Laser-based manufacturing can give solar power a boost

by Antonio Pasolini on June 12, 2009

Ten companies and institutes are cooperating in the €6-million joint project called SOLASYS (Next Generation Solar Cell and Module Laser Processing Systems), which is being coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Germany. The project’s initial results will be presented at the coming international trade fair LASER 2009 – World of Photonics, which will be held in Munich from June 15-18, 2009.

According to information released by the consortium, by the middle of the next decade, the price of solar power in Germany will decrease to that of conventionally generated electricity. For this to happen, the manufacturing price of solar cells must be reduced, the cells must be made more efficient, and throughput rates for production must be increased as well. New laser-based manufacturing methods are contributing to reaching those targets. Founded in the fall of 2008 and funded by the European Union, SOLASYS’ overarching goal of is to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of laser applications in photovoltaics, the process of generating electrical power directly from sunlight which is very popular in some European countries mainly because of favorable feed-in tariffs.

Laser has many advantages as a materials processing tool, such as non-contact machining, controlled energy input, high speed and precision. Yet, in the manufacturing of solar cells, lasers are only used sporadically, for instance to isolate the cell’s negative and positive terminals. SOLASYS aims to improve current processes and integrate new methods in industrial production.

The companies and institutes participating in SOLASYS include manufacturers and developers of laser systems (Trumpf Laser GmbH and Laserline GmbH from Germany) and of machines (Manz Automation GmbH from Germany), research institutes (CNRS-LP3 from France and IMEC from Belgium), producers of solar cells and solar modules (BP Solar from Spain, Solland Solar from The Netherlands and Energy Solutions from Bulgaria) and a manufacturer of beam guiding systems (Scanlab AG from Germany). Due to its expertise, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology in Aachen is heading the project.

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