Perovskite developer Oxford PV and heterojunction (HJT) solar manufacturer Meyer Burger appear set for a difficult decoupling – at least insofar as the companies’ “exclusive cooperation” on the commercialization of perovskite tandem PV technology is concerned. And with perovskite tandem devices acknowledged by many to represent the future of high efficiency PV, the development could represent a significant disruption to the commercialization of the technology in Europe.
The winding up of the “exclusive cooperation” was not widely expected as the partnership appearing to have been on a sound footing – not least by virtue of Meyer Burger’s considerable investment in Oxford PV.
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“It somewhat surprises me,” said Alex Barrows, director of research at PV manufacturing consultancy Exawatt. “From the perspective of someone looking in from the outside, the cooperation seemed like a good fit: Oxford PV seems focused on doing perovskite on HJT rather than, for example, using a cheaper and lower efficiency bottom cell, and Meyer Burger is undoubtedly one of the leaders when it comes to HJT manufacturing.”
Oxford PV has attributed the strategic decision behind the separation to Meyer Burger’s pivot to manufacturing – which occurred after the companies had entered into the collaboration, in March 2019. The initial cooperation agreement was supposed to establish a 200 MW HJT/perovskite tandem line and involved Meyer Burger taking an 18.8% stake in Oxford PV. The deal also included an option for Meyer Burger to double that investment by the end of 2020 – an option that appears to not have been taken up.
The announcement of the “exclusive cooperation” signed in 2019 included the statement: “Meyer Burger will, additionally, develop equipment to industrialize the mass production of the perovskite layers deposited on top of the silicon heterojunction bottom cells.” While the companies have not made more specific details about the cooperation available to pv magazine, it does appear that this is perhaps where the collaboration came unstuck.
Meyer Burger’s HJT production line is based on PECVD (plasma-enabled chemical vapor deposition) processes for the production of the double-junction crystalline silicon (a-Si)/amorphous silicon (a-Si) cells. It supplied such lines to Singapore-based REC before taking the decision to pursue the manufacture of HJT modules itself – a pivot announced in June 2020. However, PECVD processes are not commonly used for perovskite deposition.
“You can put the perovskite down in lots of different ways. You can evaporate it or you can do some form of printing, spraying or coating followed by annealing,” said Exawatt’s Barrows – who completed his PhD in novel PV materials and deposition methods. “But if Oxford PV is sputtering [the perovskite semiconductor], it could make a lot of sense to work with an expert in that area, like Von Ardenne or another supplier that is established in the thin-film world. Oxford PV could simply work directly with a sputtering or thin film deposition expert [rather than Meyer Burger].”
While both Meyer Burger and Oxford PV confirm the former is supplying the “turnkey manufacturing line” for the latter’s production in Brandenburg, Germany, it is unlikely Meyer Burger is building the perovskite deposition tooling itself. Rather, it is likely working with a third-party equipment supplier – a arrangement common in turnkey PV production line supply. Oxford PV told pv magazine last week its perovskite production process is based on sputtering.
There is some level of contention as to the readiness of the Oxford PV German facility, in terms of the perovskite processes. Oxford PV told pv magazine last week, all but one of the required tools are in place. Meyer Burger says production is still some distance away.
The Swiss PV technology company’s statement today read: “Meyer Burger's assessment was, and is, that the perovskite tandem technology will only reach the required technology and process maturity, product reliability and cost structure for competitive mass production, in a few years.”
The companies are also in dispute as to how Oxford PV’s decision to terminate the agreement was communicated – with Meyer Burger claiming it was only made aware of the move through public disclosures.
What is clearer, is that the move by Oxford PV could leave Meyer Burger with a speed bump in its technology roadmap.
“From a strategic standpoint, it seems like this could create a bit of a headache for Meyer Burger, at least assuming that the company keeps perovskite/HJT tandems as a key pillar of its technology roadmap,” said Barrows. “Previously, it appeared that a lot of the perovskite-specific development for this would effectively be outsourced to Oxford PV. Now, Meyer Burger will presumably have to do more of this in-house. Without all the details of who owns what IP [intellectual property] it’s hard to say how much of a setback this could be, but I could imagine that it might delay Meyer Burger’s moves into this area.”
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.
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