Roadmap: Bifacial solar cells a key focus for Applied Materials

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on email

The dark days for the PV equipment sector are nearing an end after three years of strict capital cash management and reduced R&D spending by cell and module manufacturers, brought on by chronic overcapacity. 

Market demand has caught up with production capacity in 2014, leading to an expected increase in new capacity and renewed focus on next-generation solar cell technology to boost overall module efficiencies in 2015 and beyond. 

Rather than the previously expected technology buy cycle occurring ahead of a new wave of capacity expansions, 2014 will be noted for kick starting both cycles simultaneously that are expected to gain further momentum over the next few years. 

Therefore it did not come as a surprise that once-leading OEM, Applied Materials wanted to catch-up with PV Tech regarding some of its technology developments and recent successes after an absence from such activities primarily since EU PVSEC in late 2013. 

With most the PV equipment suppliers having hunkered down in bunkers for the last few years, Applied Materials is also of the opinion that a recovery is underway. 

According to Jim Mullin, VP, GM Solar Products at Applied Materials, the PV market is expected to remain strong through 2018, driven by 15% or more annual growth rates, while PV manufacturers focus on increasing cell/module efficiencies at 10W per annum or more. 

Mullin noted that Applied Materials spent a lot of time and effort in 2014, discussing with many of the tier-one PV manufacturers about business drivers and their technology roadmaps. 

“One constant we have analysed is that the current [downstream] industry growth pretty much globally has been tied to project development IRRs [investor rate of return], and in most cases the IRR is very attractive and is difficult to get returns better than 12% in any other investment currently,” remarked Mullin. 

Indeed competition coupled to improving market conditions could lead to accelerating efficiency improvements, which would require greater spending on new equipment and faster adoption of new cell architectures such as PERC for P-type multicrystalline. 

However, Applied’s VP believes that other key forces are at play and again being driven by the downstream market on the upstream manufacturers. 

“Higher energy yields are driving the IRRs. Tier-one manufacturers are shifting their technology roadmaps to higher energy yield focus,” added Mullin. “Of course this primarily comes from higher cell efficiencies. The consistent feedback we have been given is that conventional module outputs are rising by around 10W per year and that is likely accelerating.” 

It has become increasingly obvious in 2014 that p-type multicrystalline solar cell producers, which dominate the PV market, are entering around a five-year period of upgrading lines and adding new capacity to migrate to a variety of PERC-based cell architectures as roadmaps push to maximise significant P-type investments. 

However, Applied’s Mullin believes p-type multicrystalline cell efficiency gains are both reaching their limits and as they do they become increasingly impacted by LID (light induced degradation).

“Cells efficiency gains are supporting modules at 260W plus this year but at 270W, this we believe represents the end of road for standard products, with cells peaking at around 18.5% conversion efficiencies. What we are seeing more and more is the shift the mono, notably first with Taiwan and Korean producers.”

Applied is betting that monocrystalline wafers in both p- and n-type configurations are to make a comeback as efficiencies are inherently higher than multicrystalline and are not impacted by LID. Higher carrier mobility lifetimes of mono also will play a part in the shift in wafer choice as well as the monocrystalline wafer producers' efforts over recent years to significantly close the gap on production costs with multicrystalline wafers. 

Indeed, according to Mullin and PV Tech’s own coverage, monocrystalline wafer costs are set for further significant cost reduction over the next three years. In essence an inflection point for monocrystalline wafers is approaching. Mullin said Applied expects monocrystalline wafers to account for over 50% of the market by the end of 2018. Currently, multicrystalline dominates with over 65% of the market. 

Within that expected shift, which contrasts with views of PV market analysts such as Finlay Colville, PV manufacturers will also increasingly switch production to n-type technology as higher efficiencies become the key driver of the industry, driven by LCOE reduction requirements in key end commercial and residential markets. 

