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Big Baby grows up: Thin-film CIGS solar PV start-up DayStar offers operational update

08 July 2008 | By Tom Cheyney | Chip Shots

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Few pieces of photovoltaic manufacturing equipment have nicknames as endearing as DayStar Technologies' Big Baby deposition megasystem. But don't let the cute sobriquet distract you from a central truth about the copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS) start-up's plight: if the oversize, multichamber production-development system doesn't measure up and perform as expected, DayStar has no future as a volume PV manufacturer. By the tenor of CEO Stephan DeLuca's comments during Tuesday's midyear update conference call, Big Baby has made its parents proud of late.

Updating DayStar's three-part strategy--minimodule development, CIGS deposition and other process scale-up, and commercial buildout--DeLuca said the company (with a current headcount of "between 85 and 90") is on track to start receiving tools and automation systems by Q3 2008 at its currently fitting-up Newark, CA, factory site, to ramp production of its first 25-MW line by Q1 2009, and ship its first CIGS-on-glass product modules by Q3 2009. He believes the firm is well on its way to make "the transition from a development-stage company to a commercial manufacturing company."

Daystar

DayStar hopes to ramp production by Q109.

While "much of the minimodule development focused on the CIGS deposition process," the company "also used this program to develop processes for the other steps in making a complete module," according to DeLuca. "A key feature for any PV module is its survivability, and proper encapsulation is key to making modules that last more than 20 years. CIGS is especially sensitive to moisture" and needs different materials than those used by silicon thin films.

"With this in mind, we have developed lamination and edge-seal processes for our glass modules that we've tested for moisture penetration," he continued. "They've passed the 1000-hour damp-heat test, which we believe provides a good indication that our encapsulation process will protect the modules from moisture over a 20-year lifetime."

Other advances in fundamental engineering issues such as maintaining effective control over Big Baby's reactive sputtering process ability (including the incorporation of tricky selenium films, which DeLuca sees as a "key to the cost effective manufacturing of high-performance CIGS"), making sure the films behave within the uniformity specs, and ensuring that the substrate can be heated up to the proper temperature in the specified amount of time for high-volume monolithic processing have given DayStar the confidence "that the basic structure of our tool design is sound, so we have released the design to begin fabrication of our production CIGS deposition tool."

The big fella hasn't been put through all its paces though. While the molybdenum deposition tests have gone well, the first CIGS dep runs haven't been done yet. DeLuca explained that they will start to make CIGS films by the end of this month, with a stable process expected by the end of the quarter. Still, the company exec believes the results bode well for the proprietary one-stage sputter deposition process to achieve the factory total cycle time of one module per minute, once volume production kicks in.

As for the latest conversion efficiencies, DeLuca said they've been focusing more on scale-up and production issues and maintaining efficiencies at previous levels, rather than bumping up the conversion numbers. He did acknowledge that the longer-term target remains 11.5% or better module efficiency.

To meet the demand of its solar power plant customers that want to lay out fields of their TFPV modules, DayStar will first ramp to 25 MW at its Newark fab, which the company believes can ultimately hold up to 80 MW of capacity and be profitable at the initial volume level. It also has plans for a future, as-yet-unsited 100-MW facility, which DeLuca said is key to reaching the CIGS firm's ultimate goal of manufacturing at <$1 per watt.

In describing the production scale-up, DeLuca said that first, one set of process tools will be installed and get up and running, and then other equipment will be added when bottlenecks are hit. Citing the laminator gear as an example of a tool with limited output, "we'll need two (to reach 25 MW), but start with one," taking equipment lead times into account and adding systems as needed "to incrementally increase the capacity," while not spending too much on captial expenditures.

DeLuca did acknowledge the impact of the current equipment and materials purchasing on the company's financials. "As we build out our factory, there will be significant costs involved that will affect our balance sheet, as we have discussed before. We will go into more detail on this in our second-quarter financial results conference call in early August."

Whether the reorganized and reenergized DayStar can make an impact and survive in the increasingly competitive CIGS and overall thin-film PV space depends on its ability to execute its manufacturing gameplan without losing its shirt and get to market asap with reliable, reasonably efficient, attractively priced modules for the grid-tied sector. With Big Baby on their side, DeLuca and his team think they have a legit shot.

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Reader comments

Few pieces of photovoltaic manufacturing equipment have nicknames as endearing as DayStar Technologies' Big Baby deposition megasystem. But don't let the cute sobriquet distract you from a central truth about the copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS) start-up's plight: if the oversize, multichamber production-development system doesn't measure up and perform as expected, DayStar has no future as a volume PV manufacturer. By the tenor of CEO Stephan DeLuca's comments during Tuesday's midyear update conference call, Big Baby has made its parents proud of late.
By baby jogger strollers on 07 July 2009
Guys, what is CIGS?
By Robber on 25 December 2008

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