The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

Technological Innovation in Thin-film PV Manufacturing Takes Hold in Ohio

With its abundance of sand and easy river access, northwestern Ohio has attracted glass-makers for 150 years. By the late 19th century, Michael Owens was well on his way to revolutionizing glass-making with his bottle-making machine that could produce 240 bottles per minute, an invention that reduced labor costs by 80%. The region also produced Harold McMaster, who Fortune Magazine dubbed "The Glass Genius" for his invention of Permaglass, the curved and tempered glass used in automotive and consumer markets throughout the 20th century.

"There is not another place in the world that knew as much about glass as Toledo," says Norm Johnston, former director of research for Owens Corning Fiberglass and vice president of technology for Libby Owens Ford now CEO of a thin-film manufacturing company.

While glass itself may have become a commodity, driven by its industrial legacy and focused PV research at its area universities, a little-known 21st-century transformation of the region's glass-making tradition is underway that could change all that. Toledo, known as "The Glass City," neighboring Perrysburg, and the surrounding Wood County have together become a mecca for start-up manufacturers of thin-film PV, primarily delivered in a glass panel sandwich.

"I think the regional determinant is the ongoing collective legacy of the physical infrastructure and the human capital of making glass and glass products," says Tom Blaha, executive director of Wood County Economic Development Commission, an organization that has played a key role in identifying industrial sites and tax abatement structures for the startups.

McMaster began the current transformation of the region in 1985 when he founded Glasstech, an ASi (amorphous silicon) solar technology firm. From there McMaster started CdTe (cadmium telluride) company Solar Cells Inc. (SCI) in a technology incubator at the University of Toledo.

Out of Solar Cells Inc. came First Solar Inc., Solar Fields, which Q-Cells AG, the German-owned number-one global manufacturer of PV cells and thin-film modules, bought in 2007 and merged with Calyxo, and Willard & Kelsey Solar Group LLC.

Xunlight Corp., led by a researcher from the University of Toledo, also plans to begin production of flexible solar panels this year at a factory in Toledo. Some industry experts say SCI's technology had some strong points, but was maybe not quite as effective as some of the processes developed later on.

As CEO of Solar Fields and vice chairman of Calyxo, Norm Johnston has been integrally involved in the 21st-century transformation of the region's glass-making tradition. "[McMaster] ran out of money, invited [Walmart billionaire John] Walton in, and got diluted out of what became First Solar," he recounts. First Solar, the world's 800-pound gorilla of thin-film manufacture, has its sole North American plant located in Cedar Business Park in Perrysburg Township.

Johnston says, "McMaster then came to me, asking if I knew how to do [what First Solar was doing], so I got 6 people with 150 years experience. Where but in Toledo could you find that?" he says, of the founding of Solar Fields, whose technology is being used by Calyxo.

"Calyxo is in start-up to do CdTe on glass panels," Johnston said of his new firm. "The thin film stack is the same as First Solar, but the process is different, it's atmospheric, not vacuum, and continuous, not batch. Without the need for a vacuum chamber, the size of panels can be larger, so we have fewer legs, wires, less hookup time and potentially lower installation costs." He says that once Calyxo has established volume manufacturing, its production costs should be at least as good as First Solar's, which are reported to be the lowest in the world. Calyxo's Perrysburg site contains the original prototype line and R&D center, says Johnston, though initial production will be in Germany, near Q-Cells, and will be cut and pasted all over the world where appropriate.

Largely unknown outside the region, Willard & Kelsey Solar Group LLC is constructing its manufacturing facility for CdTe thin-film glass panels in an old Delafoil cathode ray tube components factory in Perrysburg. The local newspaper reports that W&K intends to produce 1 to 1.5 million panels per year, but general manager Keith Guenther would not confirm exact production targets, saying only that the firm was "fundamentally on schedule."

Another source close to Willard & Kelsey's ramp-up says it has all of the "big pieces" of its equipment in place. "They're just testing the vacuums, and temperatures. They'll start making cadmium plates as soon as they get the rest of the equipment," he said.

Xunlight, whose AsiGe (Amorphous Silicon Germanium) technology also originated at the University of Toledo, is the exception to using glass panels, opting instead for a lighter stainless steel flexible substrate that can be integrated into commercial buildings. "We have completed our pilot line, and we're optimizing and ramping production. We should have small-scale commercial production in early '09," says Todd Armstrong, assistant to CEO and founder Xunming Deng. (See lead image, above) Xunlight already has a subsidiary, Xunlight26, which is still in R&D, looking at CdTe on a flexible substrate.

Norman Stevens is co-director of the 2-year-old, thin-film-focused Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization, a joint collaboration between the University of Toledo, Bowling Green University and Ohio State University. Stevens says the region's burgeoning "solar technology corridor" should have half a dozen companies before long.

"There is more stuff coming out of the labs all the time. We are set up to support any kind of development or improvements of products and other companies are forming around here to provide materials and support," he says, adding that NASA just joined them to do research and testing certification of terrestrial thin-film PV.

Marsha Johnston is a freelance writer based in California specializing in renewable energies, conservation and sustainable development.

Untitled Document

RELATED ARTICLES

Welspun Commissions 52-MW Solar Power Plant in India

Vince Font Leading Indian solar developer Welspun Renewables has commissioned the construction of a massive solar plant in the state of Maharashtra. The planned 52-megawatt (MW) solar plant will be located in the city of Baramati. The...

Regional News from the July/August 2015 Digital Edition of Renewable Energy World

Renewable Energy World Editors EcoFasten Solar announced that it launched a new mounting "Rock-It System" that it would be displaying during Intersolar. Product compliance was determined through testing per UL Subject 2703, which reviews integr...

SkyPower Inks $2.2 Billion Deal for Massive Solar Power Plant in Kenya

Eric Ombok, Bloomberg Kenya’s Energy Ministry and SkyPower Global Ltd. will sign a $2.2 billion agreement on Sunday that paves the way for the Canadian company to develop a 1-gigawatt solar project in East Africa’s biggest economy. The solar pro...

Making a Match: How Solar Companies and Banks Hook Up

Jennifer Runyon The announcements are fairly frequent: SunPower Partners with Admirals Bank for $200 Million Solar Loan Program, Deutsche Bank to Lend $1 Billion for Japanese Solar Projects, Financing Partnerships Drive North Carolina's So...

CURRENT MAGAZINE ISSUE

Volume 18, Issue 4
1507REW_C11

STAY CONNECTED

To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:

SOCIAL ACTIVITY

Tweet the Editors! @megcichon @jennrunyon

FEATURED PARTNERS



EVENTS

Presenting at Infocast's Utility Scale Solar Summit 2015

Oct. 21, 2015 4:30-5:15pm Albie Fong, National Director, Solar Frontier ...

Utility Scale Solar Summit 2015

Oct. 21, 2015 4:30-5:15pm Albie Fong, National Director, Solar Frontier ...

5th Annual Hydro Plant Maintenance

Join maintenance professionals to discuss the challenges in maintenance ...

COMPANY BLOGS

Behind Every Good Decision

When something about your business isn’t working, you set out to c...

Clean Energy Patents Maintain High Levels in First Quarter, Solar L...

U.S. patents for Clean Energy technologies from the first quarter of 201...

An Overwhelming Paradox

I’m sure we’re all very familiar with the feeling of being o...

NEWSLETTERS

Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now  

 

FEATURED PARTNERS