In 2008 Scientific Vacuum Systems Ltd (SVS) and their research collaborator Centre for Renewable Energy and Systems Technology (CREST) @ Loughborough University won a BERR grant worth £706,000 over a five year programme to design and construct a CIGS solar cell pilot production deposition system and use it to develop the CIGS process to a commercial scale using the expertise of the CREST scientists.
The Project Objective was to develop a novel inline production system for high efficiency CIGS solar cell structures, employing the 3 stage process, which yields the highest efficiencies compared to other CIGS processes, but is also the most complex process to scale up.
Currently CIGS solar cells are typically produced using three separate vacuum deposition systems, two for the electrical contacts and one for the CIGS layer. The project aim was to combine the three systems into one – reducing the overall cost of the capital equipment. The system is an inline load-locked design to achieve higher throughput – reducing overall cost per device. The system is able to produce CIGS cell structures on substrates up to 30cm x 30cm (i.e. large) - again resulting in reduced cost devices.
The advantages offered by an inline processing system will provide a considerable technologically competitive advantage over the current CIGS processing equipment. Due to the inline nature of the process a high uniformity multi-aperture effusion cell technology has been incorporated. CIGS is an emerging, and technologically important, solar cell technology offering potentially higher performance at lower cost than competing photovoltaic technologies.
Professor Hari Upadhyaya and his group at CREST have subsequently moved to Brunel University and research is now being conducted in the Quantum 2010 system in a brand new facility dedicated to Photovoltaic research in the newly formed Energy Conversion laboratory within the Wolfsen Centre. Currently the best efficiency recorded in the Quantum 2010 is 12% and it is predicted that 18% efficiency will be reached within the next 12 months.