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Solar-energy record-holder joins SoloPower

Rommel Noufi, one of the big scientists in CIGS solar cells moving, is joining SoloPower as vice president of research.

Rommel Noufi, one of the primary experts in copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar cells, is joining SoloPower as vice president of research.

Noufi has been a fixture in CIGS for several years as a scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He also holds the record for efficiency for CIGS cells: one of his cells can convert 19.9 percent of the sun's energy into electricity while another can convert 16.5 percent. When reporters or analysts have CIGS questions, the path in the past several years has often led to Noufi.

Efficiency has been a major headache for CIGS vendors. These solar cells are not as efficient as silicon solar cells, though they cost less. Mass-produced CIGS cells are only at around 10 percent efficiency. To compete with silicon, efficiency needs to increase.

Nouri's record-setting cells have been produced through an evaporation process. The active ingredients are placed onto a sheet of glass or metal foil in a solution. The liquid solution is then evaporated, leaving a lattice of materials that can convert sunlight into electricity.

San Jose, Calif.-based SoloPower, among others, wants to make CIGS cells with different, faster processes. SoloPower said it can electroplate the active materials onto metal foils. Perfecting these new processes, however, has not been easy and many companies have had to delay production. Nanosolar, which prints CIGS cells, is the first non-evaporation CIGS company to enter commercial production. (Global Solar, which uses evaporation, is the only other CIGS company in commercial production.)

Venture capitalists have invested over $30 million in SoloPower, which plans to build its first factory in Silicon Valley.