Eco Innovation

ZSW and First Solar thin film photovoltaics research partnership

18th April 2024
Sheryl Miles

Stuttgart-based Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) and First Solar has announced a strategic research partnership focused on advancing thin film photovoltaics (PV).

The partnership will not only focus on performance, but also on the potential to develop and optimise all-thin-film tandem technologies on a gigawatt scale.

ZSW is a research institute with over 30 years of experience and knowledge in the field of thin film photovoltaics. Since its foundation, the main objective has been on materials development and processes for technology transfer to production. This has been pursued for decades for the CIGS thin-film technology developed by ZSW researchers. Since more than 10 years their process development is advancing additionally in the rapidly evolving field of perovskite photovoltaics, with a focus on scaling robust processes on both rigid and flexible substrates.

First Solar is an American solar technology company and global provider of responsibly produced eco-efficient solar modules advancing the fight against climate change. Developed at R&D labs in California and Ohio, the company’s advanced thin film photovoltaic (PV) modules represent the next generation of solar technologies, providing a competitive, high-performance, lower-carbon alternative to conventional crystalline silicon PV panels.

In 2023, First Solar further strengthened its global leadership in thin film PV by acquiring Evolar AB, a European specialist in perovskite technology. Evolar’s laboratory in Uppsala, Sweden, has since become First Solar’s European Technology Centre, with approximately 30 of Evolar’s R&D staff transitioning to First Solar, working in close collaboration with the company’s team of about 60 scientists at its advanced research technology centre in Santa Clara, California, and the development teams in Perrysburg, Ohio.

Tandem solar cells are widely recognised as the next generation of photovoltaics. This is due to better usage of the solar spectrum by splitting the absorption of the sunlight in a top and a bottom cell. Furthermore, as every tandem contains at least one layer of thin film solar cells, the development of thin films is of utmost importance to the next generation of solar technologies.

Additionally thin film PV production allows for reduced supply chain challenges in parallel to optimized CO2 footprints, both of which have gained increased attention over the last years. From the material perspective, compound semiconductors are ideally suited for tandems as the bandgap can be tuned by composition engineering to match the spectral needs of top and bottom cells in tandems.

Other potential areas of research include the optical adaption of the stacked cells and the specialised characterisation techniques. The overall goal of this research partnership is to explore opportunities to make thin film modules more efficient by a better use of the solar spectrum.

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