Cadmium Telluride Accelerator Consortium

NREL administers the Cadmium Telluride Accelerator Consortium (CTAC), a 3-year consortium intended to accelerate the development of cheaper, more efficient cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar cells.

Solar panels in the foreground with mountains and wind turbines in the background.

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CTAC is designed to:

  • Support the planning and operations of a technology development consortium to enhance U.S. technology leadership and competitiveness in CdTe photovoltaics (PV)
  • Enable cell efficiencies above 24% and module costs below $0.20/W by 2025
  • Enable cell efficiencies above 26% and module costs below $0.15/W by 2030
  • Maintain or increase domestic CdTe PV material and module production through 2030.

CTAC is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Energy Technologies Office, which earmarked $20 million in funding out of nearly $128 million to lower costs, improve performance, and speed the deployment of solar energy technologies to achieve the Biden administration's climate goals. Read the Department of Energy's announcement.

View CTAC's current Request for Funding announcement.


CTAC leadership includes:

University of Toledo (lead)

First Solar

Colorado State University

Toledo Solar Inc.

Sivananthan Laboratories.

Research Summary

In addition to CdTe technology road mapping and assessing the domestic CdTe supply chain, CTAC leadership institutions will conduct research in the following areas.

Group V dopants

Doping incorporation methods

Doping profiles

Dopant activation

N-type MgZnO emitter improvements

New emitter candidate materials exploration

Front interfaces evaluation using characterization and modeling

Power conversion efficiency improvements

Bifacial technology

Rooftop PV

Building-integrated PV

Project Funding Awards

Round 1 Awards:

Advanced Back Contacts and Surface Photovoltage/Surface Photovoltage Spectroscopy Characterization To Unlock Bifaciality, Open-Circuit Voltage > 900 Megavolts, and Efficiency of 26% From Cadmium Telluride-Based Cells

The University of Utah will develop sputtered, doped, wide bandgap materials and bilayer stacks for back contacts for state-of-the-art cadmium selenide telluride (CdSeTe)/CdTe absorbers. The project will focus on p-type materials that have energy level alignment predicting hole selectivity, are amenable to passivation, and have a wide bandgap to provide transparency for enhanced bifaciality or back mirror cell optics. It will obtain state-of-the-art absorber stacks from CTAC partners and fabricate sputtered back contacts. It will continue to develop our surface photovoltage (SPV) and SPV spectroscopy techniques to characterize back contact band structure, traps, and recombination activity.

Advanced Activation and Contact Approaches for Cadmium Zinc Telluride Solar Cells

The University of Delaware will develop new approaches for processing cadmium zinc telluride (Cd1-xZnxTe) solar cells that overcome previously reported difficulties, such as ineffective chloride activation and passivation, which prevented the realization of high performance with increased open-circuit voltage relative to CdTe. The approach will be based on two hypotheses: Modification of film growth, including in situ antimony incorporation, can form more equilibrated films with reduced defects and enhanced grain sizes, reducing the need for high-temperature activation; and alternative halide activation chemistries during post-deposition treatments can minimize the deleterious effects of cadmium chloride activation. A final goal of the project will be to confirm the viability of Cd1-xZnxTe by demonstration of a thin-film solar cell with open-circuit voltage ≥ 1.0 V.

Toward High-Efficiency n-Cadmium Selenide Telluride Solar Cells

The University of South Florida will develop alternative device architectures based on n-type CdTe/CdSexTe1-x (CST) thin-film absorbers to create opportunities to overcome the efficiency limitations associated with the current state-of-the-art p-type CdTe/CST solar cells. The project aims to build on advances in n-CdTe/CST films that demonstrated group III and VII n-type doping for CdTe films. It will focus on the development of p-type heterojunction partners for n-CdTe/CST absorbers.

Round 2 Awards:

Vapor-Assisted Group V Diffusion Doping Control in High-Efficiency CdSeTe Solar Cells

CdTe PV technology boasts a champion power conversion efficiency (PCE) of 22.3%, but it remains distant from its theoretical PCE of 31%. To address this gap and achieve 26% cell efficiency while reducing domestic CdTe module costs to 15 cents per watt by 2030, innovation is crucial. Group V doping has proven effective in enhancing CdTe device performance, improving both efficiency and stability. Arizona State University proposes a project that explores novel vapor-based ex situ group V doping, diffusion doping activation strategies, surface cleaning techniques, passivated back contact methods, and innovative device architectures. The goal is to develop higher-efficiency CdTe devices exceeding 22% by tailoring the group V vapor doping conditions to realize a fine control of the incorporation and activation of the dopants.

Optimizing Iodine-Doped CdTe for Potential n-Type Solar Cells

Washington State University will develop CdTe homojunctions using iodine-doped n-type CdTe absorbers that have high carrier concentration and minority carrier lifetime with 100% dopant activation. The team will apply a combination of defect spectroscopy techniques, optimized surface passivation techniques, and device architecture, and aim to overcome present performance limitations based on p-type absorbers.

