Intel bankrolls Sulfurcell, a solar thin-film outfit

Berlin-based Sulfurcell steps into the global fight for solar panels with CIGS thin-film solar technology designed for building rooftops and facades.

Sulfurcell's thin-film solar modules can be fitted into roof-top panels or used as part of a building's facade, as seen here at the Ferdinand Braun Institute for High Frequency Technology in Berlin.

Intel's venture investing arm has led a $25 million investment in Berlin-based Sulfurcell, one of many companies staking a claim in the solar business with CIGS thin-film technology.

Sulfurcell makes CIGS/CIGSe thin-film solar cells that incorporate a combination of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium or sulfur. Last year, it started manufacturing in a facility able to turn out 35 megawatts' worth of panels a year.

The capital will allow Sulfurcell to scale up its production and improve the efficiency of its modules, the company said in a statement. Since 2008, the company has raised 85 million euros from European and U.S.-based investors. Intel Capital was one of the early investors in Sulfurcell, which was spun out of Helmholtz Centre for Materials and Energy in Germany.

The efficiency of converting solar energy into electricity is typically lower for thin-film cells, but the cells use less material and tend to be cheaper to make.

In the CIGS area, there are dozens of companies now seeking to manufacture at larger scale to bring down costs and compete with the dominant solar cell technology, polycrystalline silicon.

Rather than go after the utility business with rack-mounted panels, Sulfurcell is designing its panels for rooftops. Its flexible cells can also used for building-integrated photovoltaics, in which solar panels are used as part of a building's facade.

The company claims that the efficiency of its cells will rival that of silicon cells. It has been able to achieve 12.6 percent efficiency (although its current products are lower) and is targeting 14 percent efficiency in the next 12 to 18 months, it said in a statement.