This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.
Canadian Company Aims to Commercialize Spheral Solar Cells
ATS Automation Tooling Systems Inc. announced on July 17th its plans to commercialize an innovative method of producing solar cells, called Spheral Solar technology. The technology-based on tiny silicon beads bonded between two sheets of aluminum foil-promises lower costs due to its greatly reduced use of silicon relative to conventional multicrystalline silicon solar cells. ATS claims to have achieved sunlight-to-energy conversion efficiencies equal to conventional solar cells at lower costs and in a form that is lightweight, pliable, and break resistant.
Spheral Solar technology is not new: it was championed by Texas Instruments Incorporated (TI) in the early 1990s. At one point, TI envisioned shipping silicon beads to local manufacturing plants located around the world. But despite DOE funding for process development, TI terminated its program in early 1995, citing a lack of external funding for a large-scale factory. See the DOE Photovoltaic Manufacturing Technology (PVMaT) Web site.
ATS, a leading producer of automated manufacturing systems, may have the manufacturing expertise needed to overcome TI's pitfalls. The company claims to have further developed and enhanced TI's technology and will complete a pilot production line in Cambridge, Ontario, this summer. ATS also has solar cell experience through its 1997 acquisition of Photowatt International S.A., now the seventh largest solar manufacturer in the world. ATS claims to have improved Photowatt's profitability through the use of its automation technology; the company expects to eventually license the Spheral Solar technology to Photowatt.
To fully commercialize the Spheral Solar process, ATS has started design of a new 120,000-square-foot, highly automated factory that will be capable of producing 20 megawatts of solar cells each year. The new factory will require $40 million of automated production equipment and is supported in part by a $29.5 million research and development agreement with the Canadian government. ATS plans to complete the facility and begin commercial production by fall of 2003. See the ATS press release.
ATS created a new subsidiary, Spheral Solar Power, Inc., to commercialize the new technology. See the new company's Web site.