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Schott to build thin-film solar plant

Posted by iMark - 2006-03-29

SAN JOSE, Calif. — In the latest wave of activity for renewable energy, Schott GmbH will invest 60 million euros ($72 million) to enable its subsidiary, Schott Solar Inc., to build a manufacturing facility for thin-film solar modules in Jena, Germany.

Germany’s Schott and others are scrambling to expand their solar-cell fab capacities to meet huge demand from homes and businesses worldwide. Companies that have recently announced new and massive solar-cell production plants include Energy Conversion Devices, Evergreen Solar, Sharp, SunPower and Suntech.

Schott’s new facility's manufacturing capacity will exceed 30 megawatts (MW) per year. The facility is scheduled to open in the fall of 2007. It will create another 160 new jobs at its site in Jena.

“This investment means we will be expanding our thin film technology to the industrial series production level,” said Udo Ungeheuer, chairman of the German company, which also makes a number of electronic products.

Schott Solar currently operates a facility for producing thin-film modules in lesser quantities at its site in Putzbrunn, near Munich, Germany. This is now being joined by industrial serial production in Jena.

The new production facility will manufacture thin-film solar electricity modules based on amorphous silicon. This process calls for silicon to be vapor deposited onto glass. One advantage that thin film silicon technology offers compared to crystalline silicon technology is that much less silicon is required, according to Schott (Mainz, Germany).

In addition, these modules can be put to use in a number of flexible ways. For the most part, modules based on amorphous silicon are integrated into glazing applications that involve windows, roofs and facades.

Schott is also developing conventional solar cells based on polysilicon. This includes its plants in Europe and the United States. With a manufacturing capacity of over 100 megawatts, Schott claims to provide the entire value creation chain, including crystalline wafers, cells and modules.

But ongoing shortages of polysilicon is expected to restrict the growth rates in the worldwide solar photovoltaic (PV) market to just 10 percent in 2006, according to Solarbuzz LLC.

On the other hand, the market for thin-film and organic photovoltaics (PV) is projected to be worth over $2.3 billion by 2011, according to NanoMarkets (Glen Allen, Va.), an industry analyst firm.

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