28 October 2022
First Solar investing $270m in R&D innovation center in Perrysburg, Ohio
Cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film photovoltaic (PV) module maker First Solar Inc of Tempe, AZ, USA plans to invest $270m in a dedicated R&D innovation center near its existing manufacturing facility in Perrysburg, Ohio. The new facility is believed to be the first of its scale in the USA.
Covering an area of about 1.3 million square feet, the new R&D center will feature a pilot manufacturing line allowing the production of full-sized prototypes of thin-film and tandem PV modules. Contingent upon permitting and pending approval of various state, regional and local incentives, the facility is expected to be completed in 2024.
“With a record shipment backlog and consistent demand for our modules, we face the twin challenges of optimizing existing and planned production capacity to deliver on our commitments, while ensuring that our technology roadmap does not lose momentum,” notes CEO Mark Widmar. “This investment allows us to create an R&D sandbox separate from our commercial manufacturing operations, ensuring that we can accelerate innovation without the cost of taking mission-critical tools offline.”
First Solar, which has already invested over $1.5bn in R&D, currently operates a dual purpose manufacturing line in Perrysburg that handles both commercial production of solar modules and product development efforts. However, the line cannot handle both activities simultaneously.
“This new facility will play a pivotal role in solidifying America’s leadership in the development and responsible production of high-performance thin-film photovoltaic semiconductors,” believes chief technology officer Markus Gloeckler. “This facility will be designed with the future in mind, and we expect that it will directly enable the next generation of advanced photovoltaics.”
First Solar is unique among the world’s ten largest solar manufacturers for being the only US-headquartered company and only manufacturer of thin-film PV modules. The firm says that its investment in developing cadmium telluride since 1999 has made the semiconductor the second most common PV technology in the world after crystalline silicon, while safeguarding vital intellectual property related to the semiconductor material and its unique manufacturing processes.
First Solar also recently announced an investment of up to $1.2bn in scaling production of American-made, responsibly-produced solar modules, expanding the company’s US manufacturing footprint to over 10GWDC by 2025.
Designed and developed at its R&D centers in California and Ohio, First Solar’s thin-film PV modules are claimed to set industry benchmarks for quality, durability, reliability, design and environmental performance, with the lowest carbon and water footprint of any commercially available PV technology. Also, the firm continues to optimize the amount of semiconductor material used by enhancing its vapor deposition process through continued investment in R&D focused on more efficient module technology with a thinner semiconductor layer. First Solar also operates a recycling program that provides closed-loop semiconductor recovery for use in new modules.
Additionally, First Solar says that its thin-film semiconductor, integrated manufacturing process and tightly controlled supply chain help to eliminate the risk of exposure to solar supply chains identified by the US Department of Labor’s 2022 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor as being tainted by forced labor. First Solar is the only company among the ten largest solar manufacturers globally to be a member of the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA), the world’s largest industry coalition dedicated to supporting the rights and well-being of workers and communities in the global supply chain. The company is also the first PV manufacturer to have its product included in the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) global registry for sustainable electronics.
In addition to its Ohio manufacturing facilities, First Solar also operates factories in Vietnam and Malaysia, and is building its first new manufacturing facility in India (to begin operation in second-half 2023). On completion of its expansion plans in the USA and India, the firm expects to have over 20GWDC of annual global manufacturing capacity in 2025.