In a surprise move, Q-Cells’ a-Si thin-film subsidiary Sontor will merge with thin-film competitor Sunfilm, a user of Applied Materials ‘SunFab’ turnkey thin-film production technology. Sontor has been one of Q-Cells’ most successful thin-film ventures, starting mass production late in 2008 with plans to ramp its 25MW plant in 2009. The decision to absorb Sontor into Sunfilm was said to be due to the ‘increasingly competitive global photovoltaic market,’ enabling Sunfilm to have the scale to compete in an overcrowded market. The Sunfilm name will remain.
“Thin film is one of the most significant growth areas within the photovoltaic industry. After the merger, the new Sunfilm will participate significantly in this growth and we will establish our company as both a driving force in the market and as a technology leader,” noted Wolfgang Heinze, COO and chairman of the executive board of Sunfilm.
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Q-Cells will hold a 50% stake in the new Sunfilm. Good Energies and NorSun will also remain invested in Sunfilm. Good Energies will own approximately 35% of the new company, with approximately 15% held by NorSun.
“We believe the merger is the best way to capitalize on the enormous potential of tandem-junction thin-film technology and to establish a leading company in the market,” commented Dr. Sven Hansen, chief investment officer of Good Energies and chairman of the supervisory board of Sunfilm.
Combined capacity of the two companies was said to be 85MW, with an additional 60MW of capacity under construction at Sunfilm’s Grossroehrsdorf facility.
Sunfilm was the first Applied Materials customer to qualify tandem junction cells for volume production, with module efficiencies of up to 8%. The companies said that a key strength of the merger would be focused R&D on improving tandem junction cell efficiencies, regarded my many industry observers as a crucial requirement for a-Si thin film to be competitive in the future with low cost and market leader First Solar, which has efficiency levels above 10% currently and expects a further 1% gain by the end of 2009. Sontor was also using tandem cell technology.
The new company will have approximately 400 employees. The merger is expected to become legally effective by the end of May 2009.