Solution-Processed Buffer Layers for CdTe Solar Modules

The nexTC Corporation will use nexTC precursors to generate state-of-the-art buffer films that improve device performance. nexTC films exhibit ultra-smooth surfaces. They reduce surface texture/roughness and increase transmission by limiting optical haze, providing manufacturers with pristine surfaces for device manufacturing. In this project, the team will demonstrate the efficacy of solution processing to yield high-quality front-interface buffer/emitter layer films used in the CdTe market. They will demonstrate the ability to deposit compositions of commonly used materials and explore novel material compositions that are impossible to create via typical sputter deposition. nexTC will work with CTAC members to fabricate and prototype CdTe solar devices. This approach will accelerate the transition from ideation to high-volume manufacturing.

Round 1 Awards:

Selective and Efficient Recovery of Tellurium From Copper Processing Streams

The Missouri University of Science and Technology will enhance tellurium recovery from copper processing by optimizing the current operations to capture the tellurium, gold, and silver that are presently lost to tails. The scope of work involves advanced mineralogical analysis of different processing streams of the flotation circuit of copper processing ores to identify tellurium carriers and modes of occurrence (i.e., tellurium in the crystal lattice vs. tellurium-rich inclusions in larger minerals); evaluation of different approaches and flow sheet options for enhanced separation of tellurium, silver, and gold minerals from processing streams of copper processing ores; and techno-economic assessment to estimate the capital and operating costs of the developed flow sheets for successful implementation, which could increase the domestic production of tellurium from copper processing ores by at least 50%.

Round 2 Awards:

Identifying High-Potential Areas for Tellurium Extraction Within Existing Base and Precious Metal Supply Chains

Tellurium is a key component of the manufacturing of CdTe systems required to increase the domestic renewable energy generation capacity of the United States. However, supplies of tellurium are insecure, with the United States being significantly import reliant despite the fact that domestic mining and smelting already involves tellurium-bearing ores. This project from the University of Nevada, Reno will assess the tellurium extraction potential of existing mining supply chains, providing baseline data for the targeting of high-priority areas for enhanced tellurium extraction. This will increase sustainability and ensure secure supplies of this critical commodity for U.S. industry.

Round 1 Awards:

3D In Situ Correlative X-Ray Studies of Defect Chemistry, Structure, and Electrical Performance During Dopant Activation

Arizona State University will combine the power of hard X-ray microscopy (XRM) and soft X-ray and electron spectroscopies to probe arsenic-doped CdSeTe absorbers and devices. XRM will probe the chemical distribution, atomic environment, and current collection at the nanoscale for the arsenic and selenium absorption edges. Electron and soft X-ray spectroscopies will enable an area-integrating determination of the electronic structure at surfaces (band edges, surface bandgap) and interfaces (band alignment), in addition to the chemical bonding environment of the sulfur, chlorine, and oxygen in the device. The team is tackling two main questions: How do the chemical states of arsenic (and neighboring atoms) evolve between initial deposition and post-activation? What stressors and processes enhance or prevent activation of arsenic dopants?

Microcontact Arrays Measuring Local Carrier Transport in Cadmium Telluride Solar Cells

The University of Utah will assess the role of microstructures in advanced CdTe devices. The goal is to improve the limiting open-circuit voltage while retaining the maximum values of short-circuit current and fill factor for CdTe solar cells by developing a novel architecture built on a comprehensive understanding of local carrier dynamics. It will investigate the interfacial and microstructural characteristics of advanced CdTe (CdSe(1-x)Tex) passivated emitter and rear contact (PERC) solar cells. A microcontact array platform with tunable pattern geometry will enable measurements of global (patterned CdTe PERC) and local carrier transport, delineating the contribution of grain bulk and grain boundaries to overall PV performance. Using complementary electron/optical microscopy, it will correlate the transport characteristics to the microstructural properties of each sample set (e.g., group-V-doped vs. copper-doped CdTe PERCs).

Round 2 Awards:

Toward Automated Atomic-Resolution Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy and Machine Learning for Achieving High-Efficiency Cd(Se)Te Solar-Cell Devices

The University of Illinois Chicago team will develop and utilize novel materials characterization and modeling approaches to determine the atomic-scale barriers that currently limit the conversion efficiency of polycrystalline CdTe solar cell devices to <23%. By combining advanced machine learning approaches with state-of-the-art electron microscopy, the team will study the role that grain boundaries, hetero-interfaces, and defects have on the carrier lifetime and durability of the Cd(Se)Te materials. 4D scanning transmission electron microscopy, energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, and electron energy-loss spectroscopy will be used to quantify the local atomic and electronic structures of Cd(Se)Te bulk, interfaces, and defects. Autonomous anomaly detection approaches will be developed using machine learning to increase the field of view and sensitivity of current electron microscopy methods. Insights resulting from this project will enable the development of CdSeTe-based devices with efficiencies exceeding 25%.

