Solar Frontier hails CZTS advance

Solar Frontier has announced a significant conversion-efficiency breakthrough for a new type of thin-film PV technology, underscoring the Japanese thin-film giant’s ability to play the long game.

Solar Frontier has clocked a 12.6% performance for one of its development-stage CZTS cells – which substitute zinc and tin for indium within Solar Frontier’s bread-and-butter copper, indium, selenide (CIS) cells.

While CIS and CIGS cells hold the most potential for snatching the crown from Cadmium Telluride as the dominant thin-film PV technology in the years ahead, Solar Frontier – the world’s largest CIS player – is already looking beyond that.

Although CZTS is at a much earlier stage of development than CIS, zinc and copper are both inexpensive and abundantly available compared to most other PV inputs – potentially giving CZTS the long-term edge.

Solar Frontier, which joined up with IBM in researching CZTS technology in 2010, believes CZTS offers “evolutionary compatibility” with its CIS technology.

Solar Frontier’s previous CZTS conversion-efficiency record was 11.1%.

“Breaking our previous record at such a fast pace shows the potential of CZTS for mass production in the future, and we are now in a position to drive that efficiency even higher,” claimed Solar Frontier chief technology officer Satoru Kuriyagawa.

Solar Frontier’s CIS modules are currently commercially available at a 13.8% conversion efficiency, with champion cells notching up much higher figures.

Some other companies looking into CZTS went bankrupt or had to abandon their research in recent years due to the PV market downturn, but Solar Frontier – which is partially owned by Saudi Aramco – has pressed on.

Solar Frontier’s latest CZTS conversion-efficiency performance was independently verified by the Newport Corporation, a California-based technology company, and published in the scientific journal Advanced Energy Material.