Develop turnkey manufacturing equipment for CIGS-based photovoltaic cells.
In a market dominated by Asian manufacturers, reducing cost is a necessary condition for a truly global PV industry to emerge. And for PV to be a costcompetitive source of energy, CapEx and production-related expenses must also be slashed. To further complicate matters, CIGS yields need to be equivalent to those of polycrystalline silicon to remain credible. Thin-layer technology offers many advantages. First, it provides high conversion efficiencies, exceeding 21% in the case of CIGS. It can also be used to manufacture innovative (flexible, semitransparent) PV products and is ideal in markets like building-integrated photovoltaics (BiPV), with high integration requirements. CIGS (copper, indium, gallium, selenide) produces extremely high quality thin-layer photovoltaic cells. However, the machines used to manufacture such cells need to offer substantial enough productivity gains to make thin-layer technology profi table. Production also has to meet certain quality criteria, including eliminating the risk of contamination.
The Pro-CIGS project aimed to develop a turnkey machine for producing solar cells using thin-layer technology on both rigid and flexible substrates.
An Alliance Concept-Annealsys equipment prototype has been up and running at CEA Liten since spring 2014. Six months after start-up, the CEA was able to use the equipment to test different film depositions and substrates, first rigid, and then flexible. The manufacturing process developed marks a major breakthrough compared to existing market solutions. It consists of an integrated machine taking up very little floor space, organized in four chambers around a robot. A different task is performed in each chamber in succession: spray-deposition of metal (backside electrode and CIG metallic precursors); evaporation of the selenium; annealing to create the CIGS alloy; and, finally, the deposition of the optical layers. A reproducible yield of 12.5% has been achieved on 15 x 15 cm² cells, and performance is expected to improve rapidly in the medium term given the progress already made after just six months of development. Pro-CIGS has already resulted in the design of equipment for R&D laboratories. A list of these labs has been established jointly by the CEA and Alliance Concept. The project has also resulted in the creation of drawings for an industrial-grade machine.
To market the equipment, Alliance Concept
and Annealsys are relying on their presence at
trade fairs and conferences specializing in this
technology. Alliance Concept also has a sales
rep in China. Potential customers are located
primarily in Europe and Asia but there are also
prospects in the United States, and a sales
brochure has been created for the needs of the
US market. The R&D market has been clearly
identifi ed by Alliance Concept, which is mainly
planning to target laboratories.
Continued development on a beta version
will depend primarily on how the CIGS market
evolves over the next few years.
A partnership has been set up between Alliance Concept, CEA Liten, and Crosslux, a manufacturer of semi-transparent PV glass for the construction industry. Under a new joint project (SoSmartE, a Tenerrdiscertified project), Alliance Concept will design equipment for the production of BiPV modules (used in construction) on large surfaces. The new project has a particularly broad target market and will draw largely on the know-how acquired through Pro-CIGS. The prototype developed as part of the Pro-CIGS project has opened up new opportunities for CEA Liten, including the possibility to use the equipment in EU research projects. The equipment’s modular design will allow the CEA to adapt it to other thin-layer technologies as it sees fit. Several publications
are forthcoming, including on the dry deposition of a cadmium-free zinc-based buffer layer.