Thanks to the PILATUS project, there will be three pilot lines built in Europe by 2025, covering the entire production cycle of innovative silicon solar panels. Special technologies with contacts on the bottom side will allow solar cells to convert energy with efficiency higher than 26%. In the production of this photovoltaic "Ferrari", the experts also want to minimize its CO2 footprint. In the project, a team from the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences under the leadership of Martin Ledinský will be involved as well.
In 2020, more than 20% of global photovoltaic capacity was installed in Europe but only less than 1% of global solar cell production was produced there. By this year, 1 TWp of photovoltaic systems have (cumulatively) become operational, while it is only about 700 GW in nuclear power plants. In the context of recent geopolitical events, dependence on imports from Asia of about 97% of solar cells, seems to be an energy hazard that may end the European Green Dream.
"The planned pilot line for the production of photovoltaic modules will increase the current total photovoltaic cell production capacity in Europe by 30%," comments Martin Ledinský on the importance of the European project, adding: "The annual production capacity of the pilot operation will reach a minimum of 170 MWp. If the project proves viable, a second phase will follow – a factory with an annual capacity of 3-5 GWp.“
Contacts on the back for higher performance and efficiency
The return of the production of photovoltaic panels back to Europe from China will be assisted by the European grant HORIZONT Europe of EUR 10.5 million. The PILATUS project will use the patented technology of silicon solar cells with contacts on the bottom of photovoltaic cells, which a team of Czech scientists participated in creating. In this case, the illuminated side of the cell is not shaded by any opaque metal contacts. Together with optimum passivation of surface defects, this allows the production of solar cells with an ultimate photovoltaic conversion efficiency of more than 26%.
On the back side of the silicon crystal plate, positive and negative electrodes must be prepared by depositing strips of amorphous silicon only a few nanometres thin. Although this manufacturing option is technically more demanding, it naturally allows light to fall on the underside of the panel and reflect from the surface below the panel, thus increasing the electrical power supplied to the network by up to 15%.
Scientists will create a photovoltaic "Ferrari“
"If we want to be competitive, we have to come up with a new, highly efficient technology that will make photovoltaics affordable and at the same time meet strict environmental requirements. That's why we will use a large part of the energy from Norwegian hydropower plants for this photovoltaic "Ferrari" to minimize its CO2 footprint," explains Martin Ledinský. Before the first line is launched, Czech scientists, representatives of one of the five scientific institutions working on the project, face months of preparation, measurements and optimization.
Under a microscope, the silicon photovoltaic cell looks a bit like a field of the Egyptian pyramids, where all the structures are very dense and oriented in the same way, differing only slightly in size. When it snows on the pyramids of Giza, one can measure how much snow has fallen, but in the photovoltaic cell, the pyramids are 5 microns high and a 10-20 nm thick layer of amorphous silicon is "snowed" on them. In this comparison, roughly 1 cm of snow corresponds, so measuring such thickness is not easy.
The research will help to shorten the check of cell contacts to tenths of a second
In a previous successful EU project NextBase, which optimized the technology for the preparation of these photovoltaic cells, a team from the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences managed to develop a fast and accurate method for measuring the thickness of rear contacts. This method was one of the three fundamental results of the project NextBase. That is why Martin Ledinský's team was invited to further international cooperation in the follow-up project titled PILATUS. The aim is to improve the contact checking technique and reduce the measurement time from the current tens of seconds to less than a single second so that the check can take place in real-time on the production line at the moment when the cell exits the deposition chamber. "The research of the individual characterization steps will take place in the laboratory of the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences and will be verified at the prototype line in Freiburg," summarizes Martin Ledinský.
About PILATUS: The three-year project involves Czech scientists and institutions from Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The Horizon Europe project, supported by EUR 10.5 million, envisages a 30% increase in the production capacity of photovoltaic cells in Europe while reducing the environmental impact by using high-efficiency modules. They will be manufactured with the recycling of the used materials in mind and will meet the strictest European environmental requirements.