19 December 2012

Chinese sustain solar-cell research in Uppsala

Solibro, the solar-cell company with roots in Mistra-funded research, was taken over by Chinese owners earlier this autumn. This means new investments and the continuation of the research department in Uppsala.

After a period of financial difficulties it became clear, in spring 2012, that the German manufacturer Q-Cells — once the world’s biggest producer of solar cells — had gone bankrupt. Uncertainty prevailed as to what would happen to its subsidiary Solibro. Already in June, however, the Chinese Hanergy enterprise signed a purchase contract. Hanergy took over Solibro’s two production units in Germany, with their combined workforce of 400, and the Uppsala research unit with its 32 employees. The deal was fully implemented by the end of September.

Solibro’s research manager Lars Stolt says: ‘This safeguards our business for the future, and further strengthens our position. The deal spells new investment in Uppsala and also some recruitment.’

Heavy investments to boost solar power

Hanergy is a privately owned Chinese energy company with high-flying plans, including an express target of investing USD 15 billion in solar power over the next ten years. Buying Solibro makes Hanergy the world’s biggest producer of ‘thin-film’ solar cells, a technology that competes with conventional silicon solar panels. In the near future at least one new production unit, based on Solibro’s technology, is to be built in China.

‘Various locations in China are being discussed. The factory will presumably be located where Hanergy finds the best local support for building an electric power plant with solar panels,’ says Stolt.

Solibro, which originated in the Mistra-funded Ångström Solar Centre programme, was founded in 2000. The original investments came from Sweden and Norway. Difficulties in getting Swedish investors to put up the funds required for industrial production to start resulted in the German Q-cells buying a majority stake in Solibro in 2006. The Sixth Swedish National Pension Fund was the only remaining Swedish stakeholder — until 2009, when Q-Cells took over the whole company.

Research to improve technology

Lars Stolt expects Solibro’s research now to remain in Sweden for the foreseeable future.

‘The Uppsala unit’s going to be a key network for Hanergy in building relationships in Europe. And as long as we deliver viable results, I’m sure they’ll want to keep us.’

The research is proceeding and it includes efforts to achieve ever greater efficiency. Today, Solibro’s solar-cell modules in production have a 12–13% efficiency rating. In a lab environment, the Uppsala researchers have attained 17% efficiency — a level Lars Stolt expects to achieve on an industrial scale as well within a few years.

‘There’s a whole lot going on in Uppsala, and we’ve far from exhausted the potential of this technology,’ Stolt asserts.

Text: Henrik Lundström, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

Growing market for CIGS solar cells

Solibro is developing a type of thin-film solar cell known as ‘CIGS’ (an acronym from the elements copper, indium, gallium and selenium, the components of the semiconductor material used). In 2010, Solibro became the world’s first producer of CIGS solar cells with 75 MW solar-cell modules.

CIGS solar cells still make up only a tiny proportion of the total solar-cell market, which is still dominated by silicon solar cells. In 2011, however, CIGS solar cells rose from 1.6% to 2.4% as a share of the global solar-cell market.

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