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Thin-film copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS) claims new world record for solar cell efficiency

EMPA Swiss Federal Laboratories For Materials Science And Technology) : 25 January, 2013  (Technical Article)
For years, scientists and engineers have tried to develop a way to make solar electricity effective and affordable on a large scale. These new thin film solar cells may a step in the right direction for doing just that. Scientists based at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, have set a new efficiency record for thin-film copper indium gallium (di)selenide (or CIGS) based solar cells on flexible polymer foils, reaching an efficiency of 20.4%. This is an increase from a previous record of 18.7% set by the team back in 2011.

Flexible thin film solar cells boast the advantages of both increased flexibility, and a more cost-effective roll-to-roll manufacturing process, when compared to more widespread crystalline silicon-based solar cells. However, they are typically considered relatively inefficient.

The scientists, led by Ayodhya N Tiwari at Empa's Laboratory for Thin Film and Photovoltaics, cite the breakthrough as a key step to making CIGS-based thin film solar cells more practicable for future widespread use.

“We have now - finally - managed to close the ‘efficiency gap’ to solar cells based on polycrystalline silicon wafers or CIGS thin film cells on glass,” said Tiwari.

The efficiency of Empa's flexible polymer foil-based thin solar cells bests the record of 20.3% efficiency for CIGS solar cells on glass substrates, and also equals that of the most efficient polycrystalline silicon wafer-based solar cells.

Since thin film is both lightweight and flexible, it could be used for numerous applications such as solar farms, roofs, facades of buildings, cars, and portable electronics. The next step is to scale-up the technology to be suitable for large scale, roll-to-roll manufacturing, and Empa is collaborating with a start-up company named Flisom to help bring this about.

The research is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI), the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) and the EU Framework Programs.

The team that created the new technology modified the properties of the CIGS layer, grown at low temperatures. The layer absorbs light and contributes to the photo-current in solar cells. Although in previous versions the cells were not as effective at converting sunlight into electricity, this new version is a huge leap forward in solar energy. 

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