‘Our joint expertise is unique in the world’

Photo Thor Nielsen

From pure quartz to efficiently operating solar panels... together, ECN and the Norwegian research institute SINTEF cover the entire value chain of crystalline silicon solar modules. This enables them to search for the optimal balance between the quality of the material and the costs of the manufacturing processes. The collaboration between ECN and SINTEF has already contributed to the price decrease of solar power. Recently, the partners strengthened their ties even further to work on their high ambitions.

Aud Warnes, research director at SINTEF Materials and Chemistry:

‘We make silicon wafers starting from quartz, and ECN makes solar cells and modules from silicon wafers. We complement each other perfectly and close the value chain together. 13 years ago a Norwegian and a Dutch business man introduced us to each other. Already, at that time the collaboration looked very promising  and we both wanted to help the industry innovate, which is why we steadily built up this relationship. In the past years, we have conducted many joint research projects for the European Union. This time, we want to take it one step further: we have agreed to collaborate structurally and to align our baseline work processes. Our wafers will be frequently tested by ECN and we produce materials according to ECN specifications. Together we are stronger and we have a lot to offer to the market. We can develop, test and improve new materials for the solar industry. Moreover, we can help businesses optimise production processes and production equipment for the manufacturing of silicon, wafers, solar cells and solar panels. Despite the geographical distance, our collaboration is running smoothly; fortunately there are daily flights between Amsterdam and Trondheim. We are pleased with ECN, not just because their work complements ours, but also because these people are good at what they do and ECN has a strong international focus. We are happy to join them; Norway is too small for us.'

Ton Veltkamp, senior manager ECN Solar Energy:

‘Back then, we were happy to hear that the silicon that is used for solar cells need not have the same degree of purity as the silicon that is used for computer chips. The purifying, crystallisation and ‘wafering' of silicon is expensive and also very energy-consuming. Collaborating with SINTEF enables us to find out which quality of silicon is needed for various applications. Norway has a strong metallurgic tradition. With the technical University of Trondheim practically located in their back yard, SINTEF has access to the most leading knowledge in the field of silicon. Together, we possess expertise that is unique in the world and we can offer the industry a full package of research and consultancy services. The fact that SINTEF has high expectations of our collaboration is further shown by the significant investments the company has made in a new infrastructure. They are now able to manufacture various kinds of silicon rods and wafers at an industrially relevant scale. This is in line with recent developments: the demand for silicon solar cells will increase significantly in the future. Together with SINTEF, ECN can contribute to making their manufacturing process more low-cost and more sustainable.’

Would you like to learn more about the services of ECN and SINTEF? Please contact Wouter van Strien.