Bell Telephone Laboratories - Solar Battery
July 1954 Radio & Television News

July 1954 Radio & Television News
July 1954 Radio & Television News Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Solar Cell Energy Conversion Efficiency (wikipedia) - RF Cafe

Solar Cell Energy Conversion Efficiency (Wikipedia)

This photo of Bell Telephone Labs' three scientists, G.L. Pearson, D.M. Chapin, and C.S. Fuller, inventors of the "Bell Solar Battery," reminds me of the very familiar shot of John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley huddled over their point contact transistor in December of 1948. The "battery" terminology is an interesting choice since we normally think of a battery as a charge storage device, but in fact a battery is fundamentally a charge creation device. A secondary battery may be recharged by reversing the depleted chemical (or other) process that generated the initial charge, but it first created the potential via a basic charge separation process. What we today refer to as a solar cell is a form of primary battery that is not rechargeable. Just as some chemical batteries (cells) are reactivated by replenishing the electrolyte, the solar cell is replenished by photons giving up their energy to the semiconductor substrate. At the time of this advertisement (1954), a 6% efficiency for silicon solar cells was considered to be breakthrough compared to the germanium type used previously. Today's solar cells whose substrates are complex compounds of various elements, have yielded as high as nearly 50% energy conversion efficiency. We've come a long way, baby!

Bell Telephone Laboratories Solar Battery Ad

Bell Telephone Laboratories Solar Battery, April 1954 Radio & Televsion News - RF CafeThe Bell Solar Battery. A square yard of the small silicon wafers turns sunshine into 50 watts of electricity. The battery's 6% efficiency approaches that of gasoline and steam engines and will be increased. Theoretically the battery will never wear out. It is still in the early experimental stage.

Bell Solar Battery

Bell Laboratories scientists have created the Bell Solar Battery. It marks a big step forward in converting the sun's energy directly and efficiently into usable amounts of electricity. It is made of highly purified silicon, which comes from sand, one of the commonest materials on earth.

The battery grew out of the same long-range research at Bell Laboratories that created the transistor - a pea-sized amplifier originally made of the semiconductor germanium. Research into semiconductors pointed to silicon as a solar energy converter. Transistor-inspired techniques developed a silicon wafer with unique properties.

The silicon wafers can turn sunlight into electricity to operate low-power mobile telephones, and charge storage batteries in remote places for rural telephone service. These are but two of the many applications foreseen for telephony.

Thus, again fundamental research at Bell Telephone Laboratories paves the way for still better low-cost telephone service.

Inventors of the Bell Solar Battery, left to right, C. L. Pearson, D. M. Chapin and C. S. Fuller - checking silicon wafers on which a layer of boron less than 1/10,000 of an inch thick has been deposited. The boron forms a "p-n junction" in the silicon. Action of light on junction excites current flow.

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