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CIGS cell maker AQT Solar closes $18.7M VC round

17 Jan 2012

Another Californian developer of copper indium gallium diselenide cells wins funding, and will now deploy a second production line.

CIGS solar cell developer AQT Solar, formerly known as Applied Quantum Technology, has secured $18.7 million in a series B investment round.

According to the Sunnyvale, California, firm’s Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) filing, four investors took part in the round, in which AQT had sought to raise $21.7 million in all.

The new funding, which follows a $2.8 million debt agreement made in April 2011 and the conversion of $13.5 million from the company’s previous incarnation, will be used to deploy a second CIGS production line at its Sunnyvale facility.

Last year, the company said that it had selected Richland County in South Carolina as the location for its second manufacturing facility, with plans to create 1,000 jobs at an existing 184,000 square foot facility over the next four years. optics.org asked AQT for an update on progress in South Carolina, but the company told us that it was not releasing any information beyond the contents of its latest press release on the series B round.

Despite low market traction thus far, and some high-profile failures in thin-film solar, CIGS continues to prove attractive to venture investors, who ploughed some $600 million into companies developing the technology last year, according to an analysis by Mercom Capital. $467 million of that total was invested in CIGS developers specifically.

Differentiation
Where AQT is seeking to differentiate itself from the increasingly crowded sector is though its so-called “CIGS 2.0” technology, which is claimed to streamline manufacturing by enabling continuous in-line production, and minimize component costs. Said to be based on a platform previously used to manufacture hard disk drives, it involves deposition of thin CIGS films on a glass substrate and is directly compatible with existing crystalline silicon PV module form factors rather than anything more radical.

According to the company, that approach has allowed it to develop product in a relatively short time and with far less capital than many rivals. While it has used less than $40 million to establish a production line capable of producing cells for inclusion in 100 W modules, rival CIGS firms have burned through large piles of investor cash. Among the largest venture deals in the entire solar sector last year were Stion’s $130 million round, MiaSolé’s $106 million and Heliovolt’s $85 million – all are CIGS developers.

Having announced initial customer shipments in December 2010, and with the Sunnyvale site now said to be operating around the clock and expected to boast an installed capacity of more than 30 MW by the middle of 2012, AQT is now aiming to deploy its cells in 180 W modules by year-end.

The company’s approach has included working closely with other large-scale PV cell and module manufacturers. For example, Solar Enertech is a module manufacturing partner for the AQT cells, while HelioPower has provided its installation expertise. In April 2010, AQT also agreed a deal with manufacturing equipment provider Intevac to supply key tooling for its Sunnyvale facility.

AQT Solar corporate video:

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