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The Manz AG engineering company’s latest production line generation for producing CIGS layers serves as a prototype for an optimised production line.
© Manz AG
CIGS thin-film modules
01.04.2014

The Manz AG engineering company’s latest production line generation for producing CIGS layers serves as a prototype for an optimised production line.
© Manz AG

The electron microscopic image shows the layer structure of a CIGS solar cell in cross-section, magnified about 10,000 times. The zinc oxide layer in the module is about 1 µm thick, as is shown in the legend.
© ZSW

Less expensive production of thin-film modules

In the CIGSfab project, the developers have managed to both improve the production of thin-film modules and make them less expensive. In its innovative production line, the Manz AG engineering company has reduced its manufacturing costs by ten per cent. In addition, the company has also made greater use of laser technology and has thus increased the efficiency of the modules by 0.5 per cent. The new production plant therefore makes thin-film photovoltaics a serious competitor for multicrystalline silicon modules.

“The newly developed machines and the optimised processes in the CIGSfab research project enable us to reduce the cost of manufacturing thin-film modules by about ten per cent,” says the coordinator of the research project, Bernhard Dimmler, from the Manz AG engineering company. The modules enable low electricity production costs to be attained: four cents per kilowatt-hour are envisaged for southern Europe and eight cents per kilowatt-hour in Germany.
Crystalline silicon modules currently dominate the PV market. Until now their efficiency has been higher than thin-film modules. The latter can be produced, however, with much less semiconductor material and thus more cheaply. In the production of CIGS thin-film solar modules, the semiconductor compound consisting of copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS) is deposited on a glass substrate.

The project, which was one of the first to be conducted as part of the Photovoltaics Innovation Alliance, has now been successfully completed after three years of research and development work. Together with the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW), the employees from Manz have among other things succeeded in both doubling the speed of the coating processes in the module production and further reducing the cost of materials for the coating. This optimised deposition process for the CIGS layer enables up to 50 per cent of the production systems to be dispensed with. The buffer layer was previously deposited in individual processes. The researchers have further developed the deposition into a throughput process, thus enabling continuous processing. This has halved the investment costs.

Thin-film photovoltaics is attaining the efficiency reached by silicon modules

In addition, the researchers have improved the module efficiency by about 0.5 per cent (while maintaining established processing steps). They achieved this increase in efficiency through the increased use of laser technology instead of mechanical structuring steps. With a current efficiency of up to 14.6 per cent during the production (with lower manufacturing costs), the CIGS modules are attaining a performance equivalent to standard silicon modules.

Production costs reduced to around 0.40 euros per watt peak

According to his current calculations based on the CIGSfab cost structure, project coordinator Bernhard Dimmler envisages the following manufacturing costs: “An annual production capacity of approximately 150 megawatts would enable modules to be manufactured at a cost of 41 euro cents per watt peak. With smaller factories the value would be somewhat higher. However, in the near future and with factories with an annual production capacity in the gigawatt range, the value would be well below 40 cents.” According to Manz, solar power generated with these CIGS solar modules therefore lies at a similar price level as electricity from fossil fuel power plants, and is considerably cheaper than electricity from offshore wind farms.

The project has cost more than twelve million euros, of which six million euros was provided by the German federal government via the Photovoltaics Innovation Alliance, while the other half was provided by the Manz AG engineering company.

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Project coordination
Manz CIGS Technology GmbH