High Efficiency CuInSe2 Photovoltaic Modules Deposited at Low Temperature by High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering (HIPIMS)

Lead Research Organisation: Sheffield Hallam University
Department Name: Faculty of Arts Computing Eng and Sci

Abstract

To be sustainable, energy in our homes and transport needs to be supplied from an inexhaustible source which does not pollute the environment. One such source has been present in our lives since before the formation of planet Earth and will continue to exist for hundreds of thousands of years - it is, of course, the Sun. The light from the sun can be used to make electricity with a solar cell. Every roof top and wall which is lit by the sun can be covered with solar panels and potentially used to make energy. Industry often makes solar cells by taking an everyday material such as glass and coating it with thin layers of semiconductor materials (called absorbers) which absorb light and convert it to electricity.

Our research aim is to invent a brand new method for producing solar cell coatings and improve our understanding of the layers. The new method will make solar cells more affordable by using less raw materials and less power during manufacture. It will be applicable to semiconductor materials of today and the future.

The new method is based on a technology called HIPIMS (which stands for High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering) and is a very recent addition to a family of "plasma" techniques, in which the coating is produced by bombarding the surface you want to coat with carefully prepared atoms and ions. HIPIMS was first discovered in 1995, and pioneering work in our group and elsewhere has already shown that it produces an excellent plasma, with a combination of ion properties which should produce highly efficient solar cells. Our group was the first to use HIPIMS to make solar cells and our early trials do indeed turn out to be very promising.

Because it is so new, there are a number of key features of making solar cells by HIPIMS which we do not yet understand. HIPIMS produces a great range of unique and unusual plasmas which create different structures of layers. We are planning to focus our efforts on understanding the link between plasma, structure of the layer and its efficiency in converting light to electricity. Answering these questions would be of interest to scientists who study plasmas, and would help technologists to learn how to apply HIPIMS to create new, better coatings.

In the research we will measure properties of HIPIMS plasmas to understand how the composition of the plasma can be changed. We will do this by extracting particles from the plasma and carefully analysing their mass and energy. We will also make coatings using HIPIMS and measure their properties (for example how efficient they are) and examine them under electron microscopes to help our understanding of how the properties relate to the microscopic structure produced by the HIPIMS plasma. In the final stages we will produce large cells in machines used in industry to demonstrate the usefulness of the process not only in science but in business as well.

Our experience and understanding should help industrialists to develop manufacturing processes which can generate new, better solar cells. In a few years our houses, cars and mobile phones may all be powered by solar cells developed using HIPIMS!

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries of the project results are manufacturers within the photovoltaic sector. In particular they include manufacturers of machines for production of thin film solar cells and manufacturers of the thin film modules themselves.

Photovoltaic development roadmaps in EU, Japan and USA have all set efficiency targets of 25% for CIGS-based modules compared to today's ~13% in production. It is unlikely that these targets will be met solely by improvement of existing technologies. New production techniques are required to widen the range of available manufacturing parameters and make full scale modules with conversion efficiencies approaching those achieved on lab scale.

The project will develop a new technology for manufacturing of CIGS-based photovoltaic modules with high efficiency and at low temperature. The technology has a high flexibility in the types of layer structures it can produce. Early upscaling trials have been successful. As such it holds a promise of closing the gap between research and industrial production.

The new technology will allow manufacturers to remain competitive in the fast growing photovoltaics market by reaching high module efficiencies. The proposed technology will reduce production energy requirements and manufacturing costs due to its low process temperature. It will reduce usage of raw material due to its high efficiency of material utilisation.

The project outcomes will contribute to environmental sustainability as they directly address the issue of fully clean energy production.

The technology will be of interest to industry due to its potential to lower cost by increasing productivity and raising material utilisation efficiency. It also offers lower process temperatures, which could enable to combine CIS with other types of cells to produce multiple bandgaps and higher efficiency.

The project will provide opportunities for commercialisation of new technology, exploitation of accumulated scientific knowledge and create new processes and products on the market. The new technology has a high potential for commercialisation. New products would be introduced by machine-building companies such as VAAT, who would be able to design new machines or retrofit the technology in existing machines. New process monitoring strategies will be developed allowing companies such as Gencoa to introduce new products based on this. New processes may be introduced by suppliers to the solar module industry such as Pilkington who will be able to offer lower price products on account of reduced manufacturing costs - including less energy and raw material consumption. New sputtering targets may be developed and introduced to market by suppliers such as GfE to support the implementation of the new technology. Specifications for new analytical instrumentation such as the plasma sampling mass spectrometer built by Hiden Analytical to study and monitor deposition processes will become clear during the research.

