity interest in EPIR.
The Phase I facility completion is a significant step in the companies’ work to manufacture cadmium telluride (CdTe)-based advanced solar cells and CdTe and mercury cadmium telluride (HgCdTe) infrared detectors and components. More than $25 million has been invested into R&D and the state-of-the-art facility, which includes a 2,000 sq. ft. clean-room for the manufacture of advanced Electro-Optic products. The world-class products manufactured at the facility require both extreme material purity and air filtration/cleanliness. The companies also have access to over $30 million of related facilities at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Md. and the Army’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate at Belvoir, Va.
The infrared expertise and the solid relationships that the companies have built with top military institutions and universities over the past 20 years are key advantages for them in the development of efficient CdTe solar cells. The primary difference between infrared and solar technologies is simply that their respective infrared devices absorb “non-visible” light, convert it to electricity and then pixelize the electricity to create an image; while solar devices absorb “visible” light, convert it to electricity and then store (or spend) the electricity. Sunovia’s and EPIR’s infrared expertise is allowing them to transfer infrared technologies directly into advanced next generation solar cells that they believe will achieve maximum light absorption from the different light intensities and different light spectra.
About the Facility
The centerpiece of the clean-room is a new molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) machine for the growth of single crystals of semiconductor materials with growth controlled on an atomic level for the manufacture of extremely sophisticated devices. MBE growth is necessary for the manufacture of the new generation of infrared (IR) detectors and imagers that are required by NASA and the Department of Defense. The chosen MBE machine is a manufacturing machine, as opposed to a research machine; it is a smaller version of the MBE machines used by large defense corporations in the manufacturing of IR focal plane arrays for high resolution, extremely sensitive IR cameras. This machine is being successfully used for the manufacture of the highest-quality cadmium telluride films on silicon for high-efficiency solar cells and for the growth of material for use in advanced IR detectors and imagers, and could easily be used for more complex growths for the highest-efficiency solar cells or for complete IR detectors and imagers. Indeed, the MBE growth of II-VI semiconductor-based high efficiency solar cells is much lower in cost than that of III-V high efficiency solar cells by either MBE or metal-organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) due to the high volatility of the III-V semiconductors employed, which requires much more stringent safety precautions and more growth equipment maintenance. Also installed is another MBE machine for the growth of lead tin selenide for IR detectors and imagers for very cold objects. Other MBE machines and a sputtering machine also are available, and two more MBE machines are on order for a rapid Phase II expansion.
The two major materials characterization instruments in the cleanroom are a high resolution x-ray diffractometer with a CCD camera for thoroughly analyzing the structural quality of materials and the best commercial spectrophotometer for measuring the specular, diffuse and total reflectance, the absorptivity and the transmittivity of materials from the UV through the visible and the IR. The spectrophotometer is important for measuring encapsulant and solar cell material optical properties and more generally for measuring the thickness and surface roughness of thin layers for all types of electro-optic devices. Also in the cleanroom are an advanced current-voltage station from Keithley and an Oriel/Newport solar simulator capable of providing light matching the solar spectrum in space and the solar spectrum on earth to measure solar cell efficiency.
Further, the Phase I facility includes machines designed by EPIR Technologies for the precision lapping and polishing of semiconductor wafers for use in MBE growth, auxiliary equipment and all of the facilities needed for the development, manufacture and testing of prototype biosensors and bio-decontamination devices, with four fume hoods designed for maximum isolation. It is the only US facility capable of preparing semiconductor substrates for MBE growth, and has four lapping/polishing stations. Among the equipment for biosensor-decontamination development is a fluorometer for quantifying the fluorescence from nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are the basis of nanotechnology, one of the most exciting developments in device physics and engineering in this generation.