Innovative Cadmium Telluride Technology
First Solar's world record-holding technology utilizes the most proven thin film semiconductor, cadmium telluride (CdTe), resulting in superior energy output in real-world conditions, low-cost volume production benefits, and superior environmental performance.
Fastest Energy Payback Time of Current PV Technologies
Proven Energy Performance Advantage of CdTe
CdTe has a proven performance advantage over conventional solar modules. Due to a superior temperature coefficient, CdTe responds to sunlight differently than typical crystalline silicon technologies and has less temperature-related losses. As a result, First Solar PV plants produce more energy than competing solar systems with the same power rating.
High-Volume, Low-Cost Production Benefits of CdTe
CdTe enables high-volume, low-cost production of solar modules. First Solar transforms a sheet of glass into a complete solar panel in less than 2.5 hours in a continuous, automated process that requires less energy and water and utilizes 98% less semiconductor materials, compared to conventional crystalline silicon production. As a result, First Solar is the largest manufacturer of thin film solar modules and continues to drive innovation in cost leadership, scale and efficiency.
Superior Environmental Performance of CdTe
CdTe systems have the smallest carbon footprint of any PV technology. They also have the fastest energy payback time. In less than a year, CdTe PV power plants produce more energy than was required to create them. In addition, First Solar combines cadmium, a waste byproduct of mining operations, with tellurium to create the stable compound of CdTe, which is used to manufacture our industry-leading thin film solar modules. First Solar’s state-of-the-art recycling process can recover up to 95% of the semiconductor materials for reuse in new solar modules, enabling solar to deliver on its promise as a clean and sustainable renewable energy.
- In 2009, an in-depth assessment of the environmental, health and safety aspects of First Solar's CdTe PV systems and manufacturing operations was carried out under the authority of the French Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and the Sea. It concluded that, "During standard operation of CdTe PV systems, there are no cadmium emissions – to air, to water, or to soil. In the exceptional case of accidental fires or broken panels, scientific studies show that cadmium emissions remain negligible. Accordingly, large-scale deployment of CdTe PV can be considered safe to human health and the environment."
- A peer review of major studies on the environmental profile of CdTe PV organized by the European Commission, Joint Research Center and moderated by the German Environment Ministry concluded, "...CdTe used in PV is in an environmental stable form that does not leak into the environment during normal use or foreseeable accidents...."
- Independent analysis conducted by the Brookhaven National Laboratory indicates that CdTe modules do not pose a risk during fires. CdTe has an extremely low vapor pressure, high boiling and melting points and is almost completely encapsulated by molten glass when exposed to fire. Exposing pieces of CdTe PV modules to flame temperatures of 760 to 1100°C illustrated that CdTe diffuses into glass, rather than releasing into the atmosphere. Higher temperatures produce further CdTe diffusion into the glass.
- Through outdoor leaching experiments with small fragments of CdTe modules, an independent study by the Fraunhofer Institut estimated that in a worst-case scenario materials leached from the modules into water or soil were no higher than the German drinking water concentration limit and soil screening level, respectively.
- All of First Solar’s CdTe PV modules have been tested in accordance with applicable waste characterization protocols and at end-of-life can be classified as ‘non-hazardous waste for recovery’ in Europe and as a federal non-hazardous waste in the US.