Giga Solar experiencing unprecedented demand for front-side silver pastes



Taiwan-based PV materials specialist, Giga Solar Materials Corp said it was gaining market share in the silver paste sector and expected to ship 210 tons of front-side Ag (silver) metallization paste in 2014, up from just 40 tons in the previous year.

Giga Solar’s assistant vice president, Michael Chen told PV Tech at its Headquarters in Hsinchu, Taiwan that its key Al and Ag pastes used in solar cell fabrication were experiencing strong demand with volume shipments projected to be higher in 2014 than in the past couple of years.

According to Chen, confirming recent reports that certain materials were in short supply, silver powder, used in paste formulations was indeed in tight supply due to solar cell demand.

Both front-side and back-side Ag pastes are in strong demand, but market share gains in the front-side Ag segment are showing the strongest increase in percentage terms.

Chen noted that “price competitiveness” had been a key market share driver, especially during the last few years of plummeting cell and module ASPs. Having the scale and local production were also cited as key reasons behind the growth.

Indeed, major competitor Heraeus announced ahead of SNEC 2014 that it would produce silver pastes in China to be closer to customers.

A key success in recent years for Giga Solar has been its growing dominance of the back-side Al paste market in Taiwan, touted by Chen to have reached 90% in its domestic market. However, the company has seen its share increase in China to around 30% in recent years and around 35% on worldwide basis.

“We spend 3 percent of annual revenue on R&D with a team that includes 10 [scientists] with PhD’s, 13 with masters [degrees] and 13 with special degrees,” said Chen.

The challenge for all suppliers is the plethora of next-generation solar cell designs and migratory technologies such as PERC (Passivated Emitter Rear Cell) and the growing sense that many mainstream c-Si cell/module manufacturers will switch some production from P-type multi-c-Si based cells to both P-type mono and N-type mono to boost cell efficiencies while retaining the majority of existing cell processes.

However, fine-line printing techniques and double printing are adding to the need for paste suppliers to provide new material formulas that reduce costs and optimise processes.

Chen noted that mono c-Si was indeed gaining increased interest as multi c-Si efficiency gains were proving tougher to achieve with standard processes that were pushing 17.8% to 18% conversion efficiencies but P-type mono c-Si could achieve 19.5% efficiencies currently, leading to Giga Solar carrying out a lot more R&D on mono than in the past.

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