Hopes for a CIGS boom in South Africa

South Africa could become a new hub for thin-film CIGS manufacturing and development for the whole of Africa.

It’s a vision that was presented today by Vivian Alberts, CEO of South African manufacturer Photovoltaic Technology Intellectual Property (PTiP), and Stefan Rinck, CEO of German engineering group Singulus Technologies. In a significant step towards realizing that goal, the companies have opened a pilot CIGS manufacturing facility in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town.

The driving force behind the first 5 MW pilot production line is the hope of creating new jobs in South Africa and reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuel imports, according to Alberts and his research team.

PTiP is a spinoff of the University of Johannesburg and is part of the state-run Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). Some €20 million have been invested in the construction of the facility in Stellenbosch.

Alberts has been internationally active in thin-film research for 20 years. Three years ago he met Rinck in in Germany, which led to the two companies joining forces. Alberts brought several patents into the CIGS fab and Singulus supplied the core machines. A special feature at the plant is the selenization process via gas diffusion, which leads to less machine contamination than the previous methods, thus reducing production costs, according to Rinck.

"The creation of an integrated crystalline cell and module manufacturing plant in South Africa would be too expensive and the international competition here is too high," Albert pointed out at the inauguration of the facility on Monday. In addition, thin-film modules are particularly suitable for African countries due to their longer light utilization.

The collaboration between PTiP, the University of Johannesburg, government agencies and Singulus will continue beyond the pilot fab to a subsequent mass production facility, a training program for workers and in the gradual optimization of thin-film manufacturing.

The next step will be the construction of a 100 MW mass production plant with a local content share of up to 90%. The site is expected to create 4,000 new jobs. Discussions with potential investors are scheduled to begin in the coming days, Alberts said. The European Investment Bank is set to provide funding for the project.

Alberts is not worried about the current state of demand for CIGS modules "made in South Africa." Various investors have already indicated interest in buying the total annual production in order to meet the country’s local content requirements of 70% for project tenders.

Albert and Rinck’s vision is to make Stellenbosch a leading international hub for CIGS development and manufacturing. Modular 100 MW CIGS fabs can then be exported from here to other African countries and worldwide to licensee partners.

Singulus wants to use the new manufacturing plant and future serial fab to optimize its equipment, Rinck said. With very little CIGS manufacturing currently taking place in Germany, it’s an ideal opportunity.