When Allen Barnett founded AstroPower in the early 1980s, he did so with the intent of someday growing “big sheets of silicon, fast.” That day has arrived for the Delaware company, recently recognized by R&D Magazine who dubbed its APx-8 solar cell one of the 100 most technologically significant new products of the year.Newark, Delaware – September 27, 2002 [SolarAccess.com] The APx-8 solar cell is unique to the solar industry in both its size – 8 inches square – and its speed of manufacture – 3 meters per minute. In an industry where the growth of silicon ribbons at a rate of 1.5 cm per minute is considered fast, 3 meters per minute is light speed. AstroPower has innovated a new process in which the silicon crystals grow up off a roll of substrate material rather than in a flat plane. “That’s the key to our process,” said Barnett. “That’s what we were trying to invent.” Currently, the 8-inch cells are being produced on two production lines that run 24 hours a day, five days a week, producing 18 MW of cells annually. Barnett said the company hopes to ramp up production to 24 MW by the end of the year for the cells, which average 4.5 W each and are rated at 11 percent efficiency. Demand for the 140 to 150 W modules made with the new cells has been high, according to Barnett, since the company began production nearly a year ago. Modules with the new APx-8 were chosen for a 13 MW facility to be built in Spain early next year. Barnett said AstroPower’s manufacturing process, called Silicon-Film, uses about the same amount of silicon as traditional multicrystalline processes but the purity level can be significantly less than used in other processes. “We have the technology to use metallurgical grade silicon, which is inexpensive and abundant,” Barnett said. This has allowed the company to drive down its costs of production bringing its traditionally premium cell prices in line with – or below – market forces. “We are convinced that this is the lowest-cost cell on the marketplace.” Currently, AstroPower is completing a new, 100,000 sq/ft manufacturing plant that will have a capacity of 160 MW of cells and 64 MW of modules. Barnett said he is particularly proud of the team that developed the APx-8 over nearly a decade led by James Rand, vice president of Research and Development. In addition to Rand, the product development team includes: Scott Kendall, Engineering Manager; Sandra Collins, Process Engineer; Joseph Checchi, Engineer; David Ford, Engineering Manager; Chris Kendall, Engineering Project Manager; Ralf Jonczyk, Manager, Process Development; and Robert Hall, former Vice President and Chief Scientist.