This has been an interesting few months for the CIGS solar community. VC-funded CIGS startup Solyndra filed for their IPOlate last year and last week received a "going concern" warning. Martin Roscheisen, the tight-lipped CEO of Nanosolar, remained tight-lipped as he lost his CEO position to a solar newcomer. And SoloPower raised some money, partly to pay offtheir irate CEO and CTO founders in an edgy VC investor-founder tussle.
Almost every CIGS firm has experienced schedule delays, personnelshake-ups, or massive re-working of processes and technologicalapproaches.
The bottom line is that building CIGS solar cells is hard (and VCsare less than patient). The first wave of CIGS aspirants have been bigon hype but less convincing in scaling up at a profitable market price. Solar still comes down to dollar per watt in what is (arguably) a commoditized market place.
Entering this scenario are some new CIGS players in what can bedescribed as CIGS 2.0. This approach involves getting to manufacturingscale and low product cost with a capital-efficient model andinnovative business plan, not the brute force,build-a-$1-billion-factory-from-scratch method.
One of these new CIGS players is AQT — Applied Quantum Technologies. The firm madeseveral partnering and funding announcements today.
AQT raised $10 million from the original investor syndicate, STPVHoldings and additional undisclosed investors. They previously raised$4.75 million in 2007 and the firm has managed to get pretty far on that relatively modest sum. They’ve produced CIGS materials at aNREL-validated efficiency of greater than 10 percent. It has takenmost of the other CIGS players several years to reach that efficiencymilestone.
The partnering deal is with Intevac, which will provide AQT with manufacturingcapacity for the production of AQT’s CIGS cells. AQT plans to receiveits first manufacturing system in the second quarter of this year at its Silicon Valley R&D and production facility.
The Intevacequipment and the AQT staff have a hard disk drive pedigree and look toapply these HDD skills to solar. (Not the first time that’s been tried– see MiaSolé and XsunX.)
“This agreement with Intevac is a major step towards capitalizing onAQT’s breakthrough CIGS 2.0 approach,” said Michael Bartholomeusz, AQT’s CEO. AQT deploys a proprietary process on Intevac’s manufacturingplatforms with the aim of producing high-performance, low-cost CIGSthin-film PV cells. AQT’s CIGS technology allows for continuousin-line manufacturing, which simplifies and streamlines themanufacturing process.
In April, AQT will build out an initial 15MW production line at itsnew Silicon Valley development and manufacturing location.
So what is the fifteen-person AQT doing that the other the othergenerously-funded and highly-hyped players have missed?
- They are focusing on building solar cells, not manufacturingequipment
- They are using pre-existing high-volume manufacturing equipment
- They look to ramp up in 15-megawatt to 20-megawatt modularincrements, not biting off 50MW-100MW chunks like other CIGS players
- AQT uses a dry reactive sputtering process
The firm was founded by the brothers Bartholomeusz, Brian andMichael, who seem to get along pretty well for brothers –- more Orvilleand Wilbur than Cain and Abel. The team has manufacturing and materials experience from their days at Moser Baer and Heraeus.
AQT has lined up a customer who plans to assemble AQT’s solar cellsinto panels for an installation in Mexico.
In the words of founder Brian Bartholomeusz, "AQT has developed andis executing on a very broad, pragmatic business model that is based on innovation and leverage. Even at this early stage with minusculefunding and a tiny team we have put in place all the building blocksfor our future development: manufacturing partners, strategicsuppliers, bankability, customers, and sales channels."
List of VC funded thin film firms: