First Solar plans to invest approximately $270 million in a dedicated research and development (R&D) innovation center in Perrysburg, Ohio. The new facility is believed to be the first of its scale in the United States and is expected to accelerate American development and production of advanced thin-film photovoltaics (PV).
The new R&D center will be located near First Solar’s existing Perrysburg manufacturing facility, covering an area of approximately 1.3 million sq ft. It will feature a high-tech pilot manufacturing line allowing for 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,” said Mark Widmar, CEO of First Solar. “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 $1.5 billion in R&D, currently operates a dual-purpose manufacturing line at its Perrysburg facility which handles both the commercial production of solar modules and the company’s product development efforts. The line, however, cannot handle both activities simultaneously.
“We expect that 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,” said Markus Gloeckler, chief technology officer of First Solar. “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 the sole U.S.-headquartered panel manufacturer producing thin-film PV modules for the utility-scale market. The company has invested in developing cadmium telluride (CdTe) since 1999, bringing the semiconductor to prominence in the industry.
First Solar also recently announced an investment of up to $1.2 billion in scaling the production of American-made solar modules, expanding the company’s U.S. manufacturing footprint to over 10 GWDC by 2025.
Each thin-film module features a layer of CadTel semiconductor that is 3% the thickness of a human hair. Additionally, the company working to optimize the amount of semiconductor material used by enhancing its vapor deposition process through continued investment in R&D. First Solar also operates a recycling program that provides closed-loop semiconductor recovery for use in new modules.
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, which is scheduled to begin operations in the second half of 2023. On completion of its expansion plans in the United States and India, the company expects to have over 20 GWDC of annual global manufacturing capacity in 2025.
News item from First Solar