The Critical Role of Gas and Chemical Suppliers in Thin Film Silicon PV Cell Manufacture


With the installation of solar systems growing at between 30–40 percent per year, photovoltaics is the world’s fastest-growing power generation technology. By the end of 2008 more than 15GW of new solar power was installed worldwide, with around 7GW added in 2009. Despite the recent worldwide financial turmoil, analysts (IMS Research, iSuppli) are forecasting upwards of another 10GW will be added in 2010. 

With rapid expansion of manufacturing capacity has come significant technology development — most notably the development of thin film photovoltaics (PV). Historically, PV cells have been made using silicon wafers with crystalline silicon (Si) technology. In an alternative kind of technology, known as thin film, PV cells are formed by growing the active layers of silicon or other semiconducting materials on lower-cost substrates such as glass or metal foils. This has opened up the prospects of both significant reductions in cost base as well as increases in manufacturing scale. While multiple thin film technologies exist (silicon, cadmium telluride, and CIGS), this article addresses the technology that presents the greatest challenges to the gas supplier — thin film Si.

Thin Film Si Cell Manufacture 

Thin film Si solar cells (or modules) are created by depositing amorphous silicon on a substrate, usually glass, using silane gas. Much of the technology and large-scale turnkey production equipment was developed and proven in the flat panel display industry, and is now used in the manufacture of PV modules in sizes as large as 5.7 square meters, depending on the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) technology used.

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