The figures are impressive: from 15 to 55 employees in just over 1.5 years, a brand-new 4’500 square meter pilot production plant in Niederhasli in the outskirts of Zurich with a production capacity of 15 MW (megawatts) in installed solar energy and another financing round of CHF 10 million.
That’s, in a nutshell, Flisom’s development in the last two years, culminating in the pilot plant’s inauguration on 11 June in the presence of Swiss State Secretary for Education, Research and Innovation, Mauro Dell'Ambrogio, the President of the Government Council of the Canton Zurich, Ernst Stocker, and K.R.S. Jamwal, Executive Director of Tata Industries, India. Flisom, which started out as an ETH Zurich spin-off in 2005 and grew to its current size on the Empa campus in Dübendorf, is developing roll-to-roll production technologies for low-cost, high-performance CIGS thin film solar cells on flexible plastic foil.
A veteran in thin film photovoltaics with 35 years of experience, Flisom founder and Chairman (as well as Head of Empa’s «Thin Film and Photovoltaics» lab) Ayodhya N. Tiwari is convinced that these cells have great potential for providing highly efficient solar modules and solar systems with low installation costs. Development trends and technological progress for CIGS technology suggest the feasibility of solar module costs below € 0.35/Wp (Watt peak) and installed system costs below € 0.6/Wp making solar electricity much more affordable in the near future. Potential markets and applications for Flisom’s flexible solar module manufacturing technology include utility scale solar farms, building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), building applied photovoltaics (BAPV), transportation and portable power – and thus a so far untapped market potential of several billion Euros.
A long-standing partnership
Tiwari’s team at Empa is investigating fundamental properties of CIGS solar cells, a work that has thus far yielded a series of world records in energy conversion efficiency, from 12.8% in 1999 to 20.4% in 2013 – a value that equaled the highest efficiencies for polycrystalline silicon wafer-based solar cells at the time. Combining Empa’s world-class CIGS processing know-how with Flisom’s proprietary laser patterning tools meanwhile led to the production of a monolithically interconnected mini-module on plastic film, 5x5 square centimeters in size and with an overall efficiency of 16.9%. This progress suggests, says Tiwari, that « large area modules on flexible foils with an efficiency above 17% are very well possible with this technology».
Empa and Flisom have been cooperating for a number of years to develop a unique industrial-scale production platform for CIGS solar modules. «Scale-up for large-area solar modules and adapting these complex innovative processes for industrial manufacturability is quite a challenge and requires close collaboration between research labs and industrial partners for transferring research excellence to industrial usability», says Pierangelo Gröning, head of the Department of Advanced Materials and Surfaces and member of Empa’s Board of Directors. «For industrial partners such as Flisom we provide support on different topics to enable industrial development of novel and innovative concepts, which often require sophisticated analytical tools and skilled experts.» And Empa CEO Gian-Luca Bona adds: «We are pleased that Empa’s innovations in the field of renewable energy, especially in photovoltaics, are being transferred to industry for the benefits of a more sustainable society with a growing energy demand. This example perfectly illustrates Empa’s role as a bridge between research and practical applications.»
Another financing round for further growth
The recently announced investment, which is the fourth funding round for Flisom, comes from the company’s existing strategic investor, the Tata Group, a global enterprise headquartered in India. «With the investment received in 2013, Flisom refurbished an old factory building of 4’500 square meters – which we just inaugurated – with a number of roll-to-roll processing machines. At the same time, we are developing the technology further on 50 cm-wide rolls on our machines on the Empa campus», says Flisom’s Chief Operating Officer Sudheer Kumar. Adds Flisom Chief Executive Officer, Ulfert Rühle: «After the successful installation of machines and other infrastructure in Niederhasli the next step is to transfer the process know-how on these high-tech machines using specifically customized designs. Some of the machines are based on many years of development by our experts, innovative proprietary designs and complex engineering making them unique for achieving cost- and performance-efficient targets for a breakthrough manufacturing.» The 15MW plant will serve as a blueprint for establishing larger production plants with a capacity of well over 100 MW.
«We appreciate the systematic approach towards innovation and the continuous hard work of Flisom’s team in developing a unique manufacturing plant, while partnering with Empa, one of the world’s leading labs, with several efficiency-related records for flexible solar cells,» says K.R.S. Jamwal, Executive Director, Tata Industries. He further adds, «This investment marks Tata Group’s interest in next-generation technology for the solar photovoltaic industry.»
About Flisom AG, www.flisom.ch
Flisom AG, a Swiss company located in Dübendorf near Zurich, develops technologies for industrial roll-to-roll production of flexible solar modules based on copper-indium-gallium-(di)selenide (CIGS) photovoltaic absorber technology. Large-volume production of high-performance CIGS solar modules with Flisom’s technology would benefit from numerous advantages of roll-to-roll manufacturing processes to enable low production cost. Light-weight and flexibility provide additional benefits for ease of transportation, product integration and easy installation of systems leading to further cost reduction of fully installed solar systems. Flisom was founded in 2005 as a spin-off of the Laboratory of Solid State Physics of the ETH Zurich.
About Empa, www.empa.ch
As an interdisciplinary research institute, Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, conducts cutting-edge materials and technology research. Empa’s R&D activities focus on meeting the requirements of industry and the needs of society, and thus link applications-oriented research to the practical implementation of new ideas. As a result, Empa is capable of providing its partners with customized services and solutions that not only enhance their innovative edge and competitiveness, but also help to improve the quality of life for the public at large. Through an efficient technology transfer Empa is turning research results into marketable innovations.
About Tata Group, www.tata.com
The Tata Group’s core purpose is to improve the quality of life of the communities it serves globally, through long-term stakeholder value creation based on leadership with trust. Founded by Jamsetji Tata in 1868, the Tata Group is a global enterprise headquartered in India, and comprises over 100 operating companies, with operations in more than 100 countries across six continents, exporting products and services to over 150 countries. The revenue of Tata companies, taken together, was US $103.27 billion in 2013-14, with 67.2% of this coming from businesses outside India. Tata companies employ over 581’000 people worldwide. Good corporate citizenship is part of the Tata Group’s DNA. 66% of the equity of Tata Sons, the promoter holding company, is held by philanthropic trusts, thereby returning wealth to society. As a result of this unique ownership structure and ethos of serving the community, the Tata name has been respected for more than 140 years and is trusted for its adherence to strong values and business ethics. Each Tata company or enterprise operates independently and has its own board of directors and shareholders, to whom it is answerable. There are 31 publicly-listed Tata enterprises and they have a combined market capitalization of about US $128.1 billion (as of 28 May 2015), and a shareholder base of 3.9 million. Tata companies with significant scale include Tata Steel, Tata Motors, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Power, Tata Chemicals, Tata Global Beverages, Tata Teleservices, Titan, Tata Communications and Indian Hotels.