First Solar to accelerate American thin film PV innovation with $270M investment
First Solar, Inc. (Tempe, Arizona) plans to invest approximately $270M in a dedicated research and development (R&D) innovation centre in Perrysburg, Ohio. The new facility is believed to be the first of its scale in the United States and is expected to accelerate American leadership in the development and production of advanced thin film photovoltaics (PV).
The new R&D centre will be located near First Solar’s existing Perrysburg manufacturing facility, covering an area of approximately 1.3 million square feet. It will feature a high-tech pilot manufacturing line allowing for the production of full-sized prototypes of thin film and tandem PV modules. Contingent upon permitting and pending approval of various state, regional and local incentives, the facility is expected to be completed in 2024.
“With a record shipment backlog and consistent demand for our modules, we face the twin challenges of optimising existing and planned production capacity to deliver on our commitments, while ensuring that our technology roadmap does not lose momentum,” said Mark Widmar, CEO, First Solar. “This investment allows us to create an R&D sandbox separate from our commercial manufacturing operations, ensuring that we can accelerate innovation without the cost of taking mission-critical tools offline.”
First Solar, which has already invested over $1.5 billion in R&D, currently operates a dual purpose manufacturing line at its Perrysburg facility which handles both commercial production of solar modules and the company’s product development efforts. The line, however, cannot handle both activities simultaneously.
“We expect that this new facility will play a pivotal role in solidifying America’s leadership in the development and responsible production of high performance thin film photovoltaic semiconductors,” said Markus Gloeckler, CTO, First Solar. “This facility will be designed with the future in mind and we expect that it will directly enable the next generation of advanced photovoltaics.”
First Solar is unique among the world’s ten largest solar manufacturers for being the only US-headquartered company and only manufacturer of thin film PV modules. The company’s consistent investment in developing cadmium telluride (CadTel) since 1999 has made the semiconductor the second most common PV technology in the world after crystalline silicon, while safeguarding vital intellectual property related to the semiconductor material and its unique manufacturing processes.
First Solar also recently announced an investment of up to $1.2 billion in scaling production of American-made, responsibly-produced solar modules, expanding the company’s US manufacturing footprint to over 10 gigawatts (GW)DC by 2025.
Designed and developed at its R&D centres in California and Ohio, First Solar’s advanced thin film PV modules are reported to set industry benchmarks for quality, durability, reliability, design, and environmental performance. The modules have the lowest carbon and water footprint of any commercially available PV technology today. Each module features a layer of Cadmium Telluride (CadTel) semiconductor that is only three percent the thickness of a human hair. Additionally, the company continues to optimise the amount of semiconductor material used by enhancing its vapour deposition process through continued investment in R&D focused on more efficient module technology with a thinner semiconductor layer. First Solar also operates an advanced recycling programme that provides closed-loop semiconductor recovery for use in new modules.
Additionally, First Solar’s differentiated thin film semiconductor, integrated manufacturing process and tightly controlled supply chain helps eliminate the risk of exposure to solar supply chains identified by the US Department of Labor’s 2022 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor as being tainted by forced labour. First Solar is the only company among the ten largest solar manufacturers globally to be a member of the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA), the world’s largest industry coalition dedicated to supporting the rights and well-being of workers and communities in the global supply chain. The company is also the first PV manufacturer to have its product included in the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) global registry for sustainable electronics.
In addition to its Ohio manufacturing facilities, First Solar also operates factories in Vietnam and Malaysia, and is building its first new manufacturing facility in India, which is scheduled to begin operations in the second half of 2023. On completion of its expansion plans in the United States and India, the company expects to have over 20 GWDC of annual global manufacturing capacity in 2025.
Caption: First Solar further invests in its R&D capabilities (photo: First Solar, Inc.)