A test manufacturing facility for new solar technologies is being established in town by the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.
The U.S. Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium, headquartered at the college, has taken over the former DayStar Technologies building in the Capital Region Business Park. The new Solar Energy Development Center will do prototype manufacturing of new solar cell technologies.
“This is the first enabling step in the revolution we hope to achieve in solar,” said Alain Kaloyeros, university senior vice president and CEO of Albany Nanotech.
Last spring, the consortium won a $57.5 million federal grant for advanced solar energy research, putting it on the national forefront of such research.
The college’s acquisition is preserving 17 existing solar energy research jobs, with the expectation that more employees will be hired shortly.
“We definitely intend to add more people in the short term,” said Pradeep Haldar, the college’s vice president for clean energy programs.
The center’s creation was announced Monday at an event attended by U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook.
Gibson said solar energy technology is important to meeting the nation’s future energy needs, but the costs need to be lower so that people can afford it.
“We’ve got to find a way to drive down the cost, and the college is the entity that can make that happen,” Gibson said.
The consortium, headed by the college and Sematech, the private semiconductor research partnership, has more than 40 participating companies or organizations together investing $300 million, officials said.
The college took control of the 18,000-square-foot Halfmoon building from Veeco Solar, which operated it after DayStar pulled out in 2009. The building is set up for research and manufacturing of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar cell technology, but faced closure when Veeco decided not to pursue the technology.
DayStar was drawn to New York state in 2004 with an $11 million financial incentive offer, but left in 2009 without commercializing the CIGS technology it was developing.
Haldar said the fact DayStar and Veeco couldn’t profit from making CIGS solar cells doesn’t mean it won’t be successful in the future.
CIGS cells, which incorporate thin-film technology, can be installed on glass or even on flexible surfaces, unlike current solar cells made from silicon. College officials said the film has the potential to be built directly into the roofs of buildings and other energy-use settings.
CIGS cells are currently more expensive to manufacture than silicon cells, but researchers are trying to drive down the cost.
“You need a consortium to make this business model work. With any single company, it’s hard,” Haldar said, “With many companies, you spread the risk.”
Kaloyeros said Veeco was paid $4 million to $5 million for the building and equipment, with all of the money coming from private consortium partners.
“There was no state or federal money put into this,” he said.
As a place to test-manufacture innovations developed by researchers, the center is a key component of the overall effort, he said.
“This is a great win for us. This facility is worth $35 [million] or $40 million,” Kaloyeros said.
The employees who previously worked for Veeco, including engineers and manufacturing technicians, will continue working in the building, which is filled with high-tech manufacturing equipment and a research area.
Kalayeros said the center will almost certainly expand as solar energy research continues over the next few years.
“We’re trying to change the development model for solar,” he said. “You could design a building with solar embedded right into it.”
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority offered words of encouragement, though it isn’t currently providing any funding.
“We are seeing a vibrant and innovative cluster emerge right here and in several other areas of New York state,” said Janet Joseph, NYSERDA’s vice president of strategic planning.
Dennis Brobston, president of the Saratoga Economic Development Corp., said the center will help attract other high-tech businesses to the region.
“When you have good R&D, manufacturing follows,” he said.
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