7 April 2010


CIGS PV maker AQT raises $10m to fund first, 15MW production plant

Applied Quantum Technology (AQT) of Santa Clara, CA, USA, which is developing high-performance, low-cost copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) thin-film solar cells, has completed the initial close of a $10m second round of venture funding from its original investor syndicate plus additional undisclosed investors. The latest round increases total funds to almost $15m since the firm was founded in 2007 with about $4.75m in backing from East Coast investment house STPV Holdings.

The new funds will be used in April to build out AQT's initial 15MW production line in a new, leased Silicon Valley R&D and manufacturing facility (close to the firm’s headquarters) in order to fulfill current customer orders due by year end. The firm also plans to expand staffing (which currently consists of a dozen full-time employees and some contractors) in anticipation of full-scale production over the next 12 months (targeting production of 50MW in 2011).

“We have unique CIGS process technology, a dedicated group of investors, a seasoned team of executives and a core syndicate of established partners,” says CEO Michael Bartholomeusz. “This latest investment is a testament to the enormous progress we have made in the last 12 months across our company and will fuel substantial milestones over the next four quarters.”

AQT has produced samples of cells that were validated by the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in April 2009 to have 10% efficiency. However, the firm has since reached 12% in its labs, and targets 14% by the time commercial production begins. Efficiency will be about 2% lower once customers have integrated the firm’s cells into modules.

AQT is leveraging manufacturing technologies and platforms that have been field-proven in the hard-disk-drive industry. Its proprietary CIGS technology (dubbed CIGS 2.0) allows for continuous in-line manufacturing, which simplifies and streamlines the process, resulting in what is claimed to be the industry’s highest projected capital utilization efficiency, while minimizing costs.

AQT has also agreed a strategic partnership for Santa Clara-based Intevac, which design and develops high-productivity ‘lean’ manufacturing systems, to supply equipment for its current and future production needs, providing AQT and its manufacturing partners with capacity for the production of its CIGS cells. AQT plans to receive its first manufacturing system at its new Silicon Valley facility in April.

AQT has created a unique and highly scalable architecture to produce low-cost drop-in replacements for conventional crystalline silicon cells by using its patented CIGS process technology on Intevac’s production-proven manufacturing platform, which uses reactive sputtering with rapid thermal annealing to deposit layers of materials on soda lime glass.

“This agreement is an important milestone for Intevac as this tool will represent our first shipment in the solar industry,” says Kevin Fairbairn, president & CEO of Intevac, which supplies magnetic-media processing systems to the hard-drive industry as well as manufacturing equipment to the semiconductor industry. “By leveraging our proven high-throughput lean manufacturing platform, Intevac enables the economic solution to AQT and the solar cell industry for conventional cell sizes,” he adds.

“This agreement with Intevac is a major step towards capitalizing on AQT’s breakthrough CIGS 2.0 approach,” says Bartholomeusz. “Our leverage-based business model depends on strategic partners like Intevac in order to address the three critical success factors required by the new PV market realities: scalability, aggressive cost reduction, and continuous technical advancement,” he adds. “Intevac enables AQT to address our mission to achieve the highest cost/performance ratio of any solar cell manufacturer.”

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