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First Solar makes perovskite move with $80M Evolar deal

17 May 2023

Major solar panel manufacturer wants Swedish startup to help accelerate development of high-efficiency tandem cells.

Evolar, a Swedish photovoltaics startup with expertise in perovskite and other thin-film materials, is set to be acquired by First Solar, the world’s largest manufacturer of cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar panels.

The deal, which could eventually be valued at $80 million, is intended to accelerate Arizona-based First Solar’s development of so-called tandem cells that would offer much higher conversion efficiencies than CdTe alone.

Evolar was established in 2019 by former founders of Solibro, the University of Uppsala spin-out company that specialized in thin-film copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) solar cells and modules - and which was acquired by China’s Hanergy just over a decade ago.

Complementary approach
Describing Evolar as a “European leader” in perovskite technology, First Solar says that the acquisition will be highly complementary to its existing research and development operations.

“We anticipate that high-efficiency tandem PV modules will define the future, speeding up decarbonization by allowing us to convert sunlight into clean electricity more efficiently,” said First Solar CEO Mark Widmar.

“This acquisition supplements our existing research and development streams with expertise in thin-film semiconductors that complement cadmium telluride. We expect that it will accelerate our efforts to develop tandem technology that continues our commitment to ultra-low carbon, responsibly produced solar.”

Evolar’s founders include former CEO Mats Ljunggren, CTO Olle Lundberg, chief scientific officer Lars Stolt, R&D manager Erik Wallin, and COO Kathrin Theelen - all of whom held key roles at Solibro, whose technology was the result of Stolt’s early research in the 1980s.

Under the agreement, which involves an initial outlay of $38 million and up to a further $42 million if technical milestones are achieved, research will continue at Evolar’s laboratory in Uppsala - representing First Solar’s first research facility in Europe.

The US firm is also building a new research and development center in Ohio currently, thanks in part to incentives provided by the Inflation Reduction Act.

“Upon closing, approximately 30 of Evolar’s R&D staff will transition to First Solar, working in close collaboration with the company’s team of about 60 scientists at its advanced research technology center in Santa Clara, California, and the development teams in Perrysburg, Ohio,” stated First Solar.

Widmar added: “By connecting our advanced research lab in California with Europe and building the Western Hemisphere’s largest PV research and development innovation center in Ohio, we are effectively establishing and leading a uniquely transatlantic effort to develop and commercialize the next generation of photovoltaics.”

Efficiency records
The Evolar team has also worked to develop the manufacturing equipment required to commercialize tandem solar cell technology incorporating thin-film perovskite layers.

“Made up of some of Europe’s foremost experts in thin-film PV, Evolar has produced several thin-film efficiency records, including the current 23.6 percent world record for CIGS research solar cells,” pointed out First Solar.

According to the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the current record for research-grade perovskite cells stands at 25.8 per cent, set in 2021 by scientists at Korea’s Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST).

Based on cheap and naturally abundant materials, perovskite layers promise to raise the efficiency of solar panels by helping to convert more of the solar spectrum into electrical energy than is possible with conventional silicon or CdTe cells alone.

Other proponents of the technology include Oxford Photovoltaics in the UK, and Swiss firm Meyer Burger - although perovskite solar cells are yet to make a commercial impact.

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