Grant supports freeform solar cell commercialization

The European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT) has awarded a € 2.3 million grant to a new project that aims to develop and commercialize equipment for producing thin-film solar cells in any shape and size.

Freeform solar cells could lead to a host of new possibilities for solar power, from modules that make better use of available space or can be embedded into everyday objects to the ability to tailor a cell’s electrical output to specific applications’ needs. The technology could also help improve module quality and reduce production costs.

Led by Smit Ovens and Solliance, the EFFIC (Equipment for Free Form Interconnection of CIGS) consortium will build machines that use nanosecond-pulse lasers and printing technologies to create the ‘wiring’ within thin-film solar modules. These will allow manufacturers to create any pattern of interconnects they can imagine, giving them complete freedom in module size and shape. The project is being carried out under EIT’s Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) InnoEnergy.

"By enabling freeform solar cells, we want to eliminate the limitations of today’s fixed form factor panels and allow manufacturers to explore brand new business opportunities. While today’s panels are often thought of as unsightly, freeform panels could be attractive design features for buildings and vehicles. They also could be small enough to be integrated into appliances and furniture. And as a cell’s output is related to its size, freeform cells offer an easy way to adapt voltage and current to suit your application," said Wiro Zijlmans, CEO of Smit Ovens.

"Freeform cells will help manufacturers face up to the challenges of a young and evolving solar cell industry. They will be able to react more quickly to changing demands for solar power – from panels on roofs to cells embedded into handheld devices. Cells could be produced locally, in custom designs, for maximum market responsiveness. The opportunities are endless, and Solliance gives manufacturers the freedom to explore their own ideas," says Hein Willems, Director of Solliance.

Unlike traditional approaches that require interconnects to be patterned in multiple steps as the layers that make up a thin-film solar cell are deposited, the EFFIC approach creates the interconnect pattern after the solar cell stack is complete. This makes alignment easier and reduces the area the interconnections take up, increasing cell quality and efficiency. Together with the projects Produzo (ended) and Fantastic (still running), Effic will cover the complete development route from concept phase to industrial application and commercialization.

Initially, the EFFIC consortium will focus on developing systems for producing CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenium) cells. However, the approach could also be applied to other thin-film photovoltaic technologies like cadmium telluride or organic photovoltaics, as well as large-area, thin-film devices such as OLEDs. The freeform interconnect technology has already been demonstrated in research devices, but the EFFIC project marks the first efforts to exploit it on a commercial scale.

The EFFIC consortium brings together partners from across the solar value chain within Europe, including academic and research institutes, equipment manufacturers and panel makers.

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Source: High Tech Campus Eindhoven

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