Promising Sustainability in Solar Manufacturing

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Promising Sustainability in Solar Manufacturing

To find success as a clean energy source, photovoltaics need to not only be cheaper, but the manufacturing technologies need to be more sustainable. A PV Group session at Intersolar North America will explore the promise of sustainable PV manufacturing.

by Aaron Hand

June 3, 2010 – For the solar industry to truly succeed, it needs to be able to produce energy at a price competitive with traditional fuel sources. But there is also an appeal to photovoltaics as a clean, sustainable form of energy that will leave our planet in better shape for future generations. To live up to its clean and green image, however, PV manufacturing needs to be more sustainable, and companies throughout the supply chain need to understand the environmental ramifications of the methods and materials used.

This year’s Intersolar North America exhibition will tackle the subject of sustainable PV manufacturing with a session Thursday morning organized by SEMI’s PV Group. Headed by Sanjay Baliga, senior manager of SEMI’s EHS division, the session will feature a variety of perspectives from thin-film and crystalline silicon PV manufacturers, including First Solar and SolarWorld, plus supplier perspectives from Applied Materials and Sixtron.

Jon Guice, managing director of research at AltaTerra Research (Palo Alto, Calif.), will kick off the discussion with a look at green markets. AltaTerra is a research consultancy that focuses on sustainable business and commercial marketplace for cleantech solutions. In a recent blog, Guice looked past the Earth Day hype at the kinds of day-to-day work being done to respond to environmental issues in the corporate world. He pointed to a global transformation in business and growing corporate sustainability.

“Green is not a fad,” he writes. “New requirements for environmentally preferable products and services are driven by fundamental, transformational forces in the global marketplace, including rising standards of living, resource costs and supply limitations, global energy, climate, environmental regulations, stakeholder pressures, competition, and rising customer expectations.” Guice also points out the need for innovation and differentiation to improve resource efficiencies and environmental performance.

Bates Marshall, vice president of sales and marketing at Sixtron Advanced Materials (Dorval, Canada), will talk about how materials innovation can improve efficiency and sustainability for c-Si PV devices. Sixtron has developed an antireflective coating that eliminates the need for silane, a pyrophoric gas that is hazardous and expensive to deal with.

On top of the safety and economic benefits of eliminating silane, Sixtron has found that efficiency actually improves with its silicon carbon nitride material through the significant reduction of light-induced degradation (LID). “Because the economics of the industry are literally based on people paying for energy generation, everything that we give back goes straight to the bottom line of the cell manufacturers,” Bates said in an earlier interview.

First Solar (Tempe, Ariz.), the world’s leading thin-film PV manufacturer, is well known for the recycling of its CdTe solar panels. First Solar’s pre-funded module collection and recycling program is designed to maximize the recovery of valuable materials for use in new products and minimize the environmental impact of PV production. First Solar is able to recycle about 90% of each collected module. Lisa Krueger, vice president of sustainable development for the company, will give a presentation titled, “Creating Sustainable Energy Solutions.”

Ben Santarris, public affairs manager, will give a c-Si perspective from SolarWorld USA (Hillsboro, Ore.), which recently was recognized by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition for performing best among c-Si solar module manufacturers on environmental and social responsibilities. SolarWorld launched the first conventional PV recycling plant in 2003, and has earned high marks in global sustainability reporting, according to the company.

Thin-film PV manufacturer First Solar has a collection and recycling program in place that is able to recycle _90% of each collected module. (Source: First Solar)


SolarWorld’s COO Boris Klebensberger noted the importance of sustainability in PV manufacturing when the producer’s top score was announced in March. “The interests of sustainability must define the solar industry,” he said. “It is not enough to drive technology for more sustainable energy production. The industry also must develop along a wholly sustainable course.”

Learn more about PV sustainability when PV Group presents “Delivering on the Promise of Sustainable PV Manufacturing” Thursday, July 15, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Intercontinental Hotel San Francisco.