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When photovoltaics shine…

Production of ingots will begin in a few weeks!” Didier Landaud, Director of Emix, sounds cheerful. They aren't gold ingots, but they're certainly valuable in their own right. The start-up founded six years ago by Marcel Garnier,1 a CNRS senior researcher at the time, is about to industrialize the process developed by the Electromagnetic Processing of Materials laboratory (EPM).2  This innovative process for producing silicon ingots used in photovoltaic cells will make it possible to convert solar energy into electricity. Ten years of research and collaboration were required to obtain a continuous casting of silicon using the cold crucible technique, which applies electromagnetic forces to avoid all contact with the molten metal. This new process, faster and cheaper than the previous melting method in a non-reusable crucible, combines in a single step induction melting, solidification and silicon formation. The advantage? “No pollution via the container, which results in very pure silicon,” explains Christian Trassy, the new director of the EPM laboratory. And no loss of materials. The ingots are then cut into wafers 0.2 or 0.3 mm thick, perpendicular to the direction of the grain. This expert work is the result of an effort by CNRS to combine multidisciplinary partnerships and manufacturers, that began when the patent was obtained by Cezus (a Framatome subsidiary) in 1987. Thanks to financial support from ANVAR (the French Agency for Innovation) and European programs like Helios, the project resulted in the creation of Emix in 1999, at the behest of CNRS.

 A snapshot of the start-up reveals an exclusive worldwide license, a 2000 m2 (21,500 sq. feet) factory near Limoges in France, solely French investors, and decidedly open equity. “Our first production unit is about to be qualified, and our shareholders in both the public and private sectors have already agreed to build a second and third furnace,” says a confident Landaud.3 And maybe even a second factory, in France if possible. Because demand is strong: “It's crazy,” he says. “With annual growth between 30 and 40%, demand is 20 times higher than our current production capabilities.” 

Camille Lamotte

Notes :

1. Marcel Garnier was Director of the laboratoire Madylam-EPM laboratory from 1983 to 2000. He died in September 2002.
2. Elaboration par procédés magnétiques. CNRS-only lab. View web site
3. Emertec, Innoveris Management, Limousin Region, La Creuze Region, Smipac.

Contacts :

Christian Trassy
Emix, Saint-Martin-d'Hères


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