Analysts explain why Applied Materials’ acquisition Advent Solar is an effort to bolster the company’s crystalline silicon (c-Si) technology position against the onslaught of thin-film alternatives.
November 9, 2009 – Applied Materials has acquired the assets of Advent Solar in a quiet no-details-revealed deal (though one analyst suggests it was but “pennies on the dollar”), apparently in a move to bolster the company’s crystalline silicon (c-Si) technology position against the onslaught of thin-film alternatives, particularly CIGS.
Advent Solar’s technology is based on a “emitter wrap through” (EWT) cell that uses epi-filled through-silicon vias (TSVs) and the equivalent of wafer-level packaging, an approach that reduces 3%-4% loss in efficiency from front-side conductors. These backside-distributed contacts, along with a planar manufacturing process, have resulted in >17% efficiencies, according to the Albuquerque, NM-based company. The technology is compatible with both multicrystalline and monocrystalline as well as upgraded metallurgical silicon (UMG). The planar module assembly also means higher capacity/area and faster/easier handling and production.
For Applied, combining Advent’s technology with its automated wafering and cell production equipment will help “deliver systems that will enhance customers’ c-Si roadmaps and accelerate the reduction in cost per watt of solar electricity,” noted Mark Pinto, CTO/GM of Applied’s Energy and Environmental Solutions Group, in a statement.
What do analysts think? This deal (or something like it) had to be done to help better position AMAT’s c-Si technology against thin-film competition, specifically in terms of conversion efficiency. Putting the contacts on the back of the cell opens up all of the front-cell to absorb light, and thus improve conversion efficiency; using thinner wafers also means more efficient use of silicon wafer material. “Should this technology be perfected for volume manufacturing, it could further lower the manufacturing cost of c-Si cells, and provide Applied with potentially higher value equipment sales and/or licensing revenue streams,” notes Deutsche Bank analyst Stephen O’Rourke, in a research note (adding that Advent has “nominal” i.e. ~25MWp pilot manufacturing capacity on its own).
iSuppli senior PV analyst Stefan de Haan agrees. “In view of drastically dropping polysilicon prices and strongly upcoming competing thin film technologies (in particular CIGS), AMAT’s tandem technology is in danger of falling behind the competition,” he told PV World. In particular, AMAT’s offering falls short in both production cost and efficiency vs. other turnkey lines are becoming available (e.g., Centrotherm/CIGS, Roth & Rau/CdTe) — even as lower c-Si module prices put more pressure on standard tandem thin-film technology, he explained. “In a market that is well supplied with modules, AMAT’s customers have increasing difficulties to differentiate their product,” he told PV World. “It will be decisive for the survival of AMAT’s tandem technology to reach efficiencies of at least 11% within three years.”