The Heraeus Photovoltaics Business Unit is shifting all R&D activities for its solar cell metallization pastes to the US in a bid to bring next-generation products to market faster.
The move is seen as an unusual step, especially after the company recently announced it would start volume production of its silver pastes in China, home to the majority of leading PV manufacturers and 60% of solar cell production.
Scientists from its regional R&D centres in Hanau, Germany and Singapore are all being relocated to its original R&D headquarters in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. A total of 200 staff will work from the facility, around 100 specifically focused on metallization pastes including technical support and production staff.
“The relocation of our worldwide research and development group to our West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania facility is a strategic move for our business,” stated Dr. Weiming Zhang, Vice President of Technology for the Heraeus Photovoltaics Business Unit. “When Heraeus first began the development of metallization pastes for solar cells, we started with a few scientists in West Conshohocken [PA]. We successfully developed products with higher performance than what was commercially available at that time. To increase our competitive position, we recognized that we needed to attract additional talented scientists and engineers from around the world.”
Talking with PV Tech, Andreas Liebheit, global manager of the Heraeus Photovoltaics Business Unit said that the West Conshohocken region of Pennsylvania had continued to be a key area for metallization paste innovation in general including Universities and support industries that had a unique talent pool for the company.
“The move means we will make much more use of shared resources and best practices that are expected to lead to better innovation, shorter product cycle-times and time to market,” noted Liebheit.
Liebheit also noted that centralising R&D activities would bring different field of expertise from the regional centres together for the first time.
“There are some regional R&D differences as to the metallization paste flavours, so to speak. The Singapore team had been very focused on pastes for double printing processes, while German team had focused on high efficiency solar cell requirements of 21% and above,” added Liebheit.
Pooling expertise into one centre was expected to lead to new innovations and the employees were all exited about the new opportunities, despite the relocation. Liebheit noted that no staff had left the company due to the relocation.
As the position of its centres in Germany and Singapore, Liebheit noted that the facilities would not be closed but shift emphasis to customer technical support duties.
With the next solar cell technology investment cycle underway, primarily focused on various forms of PERC cell design and processing steps for both P-type multicrystalline and monocrystalline wafers, metallization paste development is expected to intensify.