IBM, Taiwan firm join forces in solar
9/27/2010 12:40 PM EDT
SAN JOSE, Calif. – Taiwan’s DelSolar Co. Ltd. has signed an agreement to jointly develop compound thin-film solar cells with IBM Corp.
The collaboration includes leveraging DelSolar’s photovoltaic technology and process as well as IBM’s advanced semiconductor technology and materials science know-how.
Recently IBM demonstrated record solar cell efficiencies using a copper zinc tin sulfur selenide (CZTS) material. IBM is working with Japan’s Tokyo Ohka Kogyo Co. Ltd. (TOK) in the arena, said T.C. Chen, vice president of science and technology at IBM Research.
“This new collaboration between DelSolar, TOK, and IBM now puts us firmly on the path to commercially viable technologies and processes for solar cells that could bring us closer to grid parity,” Chen said in a statement.
Formed in 2004, DelSolar is a subsidiary of Taiwan power supply giant Delta Electronics. DelSolar was established as a joint venture of Delta Electronics and the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), a Taiwan government-sponsored R&D group.
DelSolar has developed a new series of cells with conversion efficiencies of 18.3 percent for mono-crystalline silicon cells and 16.8 percent for multi-crystalline silicon cells.
Thin-film solar cells hold the promise of a cheap, renewable energy source that could make fossil fuels obsolete, but thus far the cells’ reliance on rare elements and expensive vacuum deposition manufacturing has impeded their progress.
Earlier this year, IBM Research proposed solutions to both stumbling blocks by demonstrating a photovoltaic cell that uses common, abundant elements and is produced using an inexpensive nanoparticle- and spin-coat-based “printing” technique.
With 9.6 percent efficiency, the so-called kesterite solar cell beats the previous efficiency record of 6.8 percent for similar structures, bringing kesterite closer to the efficiency of established solar cell formulations, IBM said.
Today, thin-film solar cells are based on chalcogenides such as copper-indium-gallium-selenium (CIGS) and cadmium telluride (CdTe). Indium and tellurium are rare elements, and the former is already in short supply because it is used to make transparent transistors.
By substituting more-abundant elements such as zinc and tin, IBM aims to lower the bill-of-materials cost for solar cells and enable mass production of kesterite photovoltaic devices, which are based on copper, tin, zinc, sulfur and selenium.
Taiwan is a major player in solar. And new players are entering the fray.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) recently approved a plan to invest about $3.8 billion. This includes a move to increase its R&D spending, inject some funding in China and build a solar fab.
In 2009, the company said it would pay NT$6.2 billion (about $192 million) for a 20 percent stake in Motech Industries Inc. (Tainan, Taiwan). Motech is the largest solar cell manufacturer in Taiwan and was one of the top ten manufacturers worldwide in terms of production capacity and output in 2008.
Continuing to expand into new markets, silicon foundry giant TSMC recently made its formal entry into the solar business. TSMC and Stion Corp., a San Jose-based manufacturer of thin-film solar photovoltaic modules, reached a series of agreements covering technology licensing, supply, and joint development.