The economic impact of the project will foster performance and competitiveness of companies in UK and Europe. Solar energy is recognised as one of the most probable candidates to alleviating energy shortage and dependency. Government policies across Europe and developed countries push for increased solar capacity. In this climate, the photovoltaics manufacturing business is growing at a fast pace and is extremely competitive. Industry in UK and Europe has recognised that it requires new technology to stay competitive. This proposal aims to answer this need by developing an industrially viable new technology for the production of photovoltaic cells.

The project outcomes will contribute to environmental sustainability as they directly address the issue of fully clean energy production by solar cells and a green production of the photovoltaics themselves.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We have developed a new process for the production of photovoltaic solar cells. We are in the process of assessing the highest efficiency that can be achieved for the new cells. We have developed a new process for the production of back contacts for thin film solar cells. We are also planning possible routes to industrialisation of the process by increasing the size of the cell to achieve higher electrical power output. A thin film zone diagram for highly ionised processes to explain the coating growth and its relation to plasma growth parameters has been worked out and applied to a number of different materials outside the original scope of the program, for example on polymer web, polymer mesh and metallic foil.
Exploitation Route The new technology might be implemented by manufacturers of solar modules to lower production costs. Findings on film growth from this research have resulted in commercialisation in other fields.
Sectors Electronics,Energy

 
Description The findings have been used to develop new technology for commercial exploitation of metal films on polymer substrates in collaboration with a company in Japan. It has led to new research funding from industry to develop technology for anti-bacterial and fuel cell applications.
Sector Electronics,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

 
Description Development of Coatings for Orthpaedic Implants - three studentships
Amount £150,000 (GBP)
Organisation Zimmer Biomet 
Sector Private
Country Unknown
Start 09/2011 
End 09/2021
 
Description Development of HIPIMS Coatings
Amount £90,000 (GBP)
Organisation Hauzer Techno-Coating B.V. 
Sector Private
Country Netherlands
Start 01/2019 
End 01/2020
 
Description Development of HIPIMS Coatings for Cutting Tools - 2 studentships
Amount £150,000 (GBP)
Organisation Sandvik Coromant 
Sector Private
Country Global
Start 09/2013 
End 09/2016
 
Description Development of HIPIMS Coatings on Polymers and Foils for Flexible Electronics
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation OIKE & Co., Ltd 
Start 10/2016 
 
Description POEMA (Production of Coatings for New Efficient and Clean Coal Power Plant Materials)
Amount € 3,399,636 (EUR)
Funding ID FP7-NMP 310436 
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2013 
End 12/2016
 
Description PVD Cluster Tool - Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF)
Amount £800,000 (GBP)
Organisation Sheffield Hallam University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2015 
End 03/2016
 
Description PVD Coatings on Friction Stir Welding Tools - StirCoat
Amount £94,712 (GBP)
Funding ID 132366 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 10/2017
 
Description Real-time monitoring and control of magnetron sputter deposition of thin coatings - Monaco
Amount £94,057 (GBP)
Funding ID 132890 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 11/2018
 
Description Deposition of Sensor Materials 
Organisation Jean Lamour Institute
Country France 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Sheffield Hallam University contributed know-how on the usage of HIPIMS and sputtering technology for the deposition of metal nitride thin films.
Collaborator Contribution The Institute Jean Lamour provided research facilities to carry out plasma deposition and film characterisation of new sensor materials over a one month period.
Impact no outcomes yet
Start Year 2017
 
Description Fraunhofer IST 
Organisation Fraunhofer Society
Department Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Our team developed a deposition technology for CIGS-based solar cells. We developed technology to produce the back-contact Mo layer and the absorber layer.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners helped us to develop the process technology to meet industrial standards and will help us to upscale the process to larger substrate sizes.
Impact We have obtained an EPSRC grant to develop the coating technology.
Start Year 2012
 
Description National HIPIMS Technology Centre - UK 
Organisation Gencoa
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution I am the director of the Centre and guide the scientific direction and delivery of projects to industry.
Collaborator Contribution The partners are international industrial partners who engage with research in HIPIMS Technology.
Impact Industrial projects with Rolls Royce, Zimmer-Biomet, Ionbond, Hauzer TechnoCoating, Oike, Evince Technology and many others.
Start Year 2016
 
Description National HIPIMS Technology Centre - UK 
Organisation Hiden Analytical Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution I am the director of the Centre and guide the scientific direction and delivery of projects to industry.
Collaborator Contribution The partners are international industrial partners who engage with research in HIPIMS Technology.
Impact Industrial projects with Rolls Royce, Zimmer-Biomet, Ionbond, Hauzer TechnoCoating, Oike, Evince Technology and many others.
Start Year 2016
 