Justification for sighting the migration to n-type monocrystalline other than the technical benefits is that the higher efficiency and quality of n-type monocrystalline leads to a price premium, something that will increasingly become important to an otherwise commodity product. 

Applied’s recent successes 

In the wake of the transition to n-type monocrystalline wafer/cells, Mullin cited recent successes the company has had with its Solion ion implant tools, notably its next-generation XP version that was launched at EU PVSEC in 2013. 

According to Mullin, Applied is focusing its Solion XP implanter at n-type monocrystalline bifacial cells, having recently secured an order from Mission Solar as part of its next 100MW line expansion in Texas. Mullin said that Mission Solar has purchased two Solion XP implanters, which also replace the need for diffusion systems in the new turn-key line. 

The largest merchant cell producer, Neo Solar Power (NSP) had also adopted the tool for n-type bifacial cell production, noting that NSP was able to extract a premium price for those cells in the market. 

Applied had also won implant orders for n-type bifacial cell production from a customer in Korea, which will use the Soilon XP implanter in a new 200MW cell expansion, while further orders form Korean PV manufacturers were on the cards. 

Momentum for adopting Applied’s Soilon XP ion implanter in n-type monocrystalline bifacial cells was growing, leading to an expected 500MW of capacity coming online by mid-year 2015, according to Mullin. 

That trend was set to continue with a conservative estimate by Mullin that around 1GW of production would be operational in 2016. 

Supporting claims by Applied that ion implant is gaining traction come from the likes of Yingli Green and rival implanter equipment supplier, Kingstone Semiconductor, a majority-owned subsidiary of Amtech Systems, which had previously developed its IonSolar system. 

In a PV Tech exclusive at the SPI event in Las Vegas late last year, Brian Grenko, VP technology at Yingli Green Energy Americas highlighted at the company’s annual analyst day event that from the beginning in 2014, Yingli Green had incorporated ion implantation into its n-type monocrystalline ‘Panda’ cell architecture. 

The fact that ion implantation is even being considered for volume production applications is a testament to the ongoing of the development work of the tools for PV applications. 

Steve Krause, senior director, Implant Solar Products at Applied Materials ran through with PV Tech the critical developments that have established the Solion XP as a tool for PV cell production. 

This included the tool's unique precision scanning and 2D hard mask capability that enables the XP tool to be future-proof to a number of future advanced cells architectures such as n-PERT n-PERL and HJT and IBC cells all dependent on n-type monocrystalline wafers. 

Krause also reiterated much of the XP’s abilities as that given by Wessley Skinner, global product manager at Applied Materials in a PV Tech video shot during EU PVSEC in 2013. 

However, the confidence of Applied in the XP’s ability has increased since then with Krause highlighting the tools capabilities of enabling advanced process technologies to reach greater than 22% efficiencies with a 50% lower cost per wafer than the initial Solion tool. 

In production environments the ability of providing 3,000WPH throughput coupled with highly accurate dopant depth, dose and placement of Phosphorous and Boron results in improved cell efficiency (greater than 0.6% gain) and yield as well as narrow efficiency binning, creating both a robust manufacturing technology but one that holds an ROI of around one year. 

“The higher throughput for a lower cost per watt is really resonating with customers and is behind the momentum of the tool over the last 20-months,” said Krause. “Crucially the Solion XP has the extendibility to next generation solar cells such as n-type PERL and IBC cells with its patterning capabilities, which extends cell efficiencies to around 23%.”

PV manufacturers that had previously baulked at ion implantation as a mainstream manufacturing technology would seem to be thinking twice as the technology has rapidly matured in recent years. 

Applied Materials Solion XP ion implanter has 3,000wph throughput.
Applied Materials is focused on N-type mono cell architectures going forward.

