Emerging Technologies Could Slice Solar Cell Metallization Costs By 50%


Emerging technologies – including copper metallization, nickel phosphide and non-contact printing techniques – could slice the costs associated with the metallization of solar cells by up to 50%, according to a recent report from Lux Research.

Innovation in PV metallization has the potential to lower costs and improve process yields for the three major technology categories – crystalline silicon (c-Si), copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) and cadmium telluride (CdTe).

"Tomorrow's PV winners will be those companies that can reduce their production costs in dollars per watt and maintain sustainable profit margins," says Fatima Toor, an analyst at Lux Research and lead author of the report." Metallization is a key materials-driven driver for higher efficiencies, reduced production costs and improved yields."

Lux Research analysts studied emerging innovations in metallization to determine their impact on solar cell production. The firm's major findings included the following:

The drive to reduce silver use is inevitable. Over the past decade, silver prices have risen six-fold to about $30/ounce, necessitating lower usage and other workarounds. According to Lux Research, Applied Materials' double-printing tool reduces silver usage by 30% relative to conventional screen printing and improves absolute cell efficiencies by 0.3% to 0.5%.

Copper pastes are the logical metallization winner. Copper is the leading contender to displace silver, given its abundance and established use in the semiconductor electronics industry, according to Lux Research. However, copper pastes need further development, because they lag in cell performance and long-term durability. Napra and Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology are blazing the trail, but others will enter to open a path to practical copper metallization for both c-Si and CIGS modules.

Nickel phosphide (Ni2P) will be the widely adopted back contact for CdTe metallization. Ni2P has shown durability, anneals at high temperature and does not require expensive materials. It can slightly trim costs and significantly improve yields, Lux Research says.

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