Dublin solar firm ships first manufacturing unit to Germany

13 Dec 2012

Nines Photovoltaics, a Dublin firm that makes manufacturing equipment to manufacture solar cell technology, has shipped its first industrial silicon wafer processing tool to Fraunhofer ISE Germany – the largest solar energy research unit in Europe.

The unit will be installed and validated in a production environment at the prestigious Fraunhofer Institute.

The shipment of this automated tool is a big step toward commercialisation and represents a major milestone for Nines Photovoltaics, moving the technology away from the lab and closer to production.

Earlier this year, Nines closed a €750,000 funding round led by Irish clean-tech investor Simple.ie.

Fraunhofer ISE operates at the cutting edge of innovative solar technology and is one of only two places in the world that can certify solar cell efficiencies. It will provide an ideal platform to benchmark Nines Photovoltaics’ process against state-of-the-art solar-cell production, and promote the technology to solar-cell manufacturers worldwide.

The Nines tool is used to etch away layers of silicon from a crystalline silicon wafer to facilitate the creation of a solar cell (in conjunction with a number of other process steps). This etching is currently done using a wet based chemical process.

Solar technology pioneer

Nines has pioneered the use of a novel high throughput atmospheric pressure dry etching technology and is the first company to offer a processing solution, which uses a fully dry process using only Zero Global Warming Potential chemicals.

In addition to the cost savings and efficiency increase, the transition to dry etching will dramatically lower cell manufacturers’ water consumption, enabling investment in the further scaling of their manufacturing facilities.

“These are very exciting times; our tool is now installed in a world-renowned pilot production line at the cutting edge of solar technology,” Nines’ CEO Edward Duffy said.

“This is a major step for Nines as we unveil our technology to the world at a time when the need for lower-cost manufacturing solutions has never been greater and when the world is quietly waking up to the potential of solar PV.”

The company has been working with the Fraunhofer Group since 2010 to develop this new atmospheric pressure dry etch technology – the first Nines tool having been developed with Fraunhofer in August 2011.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years