Singulus Technologies picks up €15 million CIGS order from Hanergy

If taken on face value, more signs have emerged today that PV equipment suppliers’ prospects are bouncing back. Singulus Technologies has announced that it has signed an agreement to supply its Tenuis II buffer layer deposition tool to Hanergy’s equipment subsidiary Apollo Precision Limited. Singulus reports that the sale is the “first stage of a major project.”

The Tenuis tool carries out the deposition of the crucial buffer layer, often zinc oxide (ZnO) but in this case cadmium sulfide (CdS), which protects the CIGS semiconductor stack.

Singulus claims that its Tenuis II buffer layer tool can coat two substrates on one side simultaneously, and that its machine reduces floor space required for the buffer process. It reported that the Tenuis II also reduces the time required to deposit the buffer layer, through a new approach to dosing and temperature control.

Hanergy’s CIGS acquisitions

Hanergy has assembled a stable of promising CIGS technologies over the past 18 months, including Solibro, MiaSolé and Global Solar. Hanergy was able to pick up Solibro cheaply from Q Cells and Silicon Valley’s MiaSolé at an incredibly low price. The two producers were, with the exception of Solar Frontier, the only CIGS players to reach anything approaching volume production.

While Solibro deposits its CIGS semiconductor onto a glass substrate, both MiaSolé and Global Solar were working with a roll-to-roll stainless steel substrate. Given this, it appears likely that the Singulus tool order is for the Solibro process, presumably for production in Caofeidian, China.

In today’s announcement from Singulus, Hanergy claimed that it has achieved a module efficiency with its Solibro technology of 18.7%. This is, however, an unverified claim. The Fraunhofer ISE has verified a cell efficiency rate of 21% achieved by Hanergy, using the Solibro process. Singulus reported today that it had been working in partnership with Solibro, “for a long time” on its technology.

Some skepticism remains

Today’s statement from Singulus cites Hanergy’s announcment in January of this year that it had entered into a sales and service contract for 600 MW of turnkey CIGS equipment, for its Caofeidian fab. While the Singulus statement does not elaborate, if this order was placed with Hanergy Group’s subsidiary Apollo, it is difficult for outsiders to know at what stage this equipment supply deal stands, or whether in fact the lines are being installed at all.

Apollo Precision was originally acquired by Hanergy to supply it with amorphous silicon (a-Si) equipment and the manufacturer claimed that multi-GW of capacity would be installed. It is now presumably pivoting into CIGS tooling, with Hanergy’s technology acquisitions.

If the supply deal goes ahead as Hanergy has announced, it would make Apollo clearly the largest tool supplier in the PV equipment business.

However, while today’s deal is a good sign for Singulus, there remains considerable skepticism amongst some sections of the solar industry as to Hanergy’s intentions and ability to equip its facilities and scale its production.