The company is currently installing a pilot-scale production facility at NREL that was built by German photovoltaic equipment manufacturer Roth & Rau Microsystems.
Ken Zweibel, director of the Solar Institute at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., says Ampulse’s approach is interesting, but faces technical challenges and stiff competition. “The history of thin-film silicon is littered with false starts and abandoned approaches,” Zweibel says. “It will be a long, tough climb for Ampulse.”
Zweibel says a glut of conventional crystalline silicon modules from China, and newer thin-film solar cells made from more exotic materials like cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium (di)selenide, makes crystalline silicon a “very dark horse.” First Solar, for example, already manufactures cadmium telluride thin-film modules that can produce electricity for approximately 70 cents per watt, and plans to drive this price down further.
If, however, highly efficient thin-film silicon panels can be manufactured, the material’s low cost and abundant supply may give it an advantage over other, more exotic thin-film materials.
Ampulse officials declined to say what efficiencies they have achieved thus far in laboratory testing, but say their initial product will have an efficiency of 15 percent, and will ship in 12 to 18 months.
Zweibel remains skeptical. “If I’m an investor, I’m not going anywhere with my money until I have some sort of benchmark of what they have achieved in the laboratory.”