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Fraunhofer ISE and Azur Space reaffirm long standing co-operation

The two organisations will continue to develop high performance III-V solar cells for space applications.

For over 15 years, the development and production of highly efficient multi-junction solar cells based on III-V semiconductors have connected the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE and Azur Space Solar Power.

Space solar cell being measured for calibrating current-voltage characteristics with a multi-source solar simulator

This strategic partnership has now been confirmed for the next twenty years with an agreement of cooperation. In the coming years, Fraunhofer ISE will work exclusively with Azur Space, Heilbronn on new generations of solar cells for applications in space.

Of all solar cells to date, the highest efficiencies for converting sunlight into electricity are achieved by multi-junction solar cells based on III-V semiconductors. Typical III-V materials used are GaAs, AlGaAs and InGaP. In contrast to silicon, III-V semiconductors can be optimised to match specific wavelength ranges in the solar spectrum by carefully adjusting the atomic compositions.

To produce a multi-junction solar cell, several III-V-based solar cells, each of which absorbs a different part of the solar spectrum from the blue to infrared range, are monolithically stacked on top of each other. The cells are internally series connected by so-called tunnel diodes. The resulting stack of layers is quite complex and can consist of up to 40 single layers.

Due to the layering principle of the so-called “subcells” and the excellent crystalline quality of the III-V materials used, these multi-junction solar cells today achieve the highest efficiencies for the conversion of sunlight to electricity. In space, efficiencies of triple-junction solar cells are about 30%.

Since 1995, III-V solar cells have been used in space to power satellites. The potential for this application has not yet been exhausted. In the future, III-V solar cells are expected to generate even more electricity per cell area, weigh less and be more robust so that they can better withstand the highly charged particles encountered in orbit.

Together with Azur Space Solar Power, the researchers in Freiburg are addressing these aims and developing innovative manufacturing processes for multi-junction solar cells of the next generation. The work is supported by the European Space Agency (ESA-ESTEC), the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

The research results are being successfully and promptly implemented in the products from Azur Space. “The manufacturing process developed at Fraunhofer ISE for multi-junction solar cells serves as the basis for the industry production carried out today by Azur Space Solar Power,” explains a pleased Andreas Bett, Deputy Director of Fraunhofer ISE and Division Director of “Materials – Solar Cells and Technology” at Fraunhofer ISE.

“And not least, it is the long-standing successful cooperation with Fraunhofer ISE that has made Azur Space a worldwide leader in manufacturing III-V solar cells,” adds Klaus-Dieter Rasch, CEO of Azur Space Solar Power in Heilbronn.
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