Oxford PV and Meyer Burger falling out threatens Europe’s solar industry

Oxford PV and Meyer Burger falling out threatens Europe’s solar industry

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Two of Europe’s leading perovskite solar cell technology companies are on the verge of a bruising legal battle that could hold back production of solar panel in the region.

Perovskite pioneer Oxford PV has completed its tandem solar cell manufacturing site in Germany and at the same time terminated its deal with its major shareholder and equipment supplier, Meyer Burger.

The Oxford PV factory in Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany, is the first volume manufacturing line for high efficiency, low cost perovskite-on-silicon tandem solar cells and the company plans annual manufacturing capacity of 100 MW with full production starting in 2022.

As part of the development, the company signed a strategic, exclusive deal with Swiss technology developer Meyer Burger for manufacturing equipment in 2019. However, since then Meyer Burger has changed direction and has also built a plant for solar cell production that opened last week.

This potential conflict was highlighted back in May 2020 when Meyer Burger cancelled deals with other module makers that used its equipment. The completion of the factory has led to Oxford PV unilaterally terminating the deal with a terse one line statement. Meyer Burger says it is exploring its legal options and points out it is the largest single shareholder of Oxford PV with a share of 19.76 percent.

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“Our UK and German teams, along with our supplier partners, have worked diligently to build out our Brandenburg factory,” said Frank Averdung, CEO of Oxford PV. “Since 2017 we have been operating a small volume line on site which has enabled us to optimise our product and verify that we meet our long-term stability and manufacturability targets. Now that the technology is ready for deployment and the factory build-out has been completed, we are excited about our journey ahead to realise our mission to make perovskite PV the mainstream solar technology.” 

That mission does not include Meyer Burger.

“Meyer Burger Technology was informed on Friday, July 23, 2021 through a press release as well as a letter from Oxford Photovoltaics Limited that the company considers the companies’ collaboration agreement, in place since 2019, terminated for own strategic reasons,” said the company. “In view of the unexpected announcement by Oxford PV, Meyer Burger is considering legal options to enforce its rights.”

The agreement covered an exclusive partnership to jointly develop the required technology for mass production of perovskite tandem cells based on Meyer Burger’s heterojunction silicon cell technology (HJT) as well as necessary novel perovskite production equipment from Meyer Burger.

“Meyer Burger’s assessment was and is that the perovskite tandem technology will only reach the required technology and process maturity, product reliability and cost structure for competitive mass production in a few years. Any consequences of Oxford PV’s announcement therefore have no impact on the success of Meyer Burger’s transformation nor on Meyer Burger’s communicated guidance,” it said.

The fall out may have wider implications as both companies have key intellectual property. Oxford PV has over 350 patents with substantial R&D organisation in Oxford, UK, but is still in startup phase while Meyer Burger developed the heterojunction silicon cell technology (HJT) technology and has raised substantial sums for its move into manufacturing. Using this for a legal battle would slow the development of the production capacity.

The perovskite tandem technology is an integral part of Meyer Burger’s technology roadmap and Meyer Burger says it has developed a comprehensive portfolio of processes, technologies and production techniques for its own potential mass production of tandem solar cells and modules. This includes the essential manufacturing processes and machines for perovskite tandem solar cells and corresponding solar modules with Meyer Burger’s proprietary SmartWire interconnection technology.

“Meyer Burger thus holds a key to critical success factors such as product reliability and cost-efficient mass production,” it said.

This would put the two on a collision course over IP that would damage the fledgling attempts to build solar cell manufacturing capability in Europe.

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