HelioVolt joins growing ranks of CIGS thin-film solar PV companies ramping manufacturing

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With the official ribbon-cutting of its Austin, TX production fab today, HelioVolt has become the latest copper-indium-gallium-(di)selenide thin-film photovoltaics company to move into manufacturing. The company’s 122,400 square foot facility, rated at 20-MW capacity, is slated to reach volume production levels by the second half of next year and will initially employ 160 workers once ramped.

“This is just the beginning,” Patel, the company’s VP of sales and marketing told the Austin American-Statesman. “This plant, relatively speaking, is small and designed mainly to get things ramped up.” The company expects to have 300 employees by the end of 2009, he said, with most in Austin.

HelioVolt is targeting three markets: large panels used in solar-farm arrays, which will be the first products to emerge from the Austin factory; panels installed on commercial rooftops; and what he calls the ultimate market—incorporating solar-generating power into building materials, according to the news report.

Largely financed by HelioVolt’s $101 million Series B funding round completed last October, the new facility (a portion of which is shown in the accompanying photo, along with company founder/CEO B.J. Stanbery) will not only produce environmentally beneficial products but is also a certified green building. It has been been awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design) certification by both Austin Energy’s Green Building Program and the U.S. Green Building Council, the company said. Specific sustainability initiatives include efficiency in lighting, energy and water conservation, sustainable materials, indoor environmental quality, design process innovation, and creative water reuse.

Although specific details about the new production line remain sketchy, HelioVolt’s process is based on what it calls FASST, a reactive transfer printing approach the company claims can produce CIGS cells faster and cheaper than other techniques, with better than 12% conversion efficiencies.

HelioVolt and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory received an “Excellence in Technology Transfer” Award for the hybrid CIGS technology from the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer (FLC) in September. In a press release announcing the award, the FASST process was described as one that “combines NREL’s nonvacuum ink deposition method with HelioVolt’s rapid reactive bonding technique. NREL’s method for manufacturing hybrid CIGS thin films uses ink-jet and ultrasonic spray technologies to precisely apply metal-organic inks in separate layers directly onto a variety of substrates.

“Then, HelioVolt’s proprietary processing system quickly bonds the film layers under heat and pressure, forming large-grain CIGS crystals. Compared to others, this system takes only a few seconds instead of hours at substantially lower temperatures.”

Several other U.S.-based players in the crowded CIGS TFPV space have announced manufacturing moves and other developments over the past several months.

Cylindrical CIGS manufacturer Solyndra came out of stealth mode earlier this month, touting its 110-MW factory in Fremont, CA. A bit farther up the road in San Francisco’s East Bay, DayStar Technologies plans to have its first CIGS-on-glass modules out of its 25-MW fab in Newark during the first quarter of 2009, with initial commercial panels hitting the market in the third quarter of next year, company senior director of sales and marketing Bret Adams told PV-Tech.

In nearby San Jose, Martin Roscheisen, CEO of Nanosolar, wrote last week in the company’s blog that the firm–which uses a print-based roll-to-roll process–recently had its first profitable month, attributing it in part to “frugal cost management.”

Global Solar has been ramping its 40-MW flexible CIGS-on-foil line in Tucson, AZ, since earlier this year. It will cut the ribbon on its 35-MW facility near Berlin on Nov. 19, revealed Mike Gering, company president/CEO, during a luncheon at the recent Solar Power International event. Global’s CTO Jeff Britt said during the “Great Thin Film Debate” panel at the same show that he was “very confident” his company “would be producing north of 55 MW next year.” 

NREL’s Harin Ullal said during the thin-film panel at SPI that he believes there will be “significant CIGS volume, in the hundreds of megawatts,” coming online globally in 2009-2010.

— Tom Cheyney

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