Description National HIPIMS Technology Centre - UK 
Organisation IonBond Netherlands B.V.
Country Netherlands 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution I am the director of the Centre and guide the scientific direction and delivery of projects to industry.
Collaborator Contribution The partners are international industrial partners who engage with research in HIPIMS Technology.
Impact Industrial projects with Rolls Royce, Zimmer-Biomet, Ionbond, Hauzer TechnoCoating, Oike, Evince Technology and many others.
Start Year 2016
 
Description National HIPIMS Technology Centre - UK 
Organisation Mi-Net Technology Ltd
PI Contribution I am the director of the Centre and guide the scientific direction and delivery of projects to industry.
Collaborator Contribution The partners are international industrial partners who engage with research in HIPIMS Technology.
Impact Industrial projects with Rolls Royce, Zimmer-Biomet, Ionbond, Hauzer TechnoCoating, Oike, Evince Technology and many others.
Start Year 2016
 
Description National HIPIMS Technology Centre - UK 
Organisation Rolls Royce Group Plc
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution I am the director of the Centre and guide the scientific direction and delivery of projects to industry.
Collaborator Contribution The partners are international industrial partners who engage with research in HIPIMS Technology.
Impact Industrial projects with Rolls Royce, Zimmer-Biomet, Ionbond, Hauzer TechnoCoating, Oike, Evince Technology and many others.
Start Year 2016
 
Description National HIPIMS Technology Centre - UK 
Organisation Sandvik Coromant
Country Global 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution I am the director of the Centre and guide the scientific direction and delivery of projects to industry.
Collaborator Contribution The partners are international industrial partners who engage with research in HIPIMS Technology.
Impact Industrial projects with Rolls Royce, Zimmer-Biomet, Ionbond, Hauzer TechnoCoating, Oike, Evince Technology and many others.
Start Year 2016
 
Description National HIPIMS Technology Centre - UK 
Organisation Trumpf
Country Germany 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution I am the director of the Centre and guide the scientific direction and delivery of projects to industry.
Collaborator Contribution The partners are international industrial partners who engage with research in HIPIMS Technology.
Impact Industrial projects with Rolls Royce, Zimmer-Biomet, Ionbond, Hauzer TechnoCoating, Oike, Evince Technology and many others.
Start Year 2016
 
Description National HIPIMS Technology Centre - UK 
Organisation Zimmer Biomet
Country Unknown 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution I am the director of the Centre and guide the scientific direction and delivery of projects to industry.
Collaborator Contribution The partners are international industrial partners who engage with research in HIPIMS Technology.
Impact Industrial projects with Rolls Royce, Zimmer-Biomet, Ionbond, Hauzer TechnoCoating, Oike, Evince Technology and many others.
Start Year 2016
 
Title COATING AND METHOD FOR ITS DEPOSITION TO OPERATE IN BOUNDARY LUBRICATION CONDITIONS AND AT ELEVATED TEMPERATURES 
Description A metal doped carbon coating wherein the Me- doped C coating is for operation in boundary lubrication conditions, in which the metal is present in the coating in an amount of from 5 to 20% by atomic percent, i.e. the ratio of the number of atoms of the metal Me to the number of atoms of the carbon C does not exceed 1:4. The coating is made by pre-treating a workpiece surface by simultaneous bombardment of the surface with accelerated ions of W, Mo and C ions generated by a HIPIMS discharge in a treatment chamber. This is followed by deposition of a transition layer of metal and/or metal nitride of a thickness in the range from 20nm-1000nm thick by magnetron sputtering optionally in the form of or including HIPIMS sputtering, the metal being at least one of W and Mo. Thereafter a main layer the main layer of Me- doped C coating is deposited by HIPIMS sputtering. 
IP Reference EP2963145 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2016
Licensed Commercial In Confidence
Impact Technology is in the process of being implemented in production processes
 
Title METHOD FOR PRE-TREATING A SURFACE FOR COATING 
Description A method for pre-treating a substrate for surface coating includes subjecting the substrate to metal ions and noble gas ions selected from the group of argon-ions, krypton-ions, neon-ions, xenon-ions and helium-ions in a vacuum chamber and applying a negative electrical potential on the substrate. The substrate is pre-treated in at least two steps that are performed subsequently in the vacuum chamber. The first step includes providing a plasma of predominantly noble gas ions selected from the group of argon-ions, krypton-ions, neon-ions, xenon-ions and helium-ions in the vacuum chamber, and applying a first negative electrical potential on the substrate. The second step includes providing a plasma of predominantly metal ions in the vacuum chamber, and applying a second negative electrical potential on the substrate, wherein the first electrical potential is lower than the second electrical potential, and wherein the magnitude of the first negative potential is 100-1500 V. 
IP Reference US2018334739 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2018
Licensed Yes
Impact Technology has been incorporated into industrial research program with view to implement into production processes