Estimation of Life Cycle Material Costs of Cadmium Telluride– and Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide–Photovoltaic Absorber Materials based on Life Cycle Material Flows

Chalcogenide and chalcopyrite photovoltaic (PV) technologies are highly suitable for solar energy conversion because of their high efficiency, long‐term stable performance, and low‐cost production. However, the absorber materials that are used, such as indium, gallium, and tellurium, are regarded as critical, and their limited availability can hinder market expansion. Therefore, we assess how material efficiency measures along the PV module's life cycle can reduce the net material demand of the absorber materials and thus the material costs. In order to estimate the material flows, we developed a closed‐loop model for the life cycle representing the phases module production, module collection, module recycling, and refinement. In order to reflect the variety and uncertainty in each phase, we compose three different efficiency scenarios by varying material efficiency measures on process and product levels. For each scenario, we compute the life cycle material costs based on the computed material flows. The results show that, in the long term, the material demand can be reduced down to one fourth of the required feedstock for module manufacturing; that is, three fourths of the absorber material stays in the life cycle in a very efficient scenario. Thus, total material costs along the life cycle could be significantly reduced, because the costs for material recycling are lower than the costs for “new” technical‐grade material. This reduction in life cycle material costs means that cadmium telluride– and copper indium gallium diselenide–PV can still be financially viable even if the price of the absorber materials increases significantly. Hence those technologies will still be competitive against crystalline silicon PV in the mid to long term.