CIGS tech with 16 percent conversion efficiency?

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A world record last week with its copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar cells, boasting more than 16 percent conversion efficiency

Duebendorf, Switzerland-based Flisom’s CEO Anil Sethi released new details that his company accomplished a world record last week with its copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar cells, boasting more than 16 percent conversion efficiency.

It’s one thing to do it in the lab, he told the Cleantech Group yesterday. It’s a completely different story to scale that up and still achieve the same efficiencies. But that’s what it appears the Mumbai-based Tata Group is paying Flisom to do.

Flisom, which stands for flexible and lightweight solar modules, had raised about $1 million to date from private investors. And last month, Tata invested in Flisom, along with a private Swiss investor for an undisclosed amount (see Chevron, P&G pony up for LS9’s $25M round).

The funding is expected to be used to build a €25 million ($37 million) 5 megawatt pilot plant at Flisom’s existing top secret operations in Duebendorf to demonstrate commercialization of its technology. The plant is intended to be scaled over time to have an annual capacity to generate more than 100 MW.

“We don’t get cost efficiencies at 5 MW,” Sethi said.

Tests by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab have shown the potential for 19.9 percent energy conversion efficiency in CIGS, 20.3 for multicrystalline silicon solar cells, and about 16 percent for cadmium-telluride, which thin-film leader First Solar used to reduce manufacturing costs to $0.87 per watt (see Is 5N Plus losing traction with First Solar?).

Flisom’s technology is based on the concepts that led to the world record for light-to-power conversion efficiency of solar cells on plastic, developed at Switzerland’s ETH Zurich, which spun out Flisom in 2005.

With CIGS solar cells, Flisom said it has achieved previous efficiencies exceeding 14 percent on flexible, commercially available polymer foils. The process uses what the company says is low-cost, roll-to-roll manufacturing, although it wasn’t open for media viewing.

“You need to have efficiencies of at least 10 percent,” Sethi said. “This is what will enable it to be cost competitive with nuclear or fossil fuels.”

Flisom plans to raise additional funding in the future to accelerate its production and commercialization.

“We’re always open to having a stronger balance sheet,” said Sethi, without providing specifics on how much the company would be looking to raise.

But it’s not alone in its pursuits. Last month, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Applied Quantum Technology came out of stealth with its CIGS technology that it says can be produced at a fraction of the cost and footprint of today’s dominant solar technologies. The company has a goal of 14 percent efficiency (see Stealthy AQT offers exclusive look at CIGS solar tech).

Sethi said his company, which has more than 10 employees, is planning to initially pursue applications for its technology in the building integrated photovoltaics market. Other long-term applications range from the transportation industry to solar-powered mobile phones, Sethi said.

Its also currently in conversations with potential strategic partners, including undisclosed non-U.S.-based utilities.

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