Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $52 million for 19 selected projects, including $10 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to strengthen America’s domestic solar supply chain and $30 million in funding for technologies that will help integrate solar energy into the grid.
The research, development and demonstration projects aim to enhance domestic solar manufacturing, support the recycling of solar panels and develop new American-made solar technologies. Additionally, this significant investment will help promote cheaper, more efficient solar cells and advance cadmium telluride (CdTe) and perovskite solar manufacturing — two technologies vital to diversifying the solar supply chain.
Improving panel recycling through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law
Eight projects to be selected for award negotiations because of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will focus on reducing the cost and increasing the efficiency of panel recycling processes.
As solar deployment increases, the end-of-life of PV components needs to be considered. Although 95% of a PV module is recyclable, the current economics of managing panels at end-of-life are unfavourable to recycling, according to DOE’s recent report.
Modules designed for recycling will increase the percentage of materials that can be recovered during the recycling process and re-sold into the market. Increasing the amount of recovered materials, such as silver and copper, means these materials can contribute to the domestic supply chain.
- Electroninks Incorporated (Austin, TX): This project will explore the use of new metal “inks” for adding conductive metal contacts to solar cells, providing a cheaper method that is compatible with multiple common solar cell technologies, including silicon, CdTe and perovskites. (Award Amount: $750,000)
- Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA): This project aims to replace the silver in solar cell electrical contacts by developing new copper- and aluminum-based metal pastes that can be screen-printed onto silicon solar cells. These new pastes could reduce the cost of adding metal contacts to the cell by 50% and are compatible with common silicon solar cell technologies. (Award Amount: $1.5 million)
- Locusview (Chicago, IL): This project will develop standards for tracing solar modules through the entire supply chain from raw material manufacturing through end-of-life management, with a specific focus on recycling and reusing the materials in the module. (Award Amount: $750,000)
- Solarcycle, Inc. (Oakland, CA): This project aims to recover key materials from end-of-life solar panels with high purity by developing a mechanical method to concentrate the materials, followed by an environmentally friendly chemical process to recover them. (Award Amount: $1.5 million)
University of California Berkeley (Berkeley, CA): This project team will develop materials to selectively remove a variety of metals from solar PV panels for reuse and recycling. (Award Amount: $1.5 million)
- University of California San Diego (La Jolla, CA): This project will develop new materials to layer between the solar cell itself and the packaging layers of the solar module that can be “unzipped” to easily disassemble the module into its component materials for reuse and recycling. (Award Amount: $1 million)
- University of Central Florida (Orlando, FL): This project will develop a new, cheaper, scalable process for adding copper metal electrical contacts in place of silver on silicon solar cells, using a laser to print lines of a copper onto the silicon layer. (Award Amount: $1.5 million)
- University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS): This project will develop a new process to remove the outer layers and separate out the valuable recyclable materials in CdTe solar cells using methods that maximize the quantity and quality of the recovered materials. (Award Amount: $1.3 million)
- DOE has been a leader in CdTe research and launched, in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and First Solar, a research consortium focused on making CdTe cells less expensive and more efficient.
Boosting domestic solar manufacturing
The projects in the Solar Manufacturing Incubator program will accelerate commercialization of innovative product ideas to boost the U.S. solar supply chain.
Two projects, located in Ohio, will leverage $16 million in funding to test and demonstrate solutions for increasing the domestic manufacturing of CdTe PV technologies. The United States is the leader in CdTe technology, the second most common PV technology after silicon. The selected projects are:
- First Solar (Perrysburg, OH): This project will develop a tandem module combining CdTe and silicon carbide — a new residential rooftop product that is more efficient than silicon or thin-film modules on the market today. (Award Amount: $7.3 million)
- Toledo Solar (Perrsyburg, OH): This project will demonstrate the application of semitransparent CdTe solar panels to windows, addressing a new market for thin-film solar devices. (Award Amount: $8.8 million)
In addition, seven projects will de-risk new technologies and manufacturing processes, bringing the solutions to the prototype stage and on the path to commercial success:
- BREK Electronics (Broomfield, CO): This team is developing a new inverter technology based on a silicon carbide transistor and high frequency planar magnetics that can significantly lower the cost and size of grid-tied inverters. (Award Amount: $500,000)
- Guardian Devices (Albuquerque, NM): This team will produce self-extinguishing PV connectors that will prevent fires in PV systems. (Award Amount: $900,000)
- LITESPEED Energy (Livermore, CA): This project will improve floating PV systems, making them more resilient to wind and waves. (Award Amount: $1.6 million)
- Makai Ocean Engineering (Waimanalo, HI): This project aims to de-risk an innovative heat exchange for use in Generation 3 concentrating solar-thermal power systems. (Award Amount: $600,000)
- Mirai Solar (Mountainview, CA): This project will further develop and commercialize a foldable PV solar screen with variable shading and output power for controlled environment greenhouses. (Award Amount: $1.4 million)
- Mission Drives Corp (Potsdam, NY): This team is developing an inverter to switch electricity input 100 times faster than conventional products using silicon carbide and gallium nitride wide bandgap components. (Award Amount: $1.2 million)
- Vitro Flat Glass (Cheswick, PA): This team will improve the power output of CdTe modules through a high-performance superstrate, which is the glass on which a solar module is built. (Award Amount: $1.6 million)