S Tile : a new player in the photovoltaic market in Europe. Press file

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1 S Tile : a new player in the photovoltaic market in Europe Press file Feb Page 1 sur 11

2 SUMMARY The company S Tile has been created in 2007 in Poitiers, to develop a new process of solar cell manufacturing. As a spin-off of the laboratories of the CNRS and the University of Poitiers, S Tile invented a process which has been six times patented and is based on the manufacturing of a disruptive sintered silicon substrate which will lead to a revolution in the photovoltaic (PV) market. Indeed, players of the PV market have had to innovate in order to face a strong competition. In light of these facts, S Tile has developed after seven years of R&D a disruptive technology : the production of silicon wafers based on powder sintering, allowing to reduce the cost of wafers and cells by at least 30%. This project has been very well welcomed as soon as 2007 by venture capital funds (Emertec, PCI), institutions (BPI, CEA-INES, Poitou-Charentes Region, Europe, ) ; in 2012 several industrial companies (Machines Dubuit, ECM, Sergies, ) together with the organization Fraunhofer Gesellshaft became shareholders of the company. All together public and private entities have up to now financed S Tile to the amount of 13M. S Tile is now putting its Research & Development behind, after reaching a 16% efficiency and aiming at obtaining 18% by this year and 20% by 2015*. Ahead of its initial roadmap, S Tile is now launching the installation of a wafers pilot line in the Poitou-Charentes Region. In order to complete its industrial process, significant partnerships have been signed with the CEA and Fraunhofer ISE. The target is to produce the first megawatt (MW) of wafers within a year, with a quality allowing to reach a cell efficiency of at least 18%, i.e. the efficiency of a standard cell, for a much lower cost. A private 3M fund raise is ongoing to finance this development. * The mean efficiency of a crystalline cell in 2013 on the market was about 18%. Page 2 sur 11

3 Summary The company... 4 The innovation... 5 The heart of the innovation : sintering... 5 A new product : the Mono-EQ wafer... 6 A new cell : the integrated cell... 6 The market... 7 Development plan... 9 Financial helps Région Poitou-Charentes EMERTEC BPI France Europe EIT Page 3 sur 11

4 The company S Tile has arise from the work of Professor Alain Straboni in collaboration with the CNRS and the University of Poitiers. Its vocation is to become a manufacturer of silicon wafers and a seller of cell technologies on the photovoltaic (PV) market. Founded in 2007, S Tile now owns 6 patents (granted and pending), employs 18 people, and raised 13M (private/public). Its shareholders are : Alain Straboni and S Tile employees. Fraunhofer Gesellshaft Machines Dubuit International ECM Sergies Emertec PCI Poitou-Charentes Region Un Nouveau Concept de Cellules Solaires Photovoltaïques Its key partners on the process are : Fraunhofer ISE in Freiburg is a major partner for S Tile. It has developed the «proconcvd» machine (high speed epitaxial deposition), of which the exclusive licence is given to S Tile. This innovative technology allows reaching a throughput of 400 wafers/h. proconcvd machine (courtesy of Fraunhofer) CEA is involved in many steps of the process, such as the development of a cell technology adapted to thin crystalline silicon layers. CEA also assists S Tile in the development of «powders spreading»-based processes Propriété du CEA As well as : Page 4 sur 11

5 The innovation In the standard PV sector, the cell production implies upstream works such as silicon melting into ingots and ingots sawing into thin wafers. These wafers will then become PV cells before being turned into PV modules. The sawing is done thanks to diamond abrasives, which are very expensive. Indeed, on top of the price of abrasives, the raw material (solar grade silicon) is very costly too. Yet this silicon is half lost during sawing : indeed, to get a 180 μm wafer (the thickness of 2 hairs one does not know how to cut thinner), another 180 µm is lost because of the thickness of the saw. Figure 1 : standard wafer The heart of the innovation : sintering S Tile has developed a fully innovative process : silicon sintering. Sintering is a fabrication process based on powder heating. Thanks to heating and pressing, the atoms in the powder particles diffuse across the boundaries of the particles, fusing the particles together and creating one cohesive and solid material. Figure 2 : manufacturing steps of sintered wafers Sintering allows to usefully bypass the two expensive steps of melting and sawing the silicon. It is then possible to produce wafers of any dimensions, for a lower cost than the standard process. Page 5 sur 11