Round 2 Awards:

Ultra-Thin High-Efficiency CdTe/MgCdTe Double-Heterostructure Solar Cells With Light-Trapping Features

Arizona State University aims to develop a model system to demonstrate ultra-thin monocrystal CdTe solar cells with an efficiency potentially reaching 28% and to better understand the challenges that polycrystalline CdTe thin-film solar cells face. The impact of this model system is beyond the demonstration of solar cells with high efficiencies; it also helps the CdTe solar cell community to address several critical issues, such as the optimization of both contacts and associated interfaces, the optimal passivation of the grain boundaries, and the development of ultra-thin absorbers integrated with light-trapping features. The team will continue collaborating with NREL and other CTAC members during this proposed program to exchange scientific findings and samples, technological knowledge, and practical inventions.

Innovative High-Voltage CdSe Solar Cells

In this project, the Iowa State University team will investigate high-performance devices in CdSe, a new material for making tandem junction solar cells with Cd(Se,Te) acting as the lower gap cell. Simulations show that theoretical solar conversion efficiencies approaching 40% are possible using this combination of materials. Both material systems are capable of low-cost vacuum deposition techniques. The team will make novel device structures using appropriate inorganic heterojunctions to achieve high voltage and efficiency in CdSe.

Frequently Asked Questions

CdTe is the second most common PV technology in the world, after silicon. The thin-film technology can be made more cheaply than silicon solar panels and has been shown to have a 22.1% efficiency in converting sunlight into electricity. CdTe is one of the best performing and most reliable thin-film technologies in large-scale commercial production.

Although CdTe efficiency rates have risen significantly and costs have continued to decline, there is still progress that can be made in ensuring U.S. leadership in this innovative technology.

Once selected, the consortium leadership is expected to:

  • Develop a CdTe technology road map
    • Create and annually update a technology road map to maintain U.S. technology leadership in CdTe PV
    • Conduct stakeholder engagement activities when developing and updating the road map
  • Conduct research projects and programs
    • Develop and launch research projects within consortium leadership institutions and in collaboration with other institutions to meet the targets set within the technology road map
  • Assess the domestic CdTe supply chain
    • Regularly assess the state of the U.S. CdTe manufacturing supply chain and identify any critical material or capacity constraints
    • Determine whether opportunities exist to expand and enhance the U.S. manufacturing base or to otherwise increase the domestic content of CdTe PV systems
    • Identify technology transfer opportunities and conduct feasibility analysis of new technologies.

The CdTe Accelerator program will allow NREL to act as a resource and support structure for the consortium leadership institutions, including but not limited to the following activities:

  • Identify the consortium leadership through an initial solicitation
    • Competitively select a team of companies and research institutions with strong technology development, transfer, and validation capabilities that can impact the domestic CdTe manufacturing base
  • Support the solicitation and launch of new projects
    • Administer additional solicitations on behalf of the consortium to meet the targets set by its technology road map.
  • Conduct internal research and analysis in support of the consortium
    • Conduct applied research to support the goals of the consortium
    • Perform strategic analysis of the U.S. supply chain
    • Act as a business development resource and stakeholder outreach network to augment consortium activities.

US-MAC and CTAC are both dedicated to strengthening U.S. leadership in manufacturing CdTe.

US-MAC is an ad hoc organization that consists of key universities, companies, and national laboratories that believe that CdTe has opportunity to improve and grow. Launched in 2019, US-MAC aims to mobilize and grow the CdTe PV community, advocate for collaboration and resources, improve performance, reduce manufacturing costs, diversify product applications, increase U.S. production, and enhance U.S. national energy security.

CTAC is a 3-year DOE SETO-funded consortium that was launched in 2022. Members conduct research to advance CdTe technology. CTAC members were selected through a competitive solicitation process, while US-MAC continues community building, advocacy, and education. CTAC and US-MAC work together, in different ways, to enhance the impact of CdTe-based PV in our domestic energy supply.

Some of the participating organizations have leadership positions in both CTAC and US-MAC. University of Toledo, First Solar, Colorado State University, and NREL were founders of US-MAC, and First Solar was elected by US-MAC membership to the first Chair of US-MAC's Industrial Advisory Board.

University of Toledo, Colorado State, First Solar, and two other companies, Toledo Solar and Sivananthan Laboratories, collaborated to submit the proposal that was awarded to establish CTAC.

NREL holds a program management and supporting role in CTAC. CTAC gathers new members as projects are awarded by NREL through periodic requests for proposals (RFPs).


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