CIGS market to double by 2015

While the solar photovoltaic market is tight and competitive, there is one arm researchers say is almost guaranteed to grow.

Copper indium gallium diselenide solar (CIGS) will double in installed capacity by 2015, according to a recently released research report from Lux Research. The market for CIGS is expected to be worth more than $2.3 billion by then.

“The big driver for us to look at this was all of the oversupply in the industry creating downward pressure,” said Lux analyst Pallavi Madakasiri. “For a new company to try to get in now is almost impossible.”

Traditional mono- and poly-crystalline solar photovoltaic modules have flooded the market causing dramatic price drops and lower profit margins for the companies building them.

In traditional thin-film technologies, First Solar completely dominates the market.

But CIGS have shown tremendous increases in conversion efficiency, reaching over 20 percent at the cell level, Madakasiri said.

Manufacturing and productions costs have also fallen off as processes have grown more efficient.

And most of the companies working in that market are still getting started.

“There has been a lot of interest and investment in CIGS,” Madakasiri said.

The technology is emerging with a lot of opportunity for growth, Madakasiri said, though it will face challenges, including a sharp fall in venture capital dollars.

Among those companies actively working in the market, some stand out.

“We used 12 different metrics to identify winners and losers,” Madakisiri said.

The criteria graded companies on their technical value, business execution, business maturity and capacity.

“Solar Frontier clearly leads the pack,” Madakasiri said.

That company has a solid position in the “dominant” quadrant of the Lux Research grid. Solar Frontier has already worked its way into emerging markets like India, where it is selling about 30 megawatts of CIGS cells a year.

“We also believe others have a very good chance of succeeding,” Madakasiri said.

Other contenders in the CIGS market are Global Solar, Avancis and Solibro. Madakasiri said she expects they could be very successful if they make good business decisions moving forward.

By: Amanda H. Miller

Supply Threats Persist For Thin-Film Solar Materials Due To Competition

One year ago, a report from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on the global supply of essential PV module materials predicted possible disruptions for thin-film manufacturing.

The availability of indium, gallium and tellurium was examined in the context of current and future production needs, and the DOE found cause for concern. Indium and tellurium were pegged as especially vulnerable to supply tightness and price volatility, according to both the report and several market analysts at the time.

(See “New Government Report Identifies Supply Risks For Thin-Film PV Materials” in the February 2011 issue of Solar Industry.)

Now, the DOE has released the latest edition of its Critical Materials Strategy. Have the worries over thin-film PV materials supply eased? According to the DOE, the general supply-demand picture for indium, gallium and tellurium has “improved slightly,” but the situation is not entirely reassuring. The three metals are still highlighted (alongside neodymium and dysprosium) as clean-energy materials that face a “significant risk of supply chain bottlenecks in the next two decades.”

The report attributes the slight improvement primarily to decreased demand for the three thin-film materials: Although PV deployment is expected to grow, the requirements of the materials per module are expected to shrink.

For copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) modules, manufacturers are shifting to compositions with higher proportions of gallium and lower concentrations of indium, the DOE says. The result is a “partial trade-off in the potential for supply risk between the two elements.” At the same time, CIGS’ market share assumption has been reduced under the DOE’s new calculations, lowering projected demand for both indium and gallium.

Cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film modules currently account for approximately 10% of the PV market, according to the report. Declining silicon prices may threaten this slice of the market, but high tellurium costs and the increasing need for CdTe manufacturers to compete for supply with non-PV companies requiring tellurium continue to cause supply headaches.

“The cost of tellurium is a critical issue for CdTe solar cell makers, and the industry is working to lower material use and increasing recovery of new scrap to reduce reliance on primary tellurium,” the DOE says in the report.

Although short-term supply of tellurium appears adequate, future capacity increases may be insufficient to supply both CdTe manufacturing and the multitude of other manufacturing sectors that use tellurium. Under one scenario modeled in the report, tellurium supply would need to increase 50% more than its projected 2015 total in order to meet expected demand.

Indium and gallium have also experienced increased popularity in non-PV manufacturing uses, such as semiconductor applications, flat-panel displays, and coatings for smartphones and tablet computers. The DOE forecasts that as a result, supplies may run short by 2015 unless production of these materials is increased - or non-PV demand lessens.

Of the two metals, gallium poses more cause for concern, as the DOE has adjusted its assumptions of future gallium use under CIGS manufacturers’ expected manufacturing modifications.

