Nanosolar, developers of a proprietary high-yield high-throughput process for printing thin-film CIGS solar cells, has started executing on its plan to build a volume cell production factory with a total annual cell output of 430MW—approximately 200 million cells per year—and an advanced panel assembly factory designed to produce more than one million solar panels per year.
Thin-film solar cells based on CIGS (Cu(In,Ga)Se2) absorbers are among the leading devices which are expected to lower the costs for photovoltaic energy conversion.
Presently in pilot production in its Palo Alto, California facility, Nanosolar announced that it has started ordering volume production equipment for what is going to be the world’s largest solar cell manufacturing factory. The company also announced today that its first cell fab will be located in the San Francisco Bay area and that its first panel fab—for a broad array of novel product form factors using advanced processes—is expected to be located in Berlin, Germany.
Thin-film printing overcomes the complexity, high cost, and yield and scalability limitations associated with vacuum-based processes. Nanosolar’s technology enables low-cost, high-yield production previously unattainable. This allows us to produce cells very inexpensively and assemble them into panels that are comparable in efficiency to that of high-volume silicon based PV panels.—Chris Eberspacher, Nanosolar’s head of technology
Given the square meter economics of solar, high-throughput high-yield processes have to be used to succeed in this industry. With Nanosolar’s printing process, the fully-loaded cell cost—including materials, consumables, energy, labor, facility, and capital—is less than the depreciation expense alone that vacuum thin-film companies have to pay for the equipment that produces their cells.
A factory of this capacity would cost more than one billion dollars to build if one used conventional solar technology. Given the distinctly superior capital efficiency of our unique process technology, we can achieve this scale with a lot less capital and as a startup company.—Werner Dumanski, Nanosolar’s head of manufacturing
Nanosolar has created an ink of nanoparticles in which the proper ratio of elements is locked-in to the ink (by virtue the particles being mixed in the right overall amounts), allowing the printing of this ink across virtually any size of a substrate.
Using the ink, the company’s production technologies print or solution-coat the semiconductor of an efficient CIGS with high quality, yield, materials utilization, and throughput.
The printed cells consist of a three-dimensional array of nanostructures embedded in a polymer layer with differential electron affinity relative to the nanostructures, sandwiched between two electrodes.
The company also announced it has completed a $75-million Series C financing round. In conjunction with government factory subsidies recently secured, this brings its total cash position (including non-debt cash equivalents) to just above $100 million.