Heinz Kundert, president of SEMI Europe, spoke with PV World about the formation and goals of the recently formed European group for crystalline-silicon (c-Si) solar cells — and what other PV sector might be next for roadmapping efforts.
by James Montgomery, news editor, PV World
April 2, 2010 – Process and technology improvements through standardization — that’s the underlying mantra of the new organization of crystalline-silicon (c-Si) players, developing their roadmap under the watchful eye of SEMI’s PV Group. Heinz Kundert, president of SEMI Europe, spoke with PV World about the formation and goals of the recently formed CTM Group.
The group’s technology roadmap, established out to the year 2020, defining several areas of improvement in materials, manufacturing processes, and product development, with general targets of efficiency and costs that are “low-hanging fruit,” noted Kundert. Historical and forecasted trends suggest 8%-14% annual decreases in PV module prices, with corresponding cost reductions/cell, and that means optimizing current technology and getting new technologies into production soon. Thus, the group is planning for notable technology changes (and the bulk of improvements) over the next several years:
- New materials to replace pastes/ink, for example, are expected to be qualified and tested in 2010, and implemented by 2012;
- For metallization, reducing and ultimately replacing gold (a big cost item) in the 2013-2015 timeframe;
- Decreasing mechanical yield loss from 2.5% in 2009 to 2.0% in 2010 and 1.5% in 2011;
- Reduce the # of operators needed in production, from 100% in 2009 to around 65% in 2011 and 35% in 2017; and
- Reducing tool costs/cell is translated toincreasing throughput: front-end (chemical + thermal) to 7200 wafers/hr from 2011-2012 to 2020, and backend (metallization + classification) from 1800wph to 3600wph.
The key to many of these shorter-term achievements? Standardization, where there is much room for improvement compared with semiconductors, Kundert explained. “It’s a question of quality control. How do we measure quality? How to measure efficiency? There’s no standard to measure ‘efficiency’ so there are many things that have to be standardized.” Suppliers have their own machines and production solutions; putting all these various machines and configurations into a production line need to be taken into consideration, from different working heights (which changes how wafers are robotically exchanged between tools) to data communication, in order to increase speed and reduce handling steps.
Despite a number of industry events and conferences ranging from general technology to public policy, nothing specifically addressed these key manufacturing issues for c-Si manufacturers, according to Kundert. Attempts to bring together suppliers and cell makers began 1-2 years ago and led to more discussions and several meetings, until the individual companies realized that a more formal collective effort would be required — and due to individual corporate responsibilities and restrictions, either housed under a separate company or under the auspices of an industry association. After a few months’ negotiations, SEMI was brought in (some of the CTM Group are also SEMI members), offering its global capabilities, knowledge, resources, and processes to help facilitate, observe, steer, document progress, etc. “The roles are clear; there is very strong cooperation between SEMI and the eight companies,” Kundert noted. Much of the CTM’s actual working structure has yet to be decided (including specific leadership roles), but those details should be clearer by Intersolar Europe in early June. “They’re willing to make progress quickly,” Kundert said.
Both the CTM Group and Kundert himself invoke the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) as a model to follow. The ITRS also began as a solely regional (US) effort and took several years to widen internationally (in 1998-1999); currently there are no plans to expand this group’s efforts beyond Europe, but Kundert noted that this is “not a European roadmap as such, where others don’t have access. They want to be globalized once it is mature.”
Much of the content of this year’s PV Fab Managers Forum was split among three working groups: c-Si, thin-film technology, and modules, and all came away with the understanding of the necessity of roadmapping efforts, Kundert noted. Because of its similarity to silicon wafer technology, c-Si has the biggest potential to start such efforts. Thin-film vendors “talk generically about roadmaps, they agree they need the same thing, there’s a willingness, a critical mass to start discussions,” he said. But with such variety (e.g., amorphous, tandem, triple-junction, etc.) and relative lack of equipment players, standardization/roadmapping efforts are more complicated. “What is more attractive, and closer to be integrated, is modules,” Kundert predicted. “Module makers are more interested in going with a similar approach like the CTM Group,” though efforts have not progressed to formalization as with the CTM Group and SEMI.