“These higher estimates [of gallium requirements] are driven largely by the assumption that gallium will increasingly be substituted for indium in CIGS composition,” the DOE explains. This change points to the benefits of reducing material intensity in other aspects of PV manufacturing, such as reducing cell thickness and improving processing efficiency.

Overall, indium, gallium and tellurium all receive moderate scores (2 or 3 on a scale of 1 to 4) from the DOE with regard to both their importance to clean energy and short- and medium-term supply risk.

In order to help mitigate possible supply disruptions that could threaten the manufacturing and deployment of PV, as well as other types of clean energy, the agency has developed a three-pronged approach.

“First, diversified global supply chains are essential,” the DOE stresses in the report. “To manage supply risk, multiple sources of materials are required. This means taking steps to facilitate extraction, processing and manufacturing here in the United States, as well as encouraging other nations to expedite alternative supplies.”

The second strategy relies on developing alternatives to materials whose supply may be constrained. For PV, one DOE research program focuses on advancements in thin-film formulations such as copper-zinc-tin and sulfide-selenide. Another initiative funds research and development into PV inks based on earth-abundant materials such as zinc, sulfur and copper.

“Several projects also seek to use iron pyrite - also known as fool’s gold - to develop prototype solar cells,” the DOE notes in the report. “Pyrite is non-toxic, inexpensive, and is the most abundant sulfide mineral in the Earth’s crust.”

Finally, improving recycling and reuse mechanisms can reduce demand for new materials, the DOE says, adding that these strategies also can help improve the sustainability of manufacturing processes.


Photo: Enbridge Inc.’s 5 MW Tilbury solar project in Ontario uses First Solar’s cadmium telluride thin-film modules. Photo credit: Enbridge

Gallium Helping Us Stay Connected

Rare Earth Metal - Gallium

The element so instrumental in the success of CIGS or Copper Indium Gallium Selenide solar panels garners little respect. If you do some research on Gallium you will see very few articles on this element. What you see is people talking about how to make melting spoons, and talk of the metal melting in your hand due to its low melting point of 85° F or 29.8° C. Here we are going to go over the history of Gallium and its uses in technology today.

Gallium has the symbol of Ga and the atomic number 31 on the periodic table of the elements. In 1875 Paul Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran discovered Gallium spectroscopically. He saw Gallium´s characteristic two violet lines. Gallium does not occur free in nature. Lecoq was able to obtain the free element using electrolysis.

Gallium is found in bauxite, sphalerite and coal. It is primarily extracted from Aluminum and Zinc production. The exact amounts mined and recycled are very difficult to quantify. According to the United States Geological Survey the total amount mined in 2010 was approximately 106 t and the total recycled was approximately 78 t. Gallium supply is highly reliant on other Aluminum and Zinc mining for its supply, when the prices of the base metals fall the amount of Gallium available will be highly affected. Similar to other rare industrial metals, mining companies will not invest in the production of these metals because the markets are so small.

The uses of Gallium are found all around you. Semiconductors, LED´s, medicine, electronic components, CIGS solar and new tech like IGZO (Indium, Gallium, Zinc and Oxygen) LCD screens. The new iPhone 5 will have this kind of LCD. Over 90% is used in electronic components in the form GaAs (Gallium Arsenide). Recently CIGS solar panels reached an unprecedented 20.3% efficiency once again proving that CIGS is the most efficient form of solar on the market. The technology that will greatly increase the use of Gallium is smartphones. Analysts predict that smartphone use will grow at a rate of 15-25% over the next several years. Recently LED´s backlit screen TV´s and computer monitors have been all the rage. The LED screen market will continue to grow, further putting strain on the small Gallium supply.

The top producers of Gallium are China, Kazakhstan and Germany. Once again China has a strong position in the production of a rare industrial metal. The difference with Gallium is that almost 40% of the metal produced every year is coming from recycling.

With all of the new technologies coming along using Gallium what will the market for this metal look like in a few years? Unlike some metals like Silver and Gold, Gallium is not traded on the LME (London Metal Exchange). This makes the price of Gallium very stable. Rare industrial or technical metals are small markets with big possibilities. So if you are looking for an investment that is rarely talked about, Gallium could be a good option.

 By: Randy Hilarski - The Rare Metals Guy

Q-Cells reports record CIGS aperture area conversion efficiency of 17.4%

Verified by the Fraunhofer ISE Institute, CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenid) thin-film manufacturer, Solibro, a subsidiary of Q-Cells, reported a CIGS test module has achieved a new world record conversion efficiency of 17.4%. Earlier this year Solibro produced a record full module reading of 14.7% in series production.

