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The Thin Infrared Line: Global Trade in Elements for non-Silicon Solar Cells


Samuel M. Goodman


Photovoltaic energy production has increased dramatically over the past decade as manufacturing costs have decreased, power conversion efficiencies have increased, and demand for carbon neutral electricity has grown. Silicon-based solar cells represent the largest market share within the photovoltaic industry, with the remainder substantially composed of the thin-film materials cadmium telluride (CdTe) and copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS). The materials used in CdTe and CIGS are less common and their available supply is mediated by a long value chain. This article examines those value chains, including mining, refining, and solar cell manufacturing to discuss potential bottlenecks for future production. While there is enough of these elements to meet current and near-term demand, the production of CdTe and CIGS solar cells will be fundamentally constrained due to limitations when recovering raw materials from parent ores.