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US firm shows emerging copper pastes will slash PV costs

Lux Research reveals copper technologies could cut solar production costs by 50 per cent

Metallisation tech, such as copper pastes, could half PV production costs
Metallisation tech, such as copper pastes, could half PV production costs

A US research firm has shown how emerging copper technologies for PV will cut production costs. Lux Research has found that innovation in PV metallisation technology, such as copper pastes, could lower costs by up to 50 per cent and improve yields.

Copper metallisation, nickel phosphate and non-contact printing techniques are the way forward, according to Lux Research’s report “Key Issues and Innovations in Photovoltaic Metallisation”. The technologies described in the report could be of particular interest to China’s growing solar industry.

Fatima Toor, Lux Research analyst and the lead author of the report, said: “China is a key a player in the PV manufacturing industry so certainly China will play a role in adopting any new technologies that reduce production costs. 

“Tomorrow’s PV winners will be those companies that can reduce their production costs in USD per watt and maintain sustainable profit margins. Metallisation is a key materials driven driver for higher efficiencies, reduced production costs and improved yields.”

Lux explains that the “drive to reduce silver use is inevitable”, as its price has risen six-fold over the last ten years. The report identifies copper pastes as the most promising replacement given copper’s abundance and wide use in industry. However, copper pastes need further development because they lag in cell performance and long term durability. 

There is already much interest in developing copper technologies. US firm Sun Power already uses copper for back metallisation and several companies, including Total and Bosch, are developing front metallisation technology. Lux highlights the work of Napa and Japan’s AIST as particularly promising for copper developments, and estimates it will take two to three years for copper pastes to be introduced at production scale.

Lux’s report also indicated that nickel phosphate could significantly improve yields when adopted for metallisation in cadmium telluride (CdTe) modules. Lux expects nickel phosphide technology to be introduced on production scale in around five years.