Posted: 16 Jun 2012 09:06 AM PDT
Photo courtesy: Manz AG
LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) panel manufacturers could be the driving force in reducing thin-film solar panel production costs, according to solar PV and clean technology developer Manz AG.
Leading LCD panel manufacturers, such as South Korea?s LG, Samsung Electronics and Taiwan?s Foxconn Technology Co. can produce thin-film solar PV modules at about $0.30 per Watt or less by converting their glass-manufacturing production lines to produce thin-film modules, Manz AG CEO Dieter Manz told Bloomberg News. That would be a precipitous cost reduction of around 60%, given that market leader First Solar manufactures thin-film solar modules at less than $0.75 per Watt.
LCD panel manufacturers that ?can introduce thin-film technology to their glass-manufacturing may convert factories to produce thin-film solar panels when demand more than triples for electricity produced from sunlight,? he was reported to have said.
Powerful Interests Gather Round Thin-Film Solar Manufacturing
The Chinese government in May singled out and set thin-film solar PV manufacturing cost and production targets in its latest Five-Year Plan. According to the new Five-Year Plan, the Chinese government intends to provide some $1.5 trillion in subsidies to achieve targets set out for seven strategic emerging industries, including thin-film solar PV.
Other large, multinationals are also interested in producing thin-film solar modules. Last October, GE announced it would invest as much as $600 million in building a thin-film solar manufacturing plant in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
So is Foxconn, which manufactures iPhones for Apple. Foxconn in December announced it would build a solar PV manufacturing plant in China?s eastern Jiangsu province. In April, Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista told reporters that Foxconn would build solar panels and car batteries at the Acu Port site in Rio de Janeiro state his business group owns.
First Solar?s thin-film solar modules use semiconductors made of cadmium telluride (CdTe), which poses environmental and supply chain risks that manufacturers, including GE and the Chinese government, are looking to avoid by using copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) semiconductors.
LCD Panel Makers Looking to Enter the Thin-Film Solar PV Market
Some 30-GW of solar PV capacity was installed globally in 2011. LCD panel manufacturers will enter the thin-film solar PV market once it reaches around 100 GW a year, according to Manz. ?In three years, more than half the players will be new entrants,? Manz said in an interview in Munich June 13. ?Samsung, LG, Foxconn, all of them will come. For them it was too small before, so they wait for the market to be 100 gigawatts and then they step in.?
Manz has been expanding its thin-film CIGS activities, from its base in the southwestern German State of Baden-Wurttemberg. The Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Wurttemberg (ZSW Stuttgart) completed its first thin-film CIGS production line in 1975. Manz AG acquired neighboring Wurth Solar?s CIGS innovation production line this year and has since gone on to achieve a ?record production size module with a 14.4% conversion efficiency (15.1% on aperture).?
Manz is now offering an integrated, turnkey thin-film CIGS innovation line in the marketplace. Initial orders are anticipated this year, with companies from China, as well as other regions, expressing interest, Manz told Bloomberg.
Posted: 16 Jun 2012 05:56 AM PDT
new hydrogen catalyst takes off like a rocketThe next generation of low cost fuel cells could take your home off the grid and free your car from the gas pump with clean, renewable energy, and researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have brought us one step closer to that future. The team has deployed a biomimicry-based hydrogen production process that combines high speed with high energy efficiency, thanks to a catalyst that ?lights up like a rocket.?
An obstacle for low cost fuel cells
Hydrogen is the most abundant material on the planet, but hydrogen fuel cells are relatively expensive in part because separating hydrogen from water molecules typically involves the use of a pricey platinum catalyst, and partly because it can be an energy-hungry process.
So far, researchers have found ways to make cheaper nickel-based catalysts work more quickly, or use less energy, but not both at the same time.
A fast, efficient hydrogen catalyst from biomimicry
To achieve a catalytic twofer, the PNNL team used a type of natural protein called a hydrogenase as their model. A hydrogenase is an enzyme that plays a role in anaerobic (oxygen-free) digestion. Its key role is to create an energy-storing chemical bond between two hydrogen atoms.
In its initial form, the team?s ?imitation? hydrogenase catalyst could produce hydrogen molecules at a snail?s pace of about 1,000 per second.
It could also produce at the rate of 100,000 per second, but only under energy-intensive conditions.
The breakthrough came when the team dissolved the catalyst in a solution of salts called an ionic liquid. When they slowly added water to the mix, the catalyst began to light up ?like a rocket? according to PNNL chemist John Roberts.
At its best rate, the catalyst cranked out 53,000 molecules of hydrogen per second without a loss of energy efficiency.
Next steps for biomimicry fuel cells
In addition to achieving a better ratio of speed to efficiency, the PNNL team also came away with a better understanding of
how the catalyst interacts with its ionic bath. The team plans to develop those clues into further improvements.
For now, the team will continue to study the catalyst in its dissolvable form, but for real-world applications they will eventually need to bind it to a fixed surface.
Image: Some rights reserved by stevendepolo.
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.