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Thin film solar module pilot production facility in South Africa

Photovoltaic Technology Intellectual Property (PTiP) recently commissioned a pilot production line for the manufacturing of CIGS thin-film solar modules in the Western Cape, South Africa. Singulus Technologies supplied the engineering technology and support for the key production processes.

PTiP, a spin-off from the University of Johannesburg (UJ), has been working on the development of CIGS solar modules for the past 20 years. The demonstration plant in the Techno Park near Stellenbosch was established on the back of the success demonstrated in the UJ research laboratories. This facility will serve as a research and development facility for commercial-scale and market ready 1,200 mm x 600 mm CIGS modules.

The Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) is a strategic shareholder and financial support of the expansion by PTiP in Techno Park. PTiP received additional financial support from the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), an initiative of South Africa’s department of science and technology. With the new CIGS line, the development of modules can be improved with particular regard to the efficiency and special demands of the African market.

Professor Vivian Alberts, CEO of PTiP, says, “The commissioning and official opening of this CIGS pilot facility in South Africa confirms the goals of the South African government to support and promote alternative and renewable energies, based on locally developed IP and skills. It is an important step for a successful energy policy in our country. The immediate goal is to set-up a commercially viable production plant for CIGS thin-film modules in South Africa to supply products with high local content to existing and future PV projects in South Africa. The European Investment Bank already announced its support for the establishment of a PTiP production plant and the mass production of PV modules. With the core production equipment and support from our partner, Singulus, we are able to industrially and efficiently implement our developed process.”

Singulus has been working with the scientists from the University of Johannesburg for the past three years and in the course of the cooperation already delivered the first laboratory systems in 2011. Dr. Stefan Rinck, CEO of Singulus says, “With the vacuum coating, the selenisation as well as two work steps in the wet-chemical area, in total we supplied four key process steps for a CIGS line. With our partner PTiP, we intend to continue to implement the additional expansion stages as well.”

Solar cells and modules can be categorised in terms of the specific production processes and used materials, for example, crystalline silicon solar cells and CIGS thin-film modules. The CIGS thin-film solar technology utilises large glass substrates as the basic substrate material, on which a very thin photo-active layer with a thickness of approx. 1.5 to 2.5 µm is applied. This absorber layer consists of a compound semiconductor including the elements copper, gallium and indium with selenium and sulphur in a so-called chalkcpyrite structure.

In contrast to mono-crystalline or poly-crystalline solar cells, thin-film modules only marginally lose performance amid low light or very high temperatures. This results in the fact that thin-film solar cells produce electricity earlier in the morning hours and later in the evening hours. Furthermore, thin-film solar modules can be used as a design feature for the front or the roof of buildings due to its homogenous surface and better visual appearance.

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