July 2010 – Smit Ovens develops system for continuous CIGS mass production

New inline thermal system enables faster, cheaper selenium deposition and crystallization with safer materials than batch processing

Ekkersrijt, the Netherlands, 1 July, 2010 – Smit Ovens has completed a two-year project to specify, design, test and build a selenium deposition and crystallization oven for continuous mass production of CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenium) solar panels. This system marks a key step forward in increasing the commercial viability of CIGS technology for the rapidly growing thin film photovoltaics market. By enabling continuous production, it provides a faster, lower cost alternative to batch processing.

Smit Ovens began exploring the use of thermal processes for thin film solar technologies as early as 2006. In this EU-funded project started in 2008, it built further on its know-how of the selenization process to specify and design an entire deposition and crystallization system from the ground up. This included developing detailed designs, process simulations and engineering drawings, the creation of a full size vacuum chamber, and extensive testing of components and critical sub-systems.

Based on this work, Smit Ovens built two production-scale prototypes for further testing and process optimization. These systems are now in operation at a customer site, where further testing of the processes has been successfully carried out.

With the completion of this project, Smit Ovens has opened a way for manufacturers to scale up CIGS production for mass markets. The system also makes production safer and easier. As a closed vacuum process, it reduces the risk of contact with toxic gases and materials. Most importantly, the deposition process uses elemental selenium which is much safer than the highly toxic, hydrogen selenide used in existing systems.

This development project was carried out with the support of the European Union, the province of Noord Brabant, the Netherlands, and the Dutch government. Smit Ovens is now continuing to further optimize the processes involved. It will also explore how the lessons learnt can be applied to other systems and production challenges.

About Smit Ovens
Founded in Nijmegen, the Netherlands in 1936, Smit Ovens is a leading supplier of customized thermal equipment and processes for the glass, electronics, displays and photovoltaics industries. It employs around 50 people and currently has around 3000 installations operating, including some 40 in the solar industry.

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