IBM & Tokyo Ohka Kogyo Team Up On Solar Energy Production

June 18, 2008 by Jeff Shepard

Tokyo Ohka Kogyo Co., Ltd. (TOK) and IBM are collaborating to establish what they are describing as new, low-cost methods for bringing the next generation of solar energy products to market – products that will be more affordable and easier to install than those available today.

Specifically, TOK and IBM have agreed to jointly develop processes, materials, and equipment suitable for the production of CIGS (Copper-Indium-Gallium-Selenide) solar cell modules. According to the companies, the relatively high-cost of electricity currently produced by solar cells compared to electricity from other energy sources is an inhibitor to a more widespread adoption of solar energy. Use of thin film technology, such as CIGS, has great promise in reducing the overall cost of solar cells and further enabling their widespread adoption.

IBM Research has developed new, non-vacuum, solution-based manufacturing processes for CIGS solar cells and is targeting efficiencies around 15% and higher. Current thin film product efficiencies vary from around 6% to less than 12%. It is claimed that combining IBM’s technology with the coating technique and high purity chemicals of TOK – built upon years of experience manufacturing semiconductors and LCD panels – has the potential to bring the large scale production of thin-film solar cells to market.

"Our goal is to develop more efficient photovoltaic structures that would reduce the cost, minimize the complexity, and improve the flexibility of producing solar electric power," said Dr. Tze-Chiang Chen, IBM Vice President of Science and Technology, IBM Research. "Now, IBM’s advanced technology combined with TOK’s expertise in equipment design and manufacture, have the potential to broaden the use of alternative energy sources."

Yoichi Nakamura, President & Chief Executive Officer, TOK, said, "We believe that this joint development is a great opportunity to expand the applications of our technologies into the photovoltaic industry, bringing a new solid business block for us."

IBM Research is exploring four main areas of photovoltaic research: using current technologies to develop cheaper and more efficient silicon solar cells, developing new solution-processed thin-film photovoltaic devices, concentrator photovoltaics, and future generation photovoltaic architectures based upon nanostructures such as semiconductor quantum dots and nanowires.