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A new twist on solar cell manufacturing

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
SoloPower, a solar cell start-up out of Milpitas, Calif., says it can cut the cost of thin film solar cells by using a technology that's a couple of hundred years old.

The company plans to manufacture copper indium gallium selenide or CIGS solar cells by onto a substrate. Other CIGS companies such as Miasole and DayStar Technologies sputter the CIGS material onto substrates, similar to how hard drive makers get the magnetic material onto platters.

CIGS cells can't harvest as much energy per square inch as crystalline solar cells, the standard today, but proponents say that the cost, over time, will be less than silicon. Silicon cells are made under rigid factory conditions similar to how computer chips are made. Miasole and Nanosolar, another CIGS company, are expected to start mass-manufacturing CIGS cells soon.

SoloPower recently raised $10 million from, among others, Crosslink Capital.

Electroplating goes way back. In 1805, Luigi Brugnatelli, a friend of Allisandro Volta, electroplated gold onto silver by experimenting with some of the electronic ideas coined by Volta. By the 1850s, electroplating was big business, according to Dan Hutcheson of VLSI Research.