The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has installed iTi Solar inkjet and spray workstations in the lab’s advanced atmospheric processing platform (APP), which is located in the Process Development and Integration Laboratory at the National Center for Photovoltaics in Colorado. NREL will use the iTi Solar workstations to develop low-cost nonvacuum processing methods and materials for use in advanced solar PV manufacturing.
An alternative to traditional vacuum-based sputtering, coating, and etching techniques, iTi Solar’s materials deposition systems enable digital deposition of a wide range of fluids, through the use of inkjet printhead and sprayer methods. These additive, noncontact deposition technologies, which can be applied to a wide variety of surfaces and substrates, offer manufacturing cost efficiencies for silicon-based, thin-film, and next-generation solar cells.
The national lab’s APP is a sophisticated, multifunctional process line with integrated vacuum processing, materials analysis, and inkjet and spray stations housed within atmospherically controlled chambers. Its purpose is to facilitate NREL research into the materials and processes required to reduce the manufacturing costs of solar-cell technology.
“Inkjet printing is an attractive, viable alternative to many existing deposition approaches and has the potential to produce high-quality solar cells at reduced cost,” said NREL scientist Maikel van Hest. “After a global competition, we selected iTi Solar’s inkjet and sprayer systems.”
Ross Mills, chairman/founder/CTO of parent company iTi Corp. said that he believes “inkjet technologies combined with flexible, thin-film substrates hold the greatest promise for significantly reducing solar cell manufacturing costs and accelerating the use of solar energy. Substantial inkjet knowledge and expertise is crucial to successfully incorporate inkjet processes into production lines.
“With extensive experience and patented inkjet technologies, iTi is leveraging its proven leadership in mastering the intricacies of inkjet to deliver reliable, cost-effective manufacturing solutions to the solar industry.”