“We are very proud of this result as it demonstrates the leadership of the CIGS technology produced by Q-Cells’ subsidiary Solibro,” remarked Lars Stolt, CTO of Solibro. “The current record verifies the feasibility of the efficiency roadmap of the Q.SMART module targeting an average aperture efficiency out of series production of up to 16.7 % in 2016.”

The record 16cm2 test module, was said to have been fabricated using processes that could be scaled to mass production. Q-Cells noted that the co-evaporation CIGS process uses metal flux profiles, temperature profiles as well as process time similar to Solibro’s current production.

The modules also employ a ‘light-soaking” effect, claimed to be unique in the thin-film sector to generate an average of 2.5% power boost above nominal power at standard test conditions.

By Mark Osborne

Research Report Analyzes Molybdenum Use in Energy and Electronics Markets

Research and Markets now offers a comprehensive research report titled ‘Molybdenum Markets in the Electronics and Solar Industries – 2011’ from NanoMarkets.

NanoMarkets has been offering research reports on various markets such as lighting, display and photovolatics materials for the past several years. In the new report, NanoMarkets discusses the way of operations of these markets and their major players. The report provides an in-depth analysis of the electronics and energy related markets wherein molybdenum is used. It also includes revenue forecast for eight years.

In recent years, molybdenum has found new opportunities in the growth-oriented electronics and energy markets. Especially, the material has a significant share as an electrode material in the market for CIGS solar panels. This is one-of-its-kind report that discusses the market for molybdenum exclusively in the growth-oriented energy and electronics markets.

According to NanoMarkets, since molybdenum demonstrates strong adhesion to active layers and substrates, its usage in the solar panel market will increase continuously. The report predicts that molybdenum finds a huge prospect in the fast growing CdTe segment. Besides being used in the solar market, molybdenum finds interesting applications in OLED electrodes. The material has a bright future in other sectors such as related to display and lighting.

In the electronics industry, molybdenum has been used in conventional applications such as in magnetrons and in x-ray system components. Due to its high price, the material is used in combination with low cost materials such as aluminum in most of its applications.

By: Cameron Chai

China Now Controls the Solar Industry

Recently American solar companies like Solyndra, Evergreen Solar and Spectrawatt have filed for bankruptcy. These events may lead investors to believe that Solar is finished.

The US solar industry was hit hard by announcements out of Europe that some nations, like Italy, were scaling back their expenditures on solar due to their debt crisis. At the same time we have nations like India announcing a US $19 billion plan to produce 20GW of solar power by the year 2020.

Where will the solar panels for this market be manufactured?

India does not have sufficient rare industrial metal inventories or rare earth metal production to meet the demands of the government plan.

China has positioned itself as the country with 97% control over the majority of rare industrial metals and rare earth metals needed to produce high efficiency solar panels.

What does this mean for companies producing solar panels?

Among many other reasons for restricting exports of rare metals, China wants companies to produce the products in China to keep its workforce employed. If companies want to import metals from China in to produce the panels in other nations they will have to pay much higher prices for the metals due to taxes, shipping, export costs and other import costs. Accordingly, The US manufacturers will have a difficult time competing with the manufacturers in China.

The other issue that the companies do not want to talk about is government subsidies and tax breaks. Jason Burack the co-author of the, ¨Dragon Metals Report¨, and owner of recently said, ¨Message to all CEOs in solar, “Switch immediately to the best Solar panel technology using materials like rare earths, rare industrial metals and graphene and stop relying on the government for subsidies to produce inferior technology panels the market does not want, also a successful long term business model for any company should not be to rely on getting all of your revenue and contracts from the government, which is what many solar companies have done¨.

There are three, ¨Thin-Film PV¨ kinds of solar panels.

1. CdTe or Cadmium Telluride with an efficiency of 6%-11%.

2. a-Si or Amorphous Silicon with an efficiency of 6%-12%

3. CIGS or Copper Indium Gallium Selenide with an efficiency of 10%-20%

CIGS Advantages:

A. Highest energy yield

B. No environmentally hazardous materials

C. You can mold the panels to fit many applications

D. They can possibly bring the cost of solar energy panels down to below $1 per watt.

 The other technology on the horizon is graphene composite solar panels. They are made of copper, molybdenum and graphite. Molybdenum and graphite have both been deemed highly critical to national security for many nations. Once again China has a powerful position because they control over 80% of the graphite market. So once again China has the foresight to see the technologies on the horizon and has positioned itself to prosper.

