German PV equipment maker RENA Technologies has announced an order for its copper plating technology from an un-named, vertically integrated Tier 1 PV cell producer based in China. As a first step the company will deliver its InCellPlate Cu pilot tool, and says that after testing, line expansion and production ramp up are scheduled.
This is RENA’s first order for the InCellPlate Cu solution to date, and the purchase price was not specified in a brief press statement.
The copper plating solution includes laser induced ablation of the silicon nitride layer, plating of metal electrodes and line anneal. This represents a complete front-side metallization solution, replacing screen-printed silver paste.
Copper is a far less expensive metal than silver, and even though silver paste uses only a limited amount of silver metal, it remains the highest non-silicon material cost for solar PV. Through its copper plating solution, RENA estimates that it can save customers USD$0.06 per cell.
Additionally, copper offers the potential for efficiency improvements. Copper is an excellent conductor, and offers the potential for lower-profile contacts with less cell shading.
And while copper plating is used in heterojunction and back-contact cell designs, it has struggled to gain acceptance from large, risk-averse PV makers, who may still recall problems with copper plating in Suntechs Pluto cells. As such, RENAs order could be the beginning of a new wave of adoption of copper plating.
A more full examination of copper plating for PV cells can be found in the December edition of pv magazine.