Solar Frontier achieves CIGS "cells" at 19.7%

08. January 2013 | Markets & Trends, Industry & Suppliers | By:  Jonathan Gifford

Japanese thin film manufacturer Solar Frontier has claimed a cadmium free CIGS efficiency record, on tiny “cells” measuring 0.5cm x 0.5cm. The efficiency of 19.7%was measured by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and is an improvement on the previous record of 18.6%, which had stood for a decade.

The Solar Frontier manufacturing facility.

Solar Frontier maintains faith in its CIGS semiconductor, achieving good results on its micro cells.

Advocates of CIGS thin film technology have long touted that as a semiconductor it possesses the potential for both high efficiencies and low manufacturing costs. However, the deposition process has proven notoriously tricky to master and efficiency gains have been steady, however not stellar.

Japan’s Solar Frontier has a long history with CIGS technology, which it refers to as CIS despite gallium being present in the recipe, and has claimed an efficiency breakthrough on a tiny CIGS cell today. The efficiency result, which pushes towards the watershed 20% mark, was achieved through collaboration with Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.

While it’s debatable as to whether CIGS deposition forms cells, it is significant that the record setting segments of Solar Frontier technology were cut from a 30cm x 30cm substrate, indicating that the technology could be deployed on a full-size glass substrate some time in the future. The company indicated in a statement today that the process used for the result was a similar sputter and selenization process it uses in mass production. This is as opposed to a co-evaporation process – which itself has claimed the current CIGS efficiency record of 20.3%.

"The CIS thin-film modules currently available from Solar Frontier have gained a reputation for high performance in actual power generation, as they are not easily affected by shadows or high temperatures," said Satoru Kuriyagawa in a statement announcing the result. "Now, even higher real-world performance can be expected by applying this new basic technology."

Solar Frontier’s modules are now rolling of its Kunitomi production lines with a module efficiency of 13% with a champion aperture efficiency of 14.5%. The company’s plant, which began commercial production in November 2011, is tooled for 900 MW of annual capacity and is currently operating at approximately two-thirds capacity, the company informs pv magazine.

Solar Frontier’s Brooks Herring, Vice President of communications and operations told pv magazine that while the market remains tough for all solar players, the company is resolved in its commitment to CIGS technology. "It’s a challenge being in the solar business these days, that comes as no surprise to you," said Herring. "Are we still sold on the technology? Absolutely, we continue to get very good feedback from third parties who test our products and find that we perform far better than we expect and we even advertise."

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