26 January 2022
Join this free webinar for our analysis of the growth of N-Type technology including; new capacity expansions and production output. We'll also be looking at the global manufacturing footprint with forecasts on how much product will be made outside of China this year and which companies are driving technology change across the crystalline silicon value chain.
23 February 2022
Held annually since 2016, the Energy Storage Summit Europe is the place to be for senior stakeholders in the European storage industry. Designed to accelerate deployment of storage, we examine evolving chemistries, business models, project design, revenue stacks and use cases for storage. The 2022 edition will include exclusive content around longer duration solutions, energy strategies for wide-scale deployment of EVs and "EnTech", the event which sits at the intersection of digitisation, decentralisation and decarbonation of the power system. Come to meet TSOs, DSOs, Utilities, Developers, Investors and Lenders and leave with new contacts, partners and a wealth of information.
7 March 2022
Take your chance to join the most powerful platform in the MENA region. Middle East Energy (MEE), Intersolar, and ees, the leading energy exhibitions are joining hands to co-deliver an outstanding renewables and energy storage event at Middle East Energy 2021. Renewables and energy storage at MEE is the largest gathering of solar and renewable energy industry professionals in the Middle East & Africa, offering the most effective trade focused platform to international manufacturers and distributors looking to meet regional buyers.
8 March 2022
As Solar Finance & Investment enters its ninth year, we sit on the cusp of a new power market with solar at its heart. The 2022 edition of the event will build on our years of expertise and relationships to bring investors and lenders together with top developers. Connect with leaders in the field and use exclusive insights to drive investment and development decisions for the future. Meet new and existing project partners at the largest gathering of European solar investors and lenders.
23 March 2022
When it comes to storage, the US market exceeded a gigawatt of advanced energy storage installations (weighted towards lithium ion) at 1.46 GW, more than the previous six years in total! An exponential growth rate could see the market hit 7.5 GW p.a. by 2025. The summit will provide a wealth of content around this vital piece in the US power puzzle, with sessions dedicated to explore how companies are making money from batteries, the latest chemistries and their applications as they apply to different use-cases. We ask how investors can match ESG criteria to batteries and we will bring case studies of successful deployment and project execution onto the stage to examine how you can ensure your own projects are successful.
29 March 2022
Now in its 10th sell-out year, Large Scale Solar returns to Lisbon in 2022. We are excited to gather together face-to-face with the European solar industry as we provide unique and exclusive access to a powerful selection of the market's key stakeholders. Join this elite summit to find out how the market is maturing, which new markets are becoming more exciting, how technology is evolving and who's driving the market forward into the 2020s. Always senior, packed with developers, EPCs, utilities and investors this is the event for companies serious about European solar PV.

Read Next

January 21, 2022
Toronto-based renewables developer Amp Energy has closed on a US$350 million credit facility to advance on a global portfolio of renewables and battery energy storage assets.
January 21, 2022
India is at risk of a supply and demand mismatch for solar equipment if domestic PV manufacturers are unable to meet the quantity and quality required by project developers, Fitch Solutions has warned.
January 21, 2022
The European Commission has launched a public consultation on solar energy on the continent as it continues preparations to publish its solar strategy later this year.
January 21, 2022
US solar installer SunPower is to be hit by a cracking issue discovered in connectors associated with equipment installed in some commercial and industrial (C&I) projects, resulting in charges of around US$31 million.
PV Tech Premium
January 21, 2022
Greece is on track to accelerate solar deployment in the coming years, with the sector boosted by rising demand for renewable offtake agreements from corporations and clean energy policies from the EU, according to the general manager of Greek industrial group Mytilineos’s renewables business.
January 20, 2022
Mississippi authorities have expanded the state’s net metering programme to improve total compensation rates for solar customers and prioritise the adoption of distributed PV for low- to moderate-income (LMI) households.

Subscribe to Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Webinars
January 26, 2022
Free Webinar
Solar Media Events
February 23, 2022
London, UK
Solar Media Events
March 8, 2022
London, UK
Solar Media Events
March 23, 2022
Austin, Texas, USA
Solar Media Events
March 29, 2022
Lisbon, Portugal