Currently 89% of the total installed solar panels worldwide are located in Germany, Japan and the USA. In the coming years we will see a growing demand from China for its own solar needs. Between China and India the demand for solar panels will far exceed our current ability to produce the panels. The costs of solar are coming down and the closer we are to grid parity, the more use of solar we will see. Since many of the metals used to produce these panels have been deemed critical to many nations national security, the prices of these metals are bound to stay elevated. China has shown that it will continue to restrict the exports of the rare industrial and rare earth metals further tightening the supply chains.

By: Randy Hilarski - The Rare Metals Guy

Solar cell breakthrough could hit 40 percent efficiency

Researchers using novel materials to build photovoltaic cells say their efforts could nearly double the efficiency of silicon-based solar cells.

The cells being developed by teams from the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University have the potential to achieve a light-to-energy conversion rate, or solar efficiency, of 40 percent or better, according to the researchers.

The photovoltaic cells are intended for use in satellites and space instruments. Currently, the silicon-based solar cells that NASA uses in its satellites and instruments have efficiencies of only up to 23 percent, according to NASA statistics.

And today it was announced that the research teams are getting more money-a total of $1 million in new funding-to further their work. Of that, about $735,000 will come from NASA, $237,000 from the University of Arkansas, and $86,000 from Arkansas State.

Omar Manasreh, professor of electrical engineering at the Optoelectronics Research Lab at the University of Arkansas, has been developing the technology so far with a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research. He leads the research team along with Liangmin Zhang, assistant professor at Arkansas State.

“It [the grant] will create new opportunities for further development in the field of novel photovoltaic materials and devices,” Manasreh said in a statement.

Manasreh has been testing two separate methods for growing metallic nanoparticles using a novel combination of materials as the semiconductor. While CIGS (copper, indium, gallium and selenium) solar cells are not uncommon, Manasreh is using a variation of CIGS-based cells-CuInSe2 and CuInGaSe2-to generate molecules that bind to a central atom and that are known as volatile ligands. The nanocrystals can then be converted into thin-film solar cells, or incorporated into nanotubes, by combining the material with either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. His second approach uses indium arsenide (InAs) a material commonly used in infrared detectors.

“The second approach uses molecular beam epitaxy, a method of depositing nanocrystals, to create quantum dots made of indium arsenide (InAs). Quantum dots are nano-sized particles of semiconductor material,” according to the University of Arkansas.

When exposed to ultraviolet light, the nanocrystals grown in liquid emit brighter light enhancing the response of the nanocrystals. The phenomenon shows the potential to increase the energy conversion efficiency of the materials (see photo).

This research team isn’t the first to experiment with growing nanoparticles using liquid. In 2007, Calif-based company Innovalight developed a “silicon ink” for creating crystalline silicon solar cells that works by inserting nanoparticles into a solvent, pouring the liquid on a substrate, and then removing the liquid to be left with a silicon crystalline structure. At the time, the solar cells made from the method had a 22 percent efficiency. Innovalight was acquired by Dupont earlier this year.

by Candace Lombardi

The Rare Industrial Metals and the World

Neodymium Magnets

Over the last year the markets have been up and down.  One sector of metals has been rising steadily for years.  This is the Rare Industrial Metals and Rare Earth sector.  One way or another everyone on the planet is dependent on these metals.  Imagine a world without them; no cell phones, no iPads, no LCD’s, no lasers, no jet aircraft, no electric vehicles, no alternative energies and no nuclear energy.  National Geographic calls the rare earth complex of elements, ¨The Secret Ingredient of Almost Everything¨.

Something is happening under the radar that is having a huge impact on the price of many of the metals.  China has a 90% control of all Rare Industrial Metals.  China has decided to cut its exports of metals like tungsten, cobalt, indium, tellurium, tantalum and gallium.  The Chinese believe that if they make the prices of these metals out of reach for European, Japanese and American industry the industries will have to bring their jobs to China.  For example, this is already having an effect on the magnets industry.  These magnets are critical for electric vehicles, wind power and many other applications.  The USA, UK, EU, Japan and South Korea have all put the elements needed for the magnet industry and many others on their critical lists.

Over the last year, China has had a slash fest.  In 2010 they cut a whopping 72% of their RIM export quotas for the last part of the year.  In December, they again whittled 35% off the quota for the first half of this year and are talking about another 30% for the fall of 2011.   Some speculate that the country will completely shut out the world by 2014 in order to secure their own demand and manufacturing dominance.

