Frost & Sullivan honors South African thin-film maker PTiP Innovations

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Market research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan has presented its annual South Africa Frost & Sullivan Award for Technology Innovation Leadership to thin-film manufacturer Photovoltaic Technology Intellectual Property (PTiP) Innovations.

Established in 2005 to commercialize the intellectual property and patented technology developed within the University of Johannesburg, PTiP teamed up with German engineering group Singulus Technologies to open a new pilot CIGS manufacturing facility in Stellenbosch earlier this year.

The company is now looking to commercialize the manufacturing process of this entirely South African technology and in the process transform South Africa into a new hub for thin-film CIGS manufacturing and development for the whole of Africa.

Frost & Sullivan points out that PTiP’s PV modules have a very high local content value of about 80 to 90%, while competitors mostly assemble imported parts. "By offering an indigenous PV technology, PTiP Innovation contributes to the development of a new South African green economy, which will also create numerous job opportunities locally," the firm adds.

"The core intellectual property of PTiP Innovations is an innovative process technology aimed at producing homogeneous multiphase semiconductor alloys, which contain five chemical elements — copper, indium, gallium, selenium, sulphur," said Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Celine Paton. "Various combinations of these alloys are preferred as second-generation semiconductor materials to replace silicon as the base material in PV devices."

While thin-film technologies are not new, PTiP’s process technology is. Not only does it offer increased PV module efficiency, but also lower manufacturing costs compared to standard silicon-based PV modules, Frost & Sullivan says. "Other advantages include a continuous manufacturing process, excellent stability over an extended period of time in harsh environmental conditions, reduced sensitivity to overheating, and higher energy yield compared to silicon-based modules when there is obstruction/shade."

PTiP’s new semi-commercial thin-film module manufacturing plant is designed to aid the development and transfer of commercially scalable production processes, products and expertise to commercial licensed partners. The company has managed to establish a stable production process since it opened in February, demonstrating the reproducibility and stability of the commercial production processes, Frost & Sullivan says, adding that commercial module efficiencies above 10% have been achieved within a record period — testimony to the commercial value of the PTiP Technology.

Frost & Sullivan also points out that in addition to the homogeneity of the semiconductor absorber alloys, the process stands out for its use of commercially available production equipment during the mass production of the modules. "This includes the use of in-line sputter processes for the coating of metallic thin films and novel diffusion processes in which H?Se and H?S gases are used as reactive species. The combination of a novel processing technology and established semiconductor production equipment translates to a viable and attractive commercial solution."

Paton adds that the company’s "aim is to not only generate revenues from the manufacturing and sale of second-generation solar thin-film modules, but also to assist in creating a green economy in South Africa. Furthermore, the company’s establishment of a highly skilled workforce in the solar PV industry creates a competitive advantage for South Africa and helps position it as a regional hub for solar PV manufacturing and related technical expertise."

The U.S. market research and consulting group presents its annual South Africa Frost & Sullivan Award for Technology Innovation Leadership companies that have demonstrated uniqueness in developing and leveraging new technologies that significantly impact both the functionality and the customer value of the new products and applications.