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Nanosolar 'prints' first flexible solar cells

Closely watched 5-year-old start-up ships its first thin-film solar panels, made using an innovative CIGS printing process, on schedule.

Well-financed solar start-up Nanosolar on Tuesday said it has started shipping its flexible thin-film solar cells, meeting its own deadline and marking a milestone for alternative solar-cell materials.

On the company's blog, CEO Martin Roscheisen announced that the first megawatt of its solar panels will be used as part of a power plant in eastern Germany.

Nanosolar CEO Martin Roscheisen with printed solar cells. Nanosolar

The release of Nanosolar's first products is significant because the company develops a process to print solar cells made out of CIGS, or copper indium gallium selenide, a combination of elements that many companies are pursuing as an alternative to silicon.

The 5-year-old company, based in San Jose, Calif., has raised more than $100 million in financing and has drawn in Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page as investors.

Because of the high price of silicon, several companies are making thin-film cells from CIGS, but a number have run into technical problems.

Roscheisen said the manufacturing process the company has developed will enable it to eventually deliver solar electricity for less than a dollar per watt, which would be significantly cheaper than fossil fuel sources of power generation.

To mark the occasion, Roscheisen said the first commercial panels will get special treatment: the first that came off the rolls will become part of a Nanosolar exhibit; the second will be auctioned off on eBay; and the third will be donated to the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose.

In a previous interview, Roscheisen said all of Nanosolar's anticipated production in 2008 has already been ordered.