Obviously this is creating somewhat of an international crisis.  Nations with technology backbones are currently taking heed and hedging themselves with alternative suppliers – and they are limited.

In the US, politicians are getting involved pointing out how critical RIMs / Rare Earth Elements (REEs) are to National security.  Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) is proposing the RESTART Act of 2011 which essentially admits the US dropped the ball while depending on China to supply these vital resources.  The act proposes to jumpstart a RIM/REE supply chain in the US over the course of five years.

There is no doubt other producers will pop onto the scene due to rising values.  Many organizations are now making efforts to explore and exploit in light of recent economically feasible price ranges.  Despite their efforts however, there are no indications the supply will outweigh demand in the short, medium or long term.  With the exploding technology sectors and a push for clean energy, industry simply won’t let it happen.

What’s interesting is that RIMs are very inelastic.  Their economic presence is so small in the supply chain that they barely affect end users.  Take for instance indium, critical to flat panel TV’s, smart phones and solar CIGS (copper, indium, gallium selenide) solar cells.  In 2003, the metals’ price was pegged at $60/Kg.  Today, in a world with an average annual output over 1.2 billion smart phones and 200 million flat screens, Indium hovers around $800/kg in China before exorbitant export taxes and other duties, which in turn increases the price by 100% or more for the Western world. Despite this increase the public hasn’t felt a significant blow.  In fact, many of these gadgets are getting cheaper.

As we eventually see more of an abundant supply in years to come, it will likely be allocated immediately.  With emerging powerhouses like India and China growing at alarming rates, technology and clean energy advancing into the 21st century, it’s difficult to conceive how new sources will keep up.  Nations will do their best to bring mines online to produce these critical rare industrial metals, the problem is that in the west these processes take years.  The technology is there to produce metals much cleaner than in the past.  Nations have a choice to make, either mine and have jobs in your jurisdiction or let China do the mining and have all the industrial production jobs.

By: Randy Hilarski - The Rare Metals Guy

Alternative Metals to Gold and Silver

Rare Industrial Metal - Cobalt

The last decade has been a wonderful time for Gold Bugs and Silver Bugs. We have profited and protected our wealth against inflation. Gold has risen from around $250 per ounce in 2001 to a recent high of $1917.90 and silver has risen from around $5 per ounce in 2001 to a recent high of $49.81. These numbers are quite exciting for anyone involved in the precious metals markets. Being a Silver Bug myself, I have to admit the ride up has been rather erratic. Long ago I had to learn to ignore the daily Comex price of Silver. Gold and Silver will continue to be an important part of my future holdings, but going forward I am beginning diversification into other metals. Here is a brief overview of some of the rare industrial metals I like and why I believe they are a good choice for anyone who believes in holding physical metals as part of their asset strategy.

There are many who believe the world is in a recession and this may be true in the USA, EU, and other Western nations. There are a few of us who still believe that the speed of industry and commerce is accelerating. I have spent time in Africa, had an opportunity to live in Europe for a few years and I currently live in Panama. This experience has opened my eyes to what is happening outside of the USA. What I see is a great mass of people who were once walking now driving cars. These same people are talking on mobile phones, watching television on a flat screen, using their laptop at a cafe, getting better medical care, flying on vacations, living in modern homes and working jobs that require technology. This is happening across the planet! Can you imagine the impact on demand for rare industrial metals from countries of the BRIC, (Brazil, Russia, India, China), with the size of their populations? Like it or not commercialization was tested in the USA and was a huge success and now it has been exported worldwide. Here in Panama with a population of just over 3 Million we are adding 3000 automobiles a month to the roads. There are enough mobile phones in Panama to give every citizen 3 handsets. All of this takes a lot of natural resources and metals. Below are some of the important metals I would like to introduce to you.

Tantalum, the rare technical and industrial metal that gives technology the ability to be compact. Have you ever wondered why we no longer have to carry around mobile phones the size of a brick? The tantalum capacitor was a revolutionary invention for the world. Today you find tantalum in all of your personal electronics. Tantalum is now being used in in medical implants because it is non-toxic and does not react with body fluids. It is also used in jet aircraft as an alloying agent. Current worldwide production of tantalum is approximately 1160t annually. By 2030 just the demand is estimated to be 1410t. A few years back there was a lot of controversy surrounding tantalum because of its “Conflict Metal” tag. The metal was originally being mined in the Congo but most tantalum is mined in Australia, Brazil, and Canada.

