South African Research facility planned to ‘fine tune’ thin solar technology


Vivian Alberts

The University of Johannesburg’s Photovoltaic Technology Intellectual Property (PTIP) company has undergone restructuring in the past 12 months and remained focused on commercialising thin-film solar technology (TFST) in South Africa, PTIP’s ProfessorVivian Alberts said this week.

Alberts, who developed the TFST that was patented in 2003/4, said the company has been restructured along with a new Germany-based joint venture (JV) partner.

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said that the Technology Innovation Agency and two Germany-based companies were addressing the technical challenges that hampered the commercialisation of the Johanna solar thin films.

“Currently, the partners in this project are planning to set up an extended research facility that would fine tune the technology and sell a turnkey solution (the equipment and the process technology) to companies that would like to manufacture solar cell substrates,” Pandor said in a written reply to a Parliamentary question.

Work is under way at the Stellenbosch Technopark, in the Western Cape, on improving the technology, Alberts said.

Its German partner was providing the key equipment at the plant to “take the technology to a key level internationally”.

Alberts revealed to Engineering News Online that government, which has funded research and development and pilot facilities in the past, has recently invested into the commercial facility.

“This is an important step to establish a commercial entity in South Africa, as well as to reinforce the company technically in the global arena,” he said.

The TFST has been commercialised in China and Germany, but Alberts said the process in South Africa remained complex. “We continue to do our level best in South Africa, but we do not have subsidies and it remains challenging to set up,” he added.

The initially envisaged, R1-billion Paarl facility, which would manufacture the thin-film solar modules, has been placed on hold.