First Solar building thin-film solar R&D facility in Ohio

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First Solar announced plans last week for a $270 million investment in a dedicated research and development (R&D) innovation center in Perrysburg, Ohio, near its existing manufacturing facility. It will feature a high-tech pilot manufacturing line allowing for the production of full-sized prototypes of thin film and tandem PV modules.

Contigent 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, chief executive officer, 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 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, 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 solely focused on developing cadmium telluride (CadTel), the second most common PV technology in the world after crystalline silicon and has previously announced plans to expand its U.S. manufacturing footprint to over 10 gigawatts (GW)dc by 2025.

First Solar also operates an advanced recycling program that provides closed-loop semiconductor recovery for use in new modules.

Additionally, First Solar’s differentiated thin film semiconductor, integrated manufacturing process and tightly controlled supply chain helps 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.

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.

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