Indium, how do you like that touch screen on your mobile phone? This rare technical and industrial metal has become a star among the elements recently. Indium’s uses in phones, computers, semi-conductors and televisions are well known. The one use that I would really like to highlight is in CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenide) thin film solar cells. These solar panels are the latest technology to hit the solar industry. Recently we have heard India, Japan, USA, Germany, Spain and many other countries announce huge solar initiatives. India alone signed into law a US $19 billion plan to produce 20 GW of solar power by 2020. Under the plan, the use of solar-powered equipment and applications would be made compulsory on all government buildings, as well as hospitals and hotels. This initiative alone will use up all the entire world’s production of solar cells. According to the USGS 84% of all indium production is currently used in solar cell production. Current worldwide production of Indium is approximately 600t per year. The future amount of indium required will depend greatly on the solar industry. Indium is mined in China, Canada, Bolivia and Japan.

Cobalt, have you driven a hybrid or electric vehicle lately? This rare technical and industrial metal is the one of the elements that makes the batteries in these cars possible. Cobalt is also used in pigments, super-alloys, non-corrosive medical implants, dental implants and jet engines. The top use today is as an alloy to make metals resistant to corrosion. The one I see real promise in is the use of hybrid and electric vehicle batteries. By 2012 the estimated sales of hybrid vehicles worldwide is approximately 2.2 Million and by 2015 to be at least 10% of the world auto market. Currently the biggest hurdle to these vehicles is the added cost and the ability to produce enough batteries to meet the demand. Cobalt has gained a lot of attention since the London Metal Exchange (LME) launched a cobalt contract in February 2010. Current worldwide production of cobalt is approximately 57,500t annually. The future is bright for cobalt. Every aircraft that goes in the air and every hybrid vehicle sold will put greater pressure on the supply of this metal. Cobalt is mined in Australia, Congo, Russia, Zambia and a few other countries.

These are just a few of the metals that our world needs to operate and the future is looking great for all commodities. I like the rare technical and industrial metals because of the tight supply and all of the wonderful uses for them. The mining of these metals is often a by-product of base metal like copper, lead and zinc. Most of the large deposits have been found and are in production. This translates into a very tight supply for the future and profits for investors. Silver and Gold have been my metals of choice for many years, but I see great opportunity for the person who is adventurous and willing to add another asset to their portfolio before the masses catch on.

By: Randy Hilarski - The Rare Metals Guy

Specialty Glass: Engineered for Greater Thin-Film Solar Efficiency

Improved performance and efficiency in photovoltaic systems have traditionally focused on advances in battery technology or charge controllers. Recently, however, solar module makers are looking at specialty glasses for better performance.

Both crystalline silicon and thin-film module makers have long known that low-iron soda lime glass can provide higher conversion efficiency relative to standard soda lime glass. Standard soda lime glass has been used in PV panels up until now, largely due to availability.

Low-iron glass provides higher optical transmittance as compared to standard soda lime glass

Float glass manufacturers throughout the world produce a range of thicknesses, with 3.2 millimeter thick soda lime being the most common due to its use in applications such as architecture, transportation and now solar modules. Though a number of factors contribute to increased solar cell efficiency, low-iron glass provides higher optical transmittance as compared to standard soda lime glass. Corning’€™s engineered glass, for example, provides optical transmittance performance that exceeds both.

If one considers the 400 nm to 900 nm wavelength range of the solar spectrum, measurements show that standard soda lime glass transmittance decreases rapidly from just below 90% at 400 nm to less than 80% at 900 nm. Low-iron soda lime glass performs better, exceeding 90% transmittance at 400 nm, though the transmittance declines to less than 90% at 900 nm.

High optical transmittance is only one factor which contributes to higher solar cell efficiency. Iron-free, engineered glass has been proven to increase thin-film cell efficiency even further.

High conversion efficiency creates significant value.

Specialty glass further enables high efficiency through its ability to withstand high absorber layer deposition temperatures. While soda lime glass is readily available for photovoltaic applications, the ability of this glass to withstand high temperature (up to 600°C and beyond) is a limiting factor. New engineered glass from Corning presents the opportunity to raise absorber deposition temperatures, with demonstrated absolute efficiency increases of greater than +1% achieved by depositing thin film absorber layers at high temperature. The use of increased absorber deposition temperature results in a higher quality semiconductor film, and hence, higher solar cell efficiency.

Raising cell efficiency should be looked at as more than just a technical measure of solar industry progress. Increased efficiency creates higher energy output for a given system size, and can reduce overall balance of system (BOS) costs.

