The main consequence of the technology to be developed in the proposed program is to reduce the cost of the lightweight, high-efficiency epitaxial lift-off (ELO) solar cells that are manufactured using the ELO process also developed by MicroLink. As they provide similar performance at a lower cost and far lower mass, ELO solar cells are a good candidate for replacing the conventional multi-junction, Ge-based solar cells that are used in many NASA applications. In addition, ELO solar cells are an enabling technology for the proposed new generation of lightweight, high-efficiency solar panels which will critical for solar electric propulsion (SEP) applications. One of the barriers to the introduction of SEP is cell cost; the proposed reclaim technology should reduce the cost of the solar cell by several dollars per watt compared with the cost that can be achieved with ELO alone.
The reduced cost ELO solar cells that will result from the proposed program will have multiple non-NASA commercial applications. The low-cost, lightweight, high-efficiency ELO cells made using the proposed substrate reclaim process are a good candidate for replacing the conventional multi-junction, Ge-based solar cells that are used in many commercial applications. Lightweight, high-efficiency ELO solar cells are used to substantially enhance the endurance of small, electrically powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) applications. A major barrier to the adoption of solar cell technology is cost; reducing the cost of the solar cells will speed their adoption in small UAV applications. Similarly, lightweight, high-efficiency solar cells are an enabling technology for high altitude, long endurance (HALE) UAVs, such as the DARPA Vulture. Solar cells are a major component of the bill of materials for such HALE UAVs; reducing cell cost is critical to the adoption of this technology by the commercial sector. Lightweight, high-efficiency solar cells may be used in solar sheets for generation of electricity for high-value, off-grid applications, such as power generation for military field deployments, civilian outdoors and camping, and supplementary power for mobile devices such as phones. The cost reduction enabled by low-cost substrate reclaim will increase the appeal of solar sheet technology.