Meyer Burger, CSEM partner on Swiss heterojunction technology project

Swiss engineering group Meyer Burger Group and the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) are joining forces on a pilot production facility for high-efficiency PV cells employing heterojunction technology in a demo system.

The Swiss Federal Office of Energy, the Canton of Neuchatel and industrial partners are backing the Swiss-Inno HJT project with CHF 10 million ($1.12 million) for a period of more than three years.

The partnership includes Meyer Burger subsidiaries Roth & Rau Research, PASAN and the Meyer Burger competence center in Thun as well as CSEM’s PV-center, which are combining their respective expertise to develop HJT technology for the industrial production of advanced solar cells and modules.

After the project is completed, the pilot lines will become key research and development platforms to bring further innovations in PV technology to maturity under industrial-like production conditions in order to maintain a competitive edge. The grant will help finance the establishment of the pilot production system aimed at producing photovoltaic energy at low prices while illustrating the superiority of the innovative heterojunction technology.

Heterojunction silicon technology (HJT) consists of ultra-thin (several thousandths of a micrometer) layers of amorphous silicon in the nanometer range that have been deposited on both sides of mono crystalline silicon wafers. The level of efficiency is higher than in standard cells with the production process actually requiring fewer steps. The technology combines the advantages of crystalline silicon solar cells with the absorption and passivation characteristics of amorphous silicon used in thin film technology.

Additional advantages of HJT technology are its remarkable temperature characteristics and its bi-faciality, which can lead to increased energy efficiency (kWh/Wp). This is the basis of decreased energy costs per kilowatt hour, Meyer Burger said, adding that HJT technology also paves the way for low-cost mass production of PV modules (less than $0.67/Wp).

Meyer Burger coating technologies unit Roth & Rau and the Photovoltaics Laboratory at the Institute of Microengineering (IMT), part of Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), began development of heterjunction technology in 2008.

The company said the project offered enormous export opportunities for the Swiss industry. The Swiss-Inno HJT project will focus on the development of an innovative pilot production line for heterojunction cells and modules while continuously improving and optimizing the production process. A main goal of the endeavor is the successful market entry of the HJT technology as well as the realization of promising export opportunities, Meyer Burger said.

The company added that the federal and regional support would "strengthen SwitzerlandÂ’s position as leader for technological innovation in the photovoltaic sector and ensure its competitiveness as a major equipment provider in the international photovoltaic industry."

With the dramatic growth of photovoltaics in recent years, the partners are optimistic about introducing the innovative technology onto the market.

"More than 37 GWp of photovoltaic output was installed in 2013," Meyer Burger said. "The cumulative global output by the end of 2013 will be approximately 140 GWp, leading to a major expansion in electrical energy in Europe. Photovoltaics will contribute significantly to the future global energy mix. Increasingly efficient modules and competitive technologies are making photovoltaic more economically viable while achieving lowest cost of energy [per kilowatt hour]."

The company added that it expects the successful market entry of HJT to contribute to further price reductions for PV power systems in general and to significantly lower the overall cost of solar energy production.

"Heterojunction silicon technology is especially suitable for energy efficient roof installations and building integrations and could therefore become a preferred technology for Swiss domestic market applications. This will support the Swiss federal energy strategy 2050 which targets an increased share of renewable electricity in the future energy mix."