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16 July 2008


DayStar aims to ramp production by Q1/2009

In a mid-year conference call on 8 July, DayStar Technologies Inc of Santa Clara, CA, USA, which is developing thin-film photovoltaic products based on copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS), gave an update on its three-part strategy outlined in its previous conference call: mini-module development; scaling up CIGS deposition and other processes; and building out the production line to begin shipments.

Most of the mini-module development so far has been focused on the CIGS deposition process, but DayStar has also used the program to develop processes for the other steps in making a complete module, says CEO Dr Stephan DeLuca. “A key feature for any PV module is its survivability, and proper encapsulation is key to making modules that last more than 20 years,” he says. “CIGS is especially sensitive to moisture. Encapsulating processes and materials that work for silicon-based thin films don’t necessarily work for CIGS due to moisture ingress,” DeLuca adds. “So, we have developed lamination and edge-seal processes for our glass modules that we have tested for moisture penetration. These test modules have passed the 1000 hour damp-heat test, which we believe provides a good indication that our encapsulation process will protect the modules from moisture over a 20 year lifetime.”

The work on mini-modules has progressed from the initial task of proving out DayStar’s one-step CIGS deposition process to development of monitoring and control systems required for scale up of the process. “We have developed these systems to the point where we now believe we have effective control over the reactive sputtering process,” says DeLuca. In the cost-effective manufacturing of high-performance CIGS, getting proper control of the selenium incorporation is critical. “Achieving stable, controllable and reproducible results has a direct impact on the scale up of our process in ‘Big Baby’ [the firm’s development system] and is a necessary step for ultimately meeting our goals of producing low-cost photovoltaic panels in high volumes,” he adds.

DeLuca says that initial tests have gone well, and that the films that have been made have been well within the uniformity specifications that were set. In this first stage of development, DayStar has focused on fundamental engineering issues that allow it to make decisions about the viability of the tool for production. These include: shaking out the tool’s mechanical and electrical performance (validating the vacuum integrity as well as the operation of the transport mechanism, load-lock systems and computer controls); heating the substrate up to temperature in the time required for the process to work in production; demonstrating the ability to sputter-deposit uniform films on a large scale.

The test results have given DayStar confidence that the basic structure of its tool design is sound. Hence, the firm has released the chamber design to begin fabrication of its production CIGS deposition tool. DayStar’s plant in Newark, CA is currently undergoing its initial fit up, in time to receive the initial production tools and automation systems in September. This keeps the firm on schedule to develop a stable, scaled-up CIGS thin-film deposition process of record by the end of Q3/2008 that can be further refined in Q4 before beginning to ramp up the first 25MW production line in Q1/2009 (aiming to ship the first commercial CIGS-on-glass product modules in Q3/2009).

Although DayStar believes that the plant can run profitably at the initial production level of 25MW per year, it believes that the plant can ultimately accommodate up to 80MW of capacity. DayStar also has plans for a future, as-yet-unsited 100MW facility, which should push the manufacturing cost below the critical level of $1 per watt.

DeLuca comments that DayStar has been focusing more on scale-up and production issues while maintaining conversion efficiencies at existing levels, rather than increasing the efficiencies. “We’re satisfied with the efficiencies of the films that we’re getting,” he adds. The longer-term target for module efficiencies remains 11.5% or better.

DeLuca believes that DayStar is well on its way to making the transition from being a development-stage company to a commercial manufacturing company. He highlights several management changes necessary to bring the firm through its ongoing transition as it builds an organization focused on manufacturing. “We have flattened our organization, promoted from within and brought in a group of highly qualified managers at the director and senior director level,” he says. For example, in late February, the firm recruited Ratson Morad as president and chief operating officer (formerly VP of engineering and technology at fellew CIGS PV firm Solyndra Inc of Fremont, CA, and previously with process equipment maker Applied Materials Inc of Santa Clara, CA).

DayStar appoints chief financial officer

At the end of June, DayStar appointed William Steckel as chief financial officer, reporting to DeLuca. 

Steckel brings nearly 20 years of management experience at both public and private companies, ranging in size from $30m to more than a billion dollars in annual revenues. He has experience in running large manufacturing organizations, in financial planning and restructuring, in raising significant amounts of capital and in operations of both electronics and biotechnology companies worldwide. 

“His manufacturing experience, technology background and strong financial track record are essential as we build DayStar into a larger, more efficient manufacturing company,” says DeLuca. “Bill has an impressive history of hands-on management in areas that are important to the success of DayStar.”

Steckel has a B.Sc. in industrial management from Iowa State University and an M.B.A. from Western Illinois University. Prior to DayStar, he was chief financial officer, senior VP and treasurer at Norwood Promotional Products. Previously, he was president of Lambda Power, a division of power supply manufacturer Invensys plc.

Steckel is focusing on strategic issues, while Chris Lail has been promoted to VP and corporate controller.

See related items:

Thin film to take 28% of PV market by 2012

Thin-film solar market to reach 9GW in 2012

DayStar signs letter of intent with Juwi Solar

DayStar appoints Silicon Valley veteran as president and COO

DayStar prices public offering to raise $63.8m

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