6 A new product : the Mono-EQ wafer The sintered substrate is based on upgraded Metallurgical Grade silicon (umg), which is low-cost. On top of this substrate is bonded a thin solar grade silicon layer, get by a process named «epitaxy» (Fraunhofer s «proconcvd» machine) which exclusive licence has been granted to S Tile. 20 times less of solar grade silicon is then used. Bonding on this thin layer produces a wafer equivalent to a monocrystalline wafer : the so-called «Mono- EQ». A new cell : the integrated cell This new way to produce a silicon wafer opens the way to a new concept of solar cells which are impossible to manufacture with classical wafers. As a matter of fact, once the Mono-EQ is obtained, it is then possible to electrically insulate subcells on the thin top layer (by laser cutting and wafer oxidation). Once done, an i-cell (integrated-cells) is done. The i-cell has a significant benefit : with 4 subcells on the same wafer, the voltage is 4 times higher than the voltage of a standard cell. On the contrary, the current is 4 times lower. This leads to a triple benefit : The current is lower so the connection losses are lower at the same time. This increases the efficiency and allow to reduce the cables section after the module. The subcells are connected in serial and support a lower current, thus the busbars are useless and can be crossed off. This leads to reducing the very costly silver paste. The strong voltage allows manufacturing small size modules which voltage is sufficient to power an inverter. Page 6 sur 11

7 Figure 3 : i-cell diagram The market The PV market is still globally growing, though a drop has been noticed in Europe in 2012 (cf. appendix). It should be as high as $32 billion in The cost of the cells should continue to decrease to 30c /W in By then, S Tile will be able to produce Mono-EQ and i-cells, as well as to licence the technology. The production cost of an i-cell should be then of 21c /W, i.e. a 30% decrease, for the same efficiency, compared to a standard cell. This competitive advantage should allow the product to quickly break through the PV market. S Tile wishes to produce its Mono-EQ in France and its cells by association with French and European industrial partners, by revitalizing the cell and module industry thanks to its Mono-EQ wafers. Direct sales will be done in Europe. Sales in America and Asia will occur thanks to non-exclusive licences, so that existing manufacturers could start producing at a lower cost within their current factories. Page 7 sur 11

8 Figure 4 : Cost comparison between standard and S Tile technology. Page 8 sur 11

9 Development plan S Tile recently unveiled excellent results with an efficiency of more than 16%, and should get 18% in The target is to get 20% by 2015, which means reaching the market competitiveness. A pilot line of Mono-EQ wafer manufacturing is currently being installed in Poitou- Charentes and should be operational by end-2014, to produce its first megawatt in A rise in power will occur until 2017 : by then S Tile should be able to produce 100MW/year of Mono-EQ wafers. In the same time, about 30 jobs will be created, sending up S Tile from 18 to 50 people. Page 9 sur 11

10 Financial helps S Tile would have never been this without the strong support of its financial partners. Regional Council of Poitou-Charentes The Poitou-Charentes Region has been very active since the beginning of the project. The Region has supported the company financially by loans and grants, as well as by participating in its capital through the support of Fonds de Co-Investissement and Poitou- Charentes Innovation. The Region has given a significant support of more than 1M in total. EMERTEC Emertec is a venture capital fund specialized in green technologies. Emertec has believed in the project since even before the starting-up of the company, investing more than 1.7M in total. As a member of the board, Emertec is for S Tile a very important and active investor. BPI France BPI France, formerly OSEO, has supported S Tile through an exceptional ISI project called «FaSil», gathering together 9 European partners. The total amount of financing is 8M out of which 6M are for S Tile. The FaSil project is destined to finance the setting up of the pilot line of wafer manufacturing. One of the initial targets was to reach 16% on wafers of 156 x 156 mm² within mid Europe Europe has supported S Tile through several financing, such as FEDER and European programs R2M-SI, NEAT, Eurostars and the KIC-POWCELL program (see «EIT»). EIT The European Institute for Innovation & Technology (EIT) has financed S Tile through the project KIC-POWCELL from 2012 to EIT aims to enhance Europe s ability to innovate, which translates into adapting quickly to the fast pace of development, being one step ahead in providing solutions to rapidly emerging societal problems and developing products that meet the demands and desires of consumer Press contact : Maximilien PETITGENET Page 10 sur 11

11 APPENDIX PV Market (source : EPIA Global Market Outlook 2013). Cumulative installations Page 11 sur 11

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