Linking design and scalable manufacturing of customized PV-modules

Genk - PhD
More than two weeks ago

Seamless integration of photovoltaics in buildings and infrastructure requires automated and innovative production technology for PV-modules


Topic title: Linking design and scalable manufacturing of customized PV-modules

Topic description:

Most photovoltaic panels around us integrate crystalline Si solar cells, and this technology will continue to dominate the PV market for the foreseeable future. Increasing performance and production volumes are the main drivers of continued cost reduction in PV, and are indispensable for their broad deployment. Steady progress in crystalline silicon cell efficiencies pushed record values to 26%, however their performance is compromised upon module integration. Current module technology is based on stringing of cells for electrical interconnection, and their subsequent lamination for encapsulation between a glass plate and a backsheet. Applying advanced materials and novel low-stress interconnection technologies in module fabrication is key to continued performance improvement in PV panels. From another, no less important, perspective, scarcity of valuable land and the concern for aesthetics, there is an increasing demand for seamless integration of PV as an additional functionality in existing elements, as e.g. in buildings (BIPV as opposed to BAPV), vehicles (VIPV), and infrastructure (IIPV). This calls for a highly flexible and still automated manufacturing approach.

Combining these requirements of performance, cost and custom manufacturing is obviously a highly challenging target for developing new module fabrication technologies. Imec's approaches aim to combine soldering and lamination in one step, which would considerably simplify module assembly. The technology is based on a fabric designed for the interconnection of solar cells comprising encapsulant material wherein electrically conductive solder-coated wires are integrated. Such a concept enables reliable electrical connection without a need for precise alignment and implements sufficient encapsulation material for the layup phase of the PV module. During module lamination, the solder melts to form electrical contacts with the cells, while the polymer encapsulant material melts to form a homogeneous encapsulant layer. First proof-of-concepts have been made on small scale to demonstrate the technology and potential. Further process development is ongoing for deepening our understanding of the underlying mechanisms through sample analysis and opto-electrical measurements, and improve performance, reliability and cost of the technology.  This technology is also highly attractive for realizing customized PV-modules.

In this PhD topic, we want to focus on determining and implementing processes for such highly innovative module fabrication technologies, with a specific focus on their customization and automation potential, including translation from design to manufacturing. The initial target of the thesis is therefore a sound methodology to link design to manufacturing of customized PV-modules, with a clear link to industrial viability. The underlying processes here include

  • Manufacturing of the necessary components: integration of electrical wiring, components into the encapsulant; cell manufacturing is explicitly excluded
  • Assembly and processing of these materials: layup (and potential laser cutting) of cells and encapsulant foils, dispensing, lasering, soldering and lamination
  • Novel module layout to meet integration and automation constraints
  • Design-dependent programming of the automated  tool for the different process steps

A secondary target would be to also address the requirements for integrating such modules in specific applications as buildings, vehicles and infrastructure. This call for programming knowledge to translate CAD files into production automation.  Supporting this topic, we have established a brand new module pre-pilot line that goes beyond state-of-the-art in module production: automatic pick and place for cells and interconnection foil combined with soldering methods in one tool as well as large-area laminator. No less indispensable is the access to module and material characterization and reliability testing equipment and expertise. In addition we are also actively building up an ecosystem of partners (research institutes and companies) to further develop our awareness and knowledge in the relevant applications for integrating PV modules.

This PhD topic is located on Energyville Campus in Genk.

Required background: Master of Science or Engineering

Type of work: 20% modelling, 70% experimental, 10% literature

Supervisor: Jef Poortmans, Michael Daenen

Daily advisor: Jonathan Govaerts

The reference code for this position is 1812-73. Mention this reference code on your application form.


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