Consider a side-by-side comparison of a hypothetical thin-film module with an area of one square meter. It’€™s reasonable to assume that soda lime glass enables a module efficiency of 10%, whereas the use of a specialty glass could potentially increase this to 12%. A 100 W module would now produce 120 W when manufactured with engineered glass. Efficiency and power output are correspondingly increased by 20%. Reduced weight reduces costs

A secondary benefit of using thinner, specialty glass is weight reduction. Specialized glass can be produced in different thicknesses to meet customer specifications. Instead of the traditional 3.2 mm soda lime glass, module makers will find engineered glass to be significantly thinner, no greater than 2 mm.

The same one square meter module described above using one sheet of 1.5 mm specialty glass combined with 3.2 mm soda lime glass weighs 28% less than the same module using two pieces of 3.2 mm soda lime. The result is lower BOS costs by reducing transportation and installation expenses.
More efficient, lighter, thinner but is it reliable?

Corning specialty glass for thin-film photovoltaic solar panels. The majority of solar module warranties cover a period of 25 years, and depending on location, the installation may be exposed to wind, rain, hail, snow and even blowing sand. Despite being much thinner, the special nature of engineered glass makes it reliable for solar installations. Engineered glasses made by Corning meet or exceed International Electronic Commission (IEC) standards.

This includes withstanding a 25 mm ice ball impact at 23 m/s, wind load resistance of 2,400 Pa, and heavy snow load of 5,400 Pa.
Looking ahead.

As the trend indicates, the glass of choice used in solar modules is changing as new, engineered glasses are being developed and customized to achieve higher conversion efficiency. Corning is tailoring glasses for each of the leading thin-film technologies: cadmium telluride (CdTe), copper indium gallium di-selenide (CIGS), and Si-Tandem. Corning’€™s research has produced consistently high cell efficiencies for CdTe, and achieved a world record 11.9% cell efficiency for Si-Tandem.

Independent of technology, increased conversion efficiency and lower cost per watt is vital for the long-term success of the PV market.

Written by Dr. Mark Krol | 10 August 2011

About the Author
Dr. Mark Krol is Commercial Technology Director at Corning Photovoltaic Glass Technologies in Corning, New York.

Chinese indium export policies pushing price over $1000/kg

Indium is heading for prices of more than $1000/kg, according to industry analyst firm NanoMarkets in a new report “€˜Chinese Indium Strategies: Threats and Opportunities for Displays, Photovoltaics and Electronics”€™, which examines the impact on the electronics and related materials industries of recent Chinese policies to restrict the export of indium. Even higher prices have been suggested in the Chinese press — as much as $3000/kg.

China is the world’€™s largest supplier of indium by far, accounting for almost three-quarters of world reserves and about half of production. As such, its policies affect the markets for all indium-related electronic materials.

This activity has recently been formalized in a new Chinese five-year plan, which is designed to stimulate domestic Chinese high-tech industries. NanoMarkets claims that this move by the Chinese government will have significant negative implications for several classes of electronics products (in the areas of displays, lighting, photovoltaics, compound semiconductor chips, lead-free solders). The report therefore examines China’€™s evolving indium policy in both economic and political terms and explains how it will act as a catalyst for creating new growth opportunities in both the extraction industry and advanced electronic materials industries worldwide, looking especially at the impact on markets for novel transparent conductors and compound semiconductors.

In particular, high indium prices may force the conservative display industry to shift to ITO alternatives, especially those using nanomaterials, believes NanoMarkets.

Japanese indium users€”, who currently use 70% of China’€™s indium production,€” may find themselves without sufficient indium within a year. As a result, NanoMarkets expects firms in countries that have not been large suppliers of indium (including Australia, Canada, Laos and Peru) to rush into the market.

NanoMarkets also predicts that, for the first time, there will be significant amounts of indium extraction from sources other than zinc mines (e.g. sources such as tin and tungsten mining). The Chinese indium policy seems certain to incentivize new sources outside China to produce indium, either through primary extraction methods or through recycling/reclamation, the firm reckons.

Also, a sharp rise in the price of indium will harm the resurgent copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS) photovoltaic (PV) industry, but in turn this will open the door for cadmium telluride (CdTe) and crystalline silicon (c-Si) PVs, which will become more price competitive, says NanoMarkets. In addition, new classes of absorber materials (zinc or tin) may emerge that are CIGS-like but don’€™t actually use indium.

