Perspectives on the Pathways for Cadmium Telluride Photovoltaic Module Manufacturers to Address Expected Increases in the Price for Tellurium

Michael Woodhouse, Alan Goodrich, Robert Margolis, Ted James, Ramesh Dhere, Tim Gessert, Teresa Barnes, Roderick Eggert, David Albin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus Citations

Abstract

Since the days of the technology's conception, concerns have been voiced over potential supply constraints of Tellurium that could limit the large-scale deployment of the Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) solar photovoltaic technology. Because any potential supply-demand imbalance created by a Tellurium constraint would manifest itself in the form of a price increase (a trend that was already seen prior to the 2012 downturn in PV manufacturing), we have rigorously examined the sensitivity of total CdTe module manufacturing prices to the price of this minor metal. We found that module manufacturers could conceivably absorb a gradual increase in Te prices up to an order of magnitude higher than what was typical for 2011 without significantly compromising their near to mid-term competitive position within the PV industry (viewed here to be a $0.70/W module price)—if the pace of improvements in module power conversion efficiencies and reductions in the CdTe layer thickness is rapid enough. Realizing gains in module-area efficiencies while, at the same time, also reducing the CdTe thickness is certainly technically challenging and merits its own line of research. However, in order to accommodate up to an order of magnitude increase in Te prices while still keeping the cost of the active layer to a reasonable $0.15/W range, we find that the cost benefits gained by reducing the absorber layer thickness are expected to be as significant as those provided by efficiency gains alone. Realizing the optimistic target of 18% efficient modules with 1.0 μm of CdTe could reduce the Te material intensity from today's requirement of around 74 metric tonnes (MT) per GW to 17 MT/GW; even so, we estimate that CdTe PV is likely to be material constrained to around 10 GW of annual production by 2020 unless new sources of Tellurium—beyond traditional copper byproduct sources at the current 55% recovery rate—come online. The economics of this mineral are such that a higher price offering is a necessary precondition in order to motivate enhanced recovery rates from copper mining, and for future direct mining projects.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)199-212
Number of pages14
JournalSolar Energy Materials and Solar Cells
Volume115
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2013

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2012 Elsevier B.V.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-52682

Keywords

  • economics
  • energy critical elements
  • manufacturing
  • solar PV module
  • tellurium
  • thin film photovoltaics

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