Natcore Technology has achieved a breakthrough in solar cell structure development that could eliminate the need for silver, replacing it with aluminum.

Researchers at the American firm’s Rochester R&D centre have developed an all-back-contact silicon heterojunction (SHJ) cell structure that uses no silver at all, yet records no drop in performance.

The firm intends to file provisional patent application for the development, which is anticipated to bring substantial cost savings to the solar industry in the next two weeks.

"Silver was initially chosen for the modules due to its high-conductivity; however, [it] costs about $15.28 per troy ounce."

Conventional solar panels use about 0.5oz of silver, representing around 11% of the total raw material cost of a solar module.

Silver was initially chosen for the modules due to its high-conductivity; however, its use makes the solar modules more expensive as silver costs about $15.28 per troy ounce.

The same quantity of aluminum would be $0.05, Natcore said.

Although the new modules would use twice the amount of aluminum than the current level of silver to achieve the same conductivity from cell to cell, it will still result in significant savings.

Natcore president and CEO Chuck Provini said: "Within the past month, our scientists have wrought historic changes in the architecture and the economics of the solar cell.

"Solar cell manufacturers will no longer be subject to the vagaries of the silver market. We are now able to produce solar cells at a substantial cost savings thanks to improvements achievable by our proprietary laser technology."