Thin film solar firm to relocate to $300m factory in Wisconsin

By James Cartledge

Thin film solar technology developer W Solar Group is set to relocate its headquarters to the state of Wisconsin, where it will build a $300 million factory.

The California-based company is set to receive $28 million in state incentives to make the move, which should ultimately see the creation of 620 jobs as production gets up to full capacity by 2015.

W Solar has developed a copper-indium-gallium-sellenium (CIGS) solar panel technology, which it says it can produce in a low-cost production system to offer lower cost per watt solar panels.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle awarded Enterprise Zone tax credits from the state’s Department of Commerce for the company to establish its manufacturing facility, along with its corporate headquarters and research and development facilities in Dane County.

Governor Doyle said: “W Solar choosing to locate its manufacturing facility in Wisconsin is a testament to the hard work we’€™ve done over the past eight years to build a strong sector of our economy around clean energy and high end manufacturing. This investment will create new business opportunities and jobs at suppliers throughout the region.”

Wisconsin’€™s Department of Commerce has previously helped solar companies including Cardinal Glass, 5NPlus, PDM Solar, ZBB Technologies, and Helios. Officials believe the solar industry is on track for a tenfold growth in the next decade, while around half of the new factory’€™s output could be destined for overseas markets.

W Solar Group, which will move from its current HQ in Chatsworth, outside Los Angeles, is now considering locations in Wisconsin for its new site.

It plans to open the new facilities in the first half of 2011, beginning production in 2012.

Conditions for the state incentives include targets for creating jobs in 2013 and 2014 prior to full production a year later. The company has also made a commitment to purchase materials and services from Wisconsin suppliers in an effort to create or retain additional jobs in the state.

Chris Hamrin, President and Chief Executive Officer W Solar Group, Inc. said of its new home: “We are impressed with the high quality workforce, extensive supply chain, and the commitment to producing world-class products. Making Wisconsin our home is the right decision, and W Solar’€™s goal is to be a great addition to the Wisconsin economy”.

Wisconsin’s role as a leading manufacturing state with hard-working people also contributed to our decision to make the Badger State the place to grow our company.

Thin-film PV comes one step closer to rivaling crystalline PV in efficiency

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)certified a thin-film MiaSolé photovoltaic (PV) panel at15.7 percent, the most efficient copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) panel the lab has tested.It’s an important step as CIGSmanufacturers strive to close the efficiency gap with the more expensive crystalline silicon PV, which has traditionally been more efficient.While NREL has tested a CIGS PV cell that reached about 20 percent efficiency, that cell was specially developed in the lab and was only a square centimeter in size.

“The significance of the modules tested at NREL is that they’re all done on the product line,” said Stephen Barry, vice president of corporate development at MiaSolé.

The news, he said, comes on the heels of MiaSolé’s announcement of modules rated at 14.3 percent efficiency in September 2010. The goal is to achieve a CIGS module that is as efficient as the most powerful CIGS cells tested at NREL,

“We believe there’s more headroom there [for efficiency increases],” he said.

“This is a very exciting result, especially when it comes so soon after the previous 14.3 percent achievement from last September,” NREL solar researcher Dr. Rommel Noufi said in a press release. “An almost 1.5 percent absolute increase in efficiency in such a short time on a continuous roll-to-roll manufacturing line is impressive and demonstrates good process control and a validation of the MiaSolé approach.”

At present, because thin-film PV is behind crystalline silicon PV in terms of efficiency, it need more space to produce electricity. Therefore, most thin-film PVs available today are being used in large-scale applications like commercial warehouses and solar farms and not for residential purposes. As firms like MiaSolé close that efficiency gap, they will likely become more suitable for residential installations. Barry realizes this and said that the application of their product will change as they gain ground with efficiency.

Thin-film PV also allows for more flexibility in design and use.

For instance, MiaSolé’s modules are deposited on a flexible steel substrate, which makes them physically flexible, something that crystalline silicon panels can’t achieve. However, at present, they’re encapsulated in glass, Barry said. But the company has an active building-integrated PV program, he said. And in the future, its PV materials could take the form of roofing for instance.

Don’t expect the 15.7 percent efficient module on the shelf at your neighborhood PV store tomorrow, however.

“We have our MR-107, a 10.5 percent efficient module,” said Barry. “We’re shipping those now in volumes. We have submitted to UL a 13 percent efficient module.”

He said the 13-percent efficient modules will be in production in the second quarter, and couldn’t estimate when the new, more powerful modules would reach commercial availability.