New research consortium will invest in next-generation solar energy technology

cadmium telluride solar panels

To help address the world’s need for clean energy, Colorado State University, the Wright Center for Photovoltaics at the University of Toledo, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have teamed with U.S.-based companies to form the U.S. Manufacturing of Advanced Cadmium Telluride (US-MAC) photovoltaics consortium.

Jim Sites, professor in the CSU Department of Physics who serves on the consortium’s three-member executive committee, has spent the last several decades leading research in the characterization and performance of solar cells made from cadmium telluride. He works closely with W.S. Sampath, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and together they have formed a powerful research collaboration at CSU that has pushed the boundaries of cadmium telluride, or CdTe, technology, supported by millions in federal grants.

“Our consortium [US-MAC] will allow better communication and collaboration than what we’ve already been doing – that part isn’t new,” Sites said. “We look forward to even easier exchanges of information, and organization of more specific projects aimed at moving CdTe photovoltaic technology forward.”

Cadmium telluride is a next-generation photovoltaic semiconductor technology with potential for continued improvements in cost and performance. Made from mining byproducts, cadmium telluride powers high-efficiency, commercially competitive solar modules that offer the lowest carbon footprint of any commercially available solar technology available today.

Technology and manufacturing advances

Costs for solar electricity have fallen more than tenfold over the past 15 years, due in part to technology and manufacturing advances that have led to scaling of cadmium telluride photovoltaics. The technology was invented and developed in the UnitedStates, and the intellectual property associated with the semiconductor’s use in solar energy remains primarily in America.

To further reinforce U.S. leadership in the solar technology, US-MAC will work with its members to advance foundational science and engineering, stimulate innovation and capitalize on shared resources and expertise. It aims to support increased production volume, optimize performance, and to diversify, integrate, and support the success of domestic firms.

Cadmium telluride solar modules currently meet approximately 40% of the domestic utility-scale photovoltaic market demand, have excellent durability, and have been shown to be immune to cell cracking as a result of extreme weather events, such as hail. They perform better than silicon at elevated temperatures or in high humidity environments, and are believed to have the lowest all-in cost structure and smallest environmental footprint of any currently available photovoltaic technology.

“While already enjoying great success in the marketplace, recent scientific developments make it clear that cadmium telluride has significantly more potential for dramatically higher module efficiency, lower cost, increased lifetime energy, and more rapid production. This is all achievable with the concerted cooperation and investment that will be pursued by US-MAC,” said Martin Keller, director of NREL and president of the Alliance for Sustainable Energy. Cadmium telluride solar modules already exhibit a 19% commercial module efficiency. US-MAC will push the efficiency closer to the maximum theoretical efficiency of approximately 30%, develop advanced tandem and bifacial concepts for even higher performance, and extend the already excellent lifetime.

Cadmium telluride annual production can be increased at least by a factor of 10 through focused and coordinated research and development, and the material has the potential to meet all of the country’s new electricity demands over the next 20 years, while creating new jobs and reducing the cost of clean electricity. The US-MAC consortium brings together U.S. leaders to aggressively pursue this national goal.

About US-MAC

US-MAC currently consists of an executive board that includes Sites, along with colleagues at NREL and University of Toledo, and an industrial advisory board with10 members: 5N Plus Inc., Consolidated Research Systems Inc., Direct Solar Inc., First Solar Inc., Lucintech Inc., Nious Technologies Inc., Pilkington North America Inc., Sivananthan Laboratories, Toledo Solar Inc., and Uriel Solar Energy.

Efforts to establish US-MAC began more than a year ago, and a memorandum of understanding was fully executed on March 11, 2021. First Solar was selected by the industrial advisory board to be its representative to the executive board for a first three-year term. The executive board will work with the industrial advisory board and other key contacts in other organizations to advance the goals of US-MAC.

The organizers and members of US-MAC intend for the consortium to be inclusive as it pursues the mission to strengthen American leadership in manufacturing of cadmium telluride photovoltaic technology. Discussions are underway with Arizona State University, the University of Delaware and the University of Utah, as well as with other companies, to join an expanding US-MAC network.

For more information about US-MAC, visit www.usa-cdte.org

CSU University Communications Staff