New Consortium US-MAC aims to Raise CdTe PV Efficiency to 30%

A timely response to the global need for clean energy has come from universities and research centres like Colorado State University (CSU), the Wright Center for Photovoltaics at the University of Toledo, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), as well as US-based commercial solar companies working with Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) thin-film solar panel manufacturing, which have joined forces to form the U.S. Manufacturing of Advanced Cadmium Telluride (US-MAC) photovoltaics consortium. The consortium aims to raise CdTe PV efficiency to 30%.

CdTe PV technology was invented and developed in the U.S., due to which the country houses the intellectual property associated with the semiconductor’s use in PV to a large extent. US-MAC aims to reassert U.S. leadership in the solar technology, and will work to advance foundational science and engineering, stimulate innovation and take advantage of shared resources and expertise. Its goal is to enhance production volume, optimise performance, and to diversify, integrate and support the success of domestic firms.

CdTe or ‘CadTel’ is a next-generation photovoltaic (PV) semiconductor technology which has the potential to keep undergoing improvements in terms of cost and performance. It is made from mining byproducts and powers high-efficiency, energy advantaged and commercially competitive solar modules that offer the lowest carbon footprint of any commercially available PV solar technology available today. Over the past 15 years, solar electricity costs have reduced at least 10 times, partly because of improvements in technology and manufacturing which caused scaling of CdTe PV.

The consortium has a three-member executive board- comprised of CSU, NREL and the University of Toledo- as well as an industrial advisory board- comprised of 5N Plus, Consolidated Research Systems, Direct Solar, First Solar, Lucintech, Nious Technologies, Pilkington North America, Sivananthan Laboratories, Toledo Solar, and Uriel Solar Energy.

Jim Sites, part of the executive committee, is a professor in the CSU Department of Physics and has years long experience in researching the characterisation and performance of solar cells made from cadmium Telluride. He and his close colleague W.S. Sampath, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, are collaborating at CSU to carry out unprecedented research in CdTe technology, which has received federal funding worth millions of dollars. Speaking about the work being done by US-MAC, Dr. Michael Heben, director of the Wright Center for Photovoltaics at UToledo, professor of physics and McMaster endowed chair, said, “The membership believes that CdTe is only at the beginning of its technology maturation curve, with much work still to do. The Secretary of Energy’s recent announcement of a new CdTe Accelerator Program reinforces this belief.”

The planning to establish US-MAC Efforts commenced a little over a year ago, and on March 11, 2021, an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) was fully executed. The industrial advisory board selected solar panel manufacturer First Solar as its representative before the executive board for a first three-year term. For the advancement of US-MAC’s objectives, the executive board, the industrial advisory board and other key points of contact in other organisations will work together, aiming to create an inclusive environment for strengthening American leadership in manufacturing of CdTe PV. In the next few months, Arizona State University, the University of Delaware and the University of Utah, and other companies might come onboard the US-MAC network as it continues to expand.

Martin Keller, director of NREL and president of the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, said, “While already enjoying great success in the marketplace, recent scientific developments make it clear that cadmium telluride has significantly more potential for dramatically higher module efficiency, lower cost, increased lifetime energy, and more rapid production. This is all achievable with the concerted cooperation and investment that will be pursued by US-MAC.” Currently, CdTe solar modules have a 19% commercial module efficiency, which the consortium aims to raise to the highest theoretical efficiency- approximately 30%. It plans to develop advanced tandem and bifacial concepts for even higher performance, and enhance the lifetime of CdTe PV which is already quite good.

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Soumya Duggal

Soumya Duggal

Soumya is a master's degree holder in English, with a passion for writing. It's an interest she has directed towards environmental writing recently, with a special emphasis on the progress being made in renewable energy.