Joint venture energy company Malibu has taken a huge stride forward in the sustainable solar sector, by opening the first'green' thin film photovoltaic production facility without the use of nitrogen trifluoride (NF3).

Instead, the German plant utilises The Linde Group's on-site generated fluorine (F2) technology and successfully eliminates the use of NF3 in thin-film photovoltaic (PV) module manufacture.

Although widely used in the PV production industry due to its stability, easy-to-handle nature and effective economics at small volumes, NF3 is a greenhouse gas with significant global warming potential.

Used as a chamber cleaning element, consumption ofNF3 has increased dramatically over the past decade, due in part to the emergence of the TFT-LCD industry.

However, Malibu has this week launched the world’s first thin-film solar module factory that completely eliminates the use of NF3 from the manufacturing process.

Working in close collaboration with researchers from Linde Gases, a division of The Linde Group, scientists at Malibu’s development centre in Bielefeld, Germany, have developed an improved cleaning process using on-site generated fluorine (F2).

Made with Linde’s patented technology, the results of using on-site generated F2 are clear - the carbon payback time is reduced by up to one year. This improved process will now be rolled out to Malibu's new 40MW production facility in Osterweddingen, Germany.

Dean O’Connor, Head of Market Development & Technology at Linde Gases Division, explained, “Linde and Malibu have clearly demonstrated their leadership and foresight in helping the thin-film PV industry to reach a watershed moment. Green energy will only be truly green when the entire supply and manufacturing chain works together to minimise environmental impact.”

Only last year, gasworld revealed how Linde's revolutionary on-site F2 technology would be the fast-emerging cleaning gas of the future for the electronics industry.

In October (2008), O'Connor exclusively told gasworld, $quot;The argument for why fluorine is effective from an environmental perspective is very simple: NF3 has a global warming potential of seventeen thousand, fluorine has a global warming potential of zero.”

“For fluorine really, it’s a true engineering design solution because it designs the problem out at its most fundamental level. You can mitigate something with a high global warming potential but if your alternative is a zero global warming potential, it is fundamentally better.”

Now it seems the first major step forward has been taken towards the adoption of NF3-free PV production sites.

Konrad Kaiser, General Manager of Malibu, enthused, “Not only does the F2 cleaning process eliminate a major source of potential greenhouse gas emissions for our thin-film solar panels, it also speeds our processing and uses less material. This improves the overall sustainability of our product by reducing both environmental impact and manufacturing costs.”

In 2008, Linde and Malibu established their Joint Development Programme for the development of advanced material technology to improve cell efficiency, throughput and yield. F2 cleaning is the first of a number of material-based processes to emerge from this successful collaboration.

NF3 and other fluorine compounds, such as sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), are used to clean the process tools that make the important silicon photovoltaic layers in thin-film solar modules.