Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Japan firm creating thin-film solar cells on MAGLEV TRACK


We were sent this article about this Japanese firm that is creating "thin-film" solar cells.  Miyazaki Solar Way Co. has attached and build a 1-megawatt (1,000 kwatt) power plant based on panels that have been installed at the Linerar Miyazaki Test track.

Kyushu taking the lead in thin-film solar cells

photoFuji Electric Systems Co.'s FWAVE solar cell sheet bends easily when picked up. (Kazunori Haga)photoHonda Soltec Co.'s solar cell (Kazunori Haga)photoAt Miyazaki Solar Way Co.'s facility in Tsuno, Miyazaki Prefecture, 442 solar panels are lined up over 260 meters on a former experimental maglev train track. (Haruki Morishita)photoMiyazaki Solar Way Co. is building a mega solar power generation facility that will feature 10-by-4-meter thin-film solar panels in Tsuno, Miyazaki Prefecture. (Kazunori Haga)

In the fast-growing solar cell market, companies based in Kyushu are challenging the established players with next-generation thin-film technology, backed by support from local governments and universities.
The market is dominated by solar cells that sandwich crystalline silicon between glass substrates. Products from domestic leaders Sharp Corp. and Kyocera Corp. are primarily of the crystalline type.
However, the expanding market has fueled fears of possible silicon shortages. Should the supply-demand balance crumbles, raw materials costs could suddenly jump.
Many companies are now focusing on products made of thin layers of film that use either a small amount of silicon or none at all.
Fuji Electric Systems Co. is manufacturing an amorphous (non-crystalline) type of solar cell that uses only one-200th the amount of silicon of conventional products at its factory in Nankan, Kumamoto Prefecture.
FWAVE, a thin, flexible black sheet covered with small holes encased in a transparent plastic film, bends easily. It can be attached to domes and other curved surfaces.
"(FWAVE) can be set up in places where installation of solar cells has been difficult because it is thin, light and flexible," said Masao Yokomizo, a general affairs manager at the Kumamoto plant.
Alpinist Ken Noguchi says he attaches an FWAVE sheet to the outside of his tent to power his cellphone and other devices.
Kumamoto University is conducting research with Fuji Electric Systems.
"The age of just laying solar cells on flat surfaces such as the roofs of houses is over," said Isao Taniguchi, president of Kumamoto University and a scholar of electrochemistry. "The next generation of solar cells will open up a new era."
In Ozu, Kumamoto Prefecture, Honda Soltec Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of Honda Motor Co., is conducting research for mass-producing a type of solar cell that uses no silicon.
The product, known as CIGS type, is made from copper, indium, gallium and selenium.
Thin-film solar cells can generate electricity even in low-light conditions. They are suited for residential use because the amount of electricity generated does not change much even if the array is partially shaded.
Still, the market share is limited because power generation efficiency is lower than that of conventional products.
"The performance of thin-film solar cells is improving. They will be able to compete head-on with crystalline products in the near future," said Akio Kazusa, president of Honda Soltec.
The Kumamoto prefectural government will open an 800 million yen ($9.8 million) center next spring to support the development and production of thin-film solar cells on the technological front.
"There are a lot of companies possessing excellent engineering skills in Kumamoto Prefecture, and I would like to see them compete globally with thin-film technology," said Masahiro Kashiwagi, a former Toshiba Corp. engineer who serves as an industrial technology adviser for the prefectural government.
The Miyazaki prefectural government, meanwhile, announced its Miyazaki Solar Frontier Concept in March 2009 to develop its solar cell industry.
One of the pillars is a plan to set up mega-solar power generation facilities, capable of producing more than one megawatt of electricity, in the prefecture.
The plan is designed to take advantage of geography that affords Miyazaki the nation's third-longest duration of sunshine, averaging 2,108 hours a year between 1971 and 2000.
Solar Frontier KK, a wholly owned subsidiary of Showa Shell Sekiyu KK, is manufacturing a type of thin-film solar cell made of copper, indium and selenium in Miyazaki Prefecture.
The company is also working to set up a mega-solar power generation facility in the prefecture.
In April, Miyazaki Solar Way Co., a subsidiary of aerial surveying contractor Kokusai Kogyo Co., began operating an experimental installation of three different types of solar cells in Tsuno, Miyazaki Prefecture.
Next spring, the company plans to complete construction of a mega-solar power generation facility that uses 12,520 thin-film panels made by Solar Frontier.
The University of Miyazaki, with support from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, opened a graduate course at its Faculty of Engineering aimed at developing solar cell engineers in autumn 2009.
It has invited engineers from manufacturers to serve as lecturers. The second term, which began in October, has attracted 42 students, or 30 percent of the faculty's graduate school population.
"Solar power generation is a growth industry, but there are few specialists because it is a new field," said Masahisa Otsubo, dean of the university's Faculty of Engineering. "The development of people capable of working on next-generation solar cells is an urgent task."
Chikahisa Honda, a professor of electrical and electronic engineering in charge of the course, said: "We would like to foster people who can lead the global solar power business in Miyazaki Prefecture. We stand a good chance because there are many related manufacturers and facilities in Kyushu."

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