Even more sun in the cells!

Scientists at EPFL are working on the development of a new generation of production lines and procedures for manufacturing solar modules in thin-film silicon, within the framework of an important European research project coordinated by the Oerlikon Solar company.

With the goal of improving the most recent solar-energy technologies, an important project of the 7th Program research framework of the European Union has recently been entrusted to the Swiss company Oerlikon Solar, world leader in the development of production lines for solar panels using thin-film technology. Called PEPPER, it includes several partner institutions, such as EPFL’s Photovoltaics and Thin Film Electronics Laboratory (PV-LAB), based in Neuchâtel and led by Professor Christophe Ballif. At the heart of this project is the concept of the micromorph® tandem cell, developed and patented by PV-Lab.

Funded to the tune of 16.7 million euros, of which 9.4 million is financed by the energy program of the European Commission, this project will concentrate on new techniques for the production of thin-film silicon solar modules. The advantage of this technology is that it uses materials that are abundant and inexpensive. “And this process, which is performed on a glass substrate and in vapour phase, costs less – and is more eco-friendly – than the classic mono- or multi-cristalline-silicon, which uses a lot of raw materials and embodied energy”, explains Dr. Sylvain Nicolay, scientific staff member at PV-Lab.

The scientists will therefore be working on different ways of increasing the performance of these cells and the corresponding modules, and will above all be looking to develop less expensive ways of producing the modules. They will be focusing on various technical aspects, such as improvements in the quality of silicon and the other materials used, new techniques for cleaning reactors, and how to make the contact layers more transparent and better at conducting energy. The reduction of costs and ecological impact will also be an important element of the project. “The objective of the project partners is to demonstrate that it’s possible to achieve a yield of 11% for the modules at a production cost lower than 60€ per m2”, adds Dr. Vanessa Terrazzoni, who helped to set up the project.

The PEPPER project began in September 2010, and will continue for three years.

Author: Sarah Perrin

Source: EPFL