7 September 2010


Sulfurcell unveils first prototype large-format CIGSe PV module with efficiency above 10%

At this week's 25th European PV Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition (EU PVSEC 2010) in Valencia, Spain (6–10 September), Sulfurcell Solartechnik GmbH of Berlin, Germany is unveiling prototypes of its new product line: 1.25m x 0.65m modules with a much increased energy conversion efficiency of 10.7% and a peak output of 86.8W (confirmed by the German technical inspection agency TÜV Rheinland).

Sulfurcell was founded in 2001 by Nikolaus Meyer and Ilka Luck as a spin-off of the Hahn-Meitner-Institut (now the Helmholtz Centre Berlin for Materials and Energy). In 2002 it raised €9m from private investors, followed in 2003 by R&D grants of €7m from the Senate of Berlin. The firm subsequently set up pilot production, leading to market introduction in 2005. In July 2008, the firm raised €85m in an equity fundraising round including Intel Capital and the BEU fund supported by Vattenfall Europe and Gaz de France, which was used to construct new production facilities and for R&D. The firm now claims to be one of the world's three leading makers of thin-film solar power modules based on copper indium sulphide (CIS) semiconductors.

However, in developing the new modules, Sulfurcell relied on a reconfigured semiconductor layer: for the first time the firm is producing thin-film modules based on CIGSe (copper, indium, gallium di-selenide). In contrast to its first production line, Sulfurcell is using selenide instead of sulphur in its new modules. The firm will be converting part of its production to CIGSe in 2011 and will then market the product on a megawatt scale.  

After an intensive development phase lasting just four months, in July Sulfurcell produced the first prototypes of large-format CIGSe solar modules with efficiencies greater than 10%. Very few manufacturers of thin-film solar modules are currently capable of producing high-quality modules with efficiencies in double figures, notes the firm.

The latest development was possible because Sulfurcell was able to build on experience gained from five years of producing and marketing CIS modules, says CEO Dr Nikolaus Meyer. "The high module efficiency demonstrates that we will also be able to compete in the very top league of thin-film specialists in future," he reckons.  

Scientists have already produced CIGSe solar cells with efficiencies greater than 20% under laboratory conditions. To exploit this potential, Sulfurcell's CIGSe process deploys co-evaporation techniques. The manner in which it uses these depends, however, on proprietary design and components. A major advantage of the process is that the CIGSe layer properties can be precisely configured, enabling the material's potential to be exploited to the full, says Sulfurcell. The firm is already aiming to surpass the 11% threshold in 2011 and the 12% threshold in 2012. Module efficiencies exceeding 14% are realistic by 2015, it reckons.

Sulfurcell continually exchanges expertise with the Helmholtz Centre Berlin, says Meyer. For developing and optimizing production processes for CIGSe-based thin-film modules, Sulfurcell also works exclusively with 44solar of Nantes, France, which is headed by CIGSe specialist professor John Kessler. With Kessler and his colleagues, Sulfurcell is already planning the construction of new, highly productive machines in order to further develop the CIGSe technology and maximize efficiencies.

See related items:

Sulfurcell to supply 16MW of CIS PV panels to China and India

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