Evergreen Solar Finds Chinese Buyer for Its Technology

Watching a bankruptcy process unfold is like watching the slow death of a company. Evergreen Solar, which announced the bankruptcy filing back in August, has sold is core assets for $6 million and some shares of the buyer, China Private Equity Investment Holdings.

The completion of the sale, announced last Friday in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, also came with the news that Evergreen’s board of directors had let go CEO, Michael El-Hillow, effective immediately. The company served the same termination notices to its CFO, Donald W. Reilly, CTO, Lawrence Felton, chief strategy officer Richard G. Ghleboski, and general manager of the Asia operations, Henry Ng.

The board then appointed Christian M. Ehrbar as the CEO and Paul Kawa as the CFO as the company continues its march toward the end of the bankruptcy process.

Evergreen’s core technology centers around the manufacturing of silicon wafers that uses a technology first developed at MIT. The sale it announced last Friday included the intellectual property of this wafer technology, which the company promised to deliver very efficient cells. The buyer, China Private Equity, is listed on the London Alternative Investment Market. It not only spent $6 million in cash but also forked over some 7.6 million shares of its stock for Evergreen’s technology.

The sales price isn’t much for a company that has been around since 1994 and tried to popularize its novel approach to making silicon cells, which it then turned into solar panels. But the technology ended up producing wafers that required more specialized factory tool, something that made it difficult for the company to find buyers who could buy more standardized equipment to make silicon cells.

The solar company has struggled for some years. Driving down production costs was a big challenge for Evergreen, which announced in early 2009 that it would move some of its production to China. After that, it gradually shuttered its factories in the U.S. as the market came to be dominated by manufactures that could build factories quickly to reduce costs.

So it’s not surprising that a Chinese investment company picked up Evergreen’s assets, though whether it can make good money from it remains to be seen.

But at least Evergreen has found a buyer for its technology. Solyndra is still looking. The company held an auction of non-core assets, such as posters, t-shirts and lab equipment, earlier this month but was hoping to find a buyer who could buy the company’s manufacturing operation and intellectual property and re-start production. The deadline for the sale of this core asset came and went, and Solyndra is now looking at selling its core assets bit by bit.

Solyndra snagged a $535 million federal loan to build a new factory and outfit it with equipment last year. The goal was to mass produce its novel solar panels containing rows of cell-filled tubes in order to drive down costs. But the company couldn’t manage to reduce its cost fast enough to counter the dramatic fall in prices for conventional silicon solar panels this year.

It filed for bankruptcy in September and became a pawn in a political bickering between the Republicans and Democrats and sparked debates about the government’s role in funding renewable energy development. 

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Ucilia Wang is a California-based freelance journalist who writes about renewable energy. She previously was the associate editor at Greentech Media and a staff writer covering the semiconductor industry at Red Herring. In addition to Renewable Energy World, she writes for Earth2tech/GigaOm, Forbes,Technology Review (MIT) and PV Magazine. You can reach her at uciliawang@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter: @UciliaWang

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