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Emcore adds DARPA funds to terrestrial solar push

23 Feb 2006

With three deals to supply GaAs-based solar cells for terrestrial applications already in place, Emcore gets a further boost from DARPA.

Emcore has joined the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) effort to develop solar cells with at least 50% photo-electric efficiency.

The very high efficiency solar cell (VHSEC) project, which is being run by the agency's Advanced Technology Office, has potential total funding of $53 million over the next few years.

The Somerset, NJ, chip manufacturer has also joined a consortium formed by VHSEC's prime contractor - the University of Delaware - and will develop a technology roadmap aimed at significantly reducing the cost of making such highly-efficient cells.

Emcore’s top-rated triple-junction solar cells operate at around 36% efficiency in terrestrial applications currently, and one way to boost this conversion efficiency would be to add more junctions based on III-V heterostructures.

But reducing the cost of the cells is critical if the GaAs-based cells, which are fabricated on germanium substrates, are to cross over from high-value satellite applications to terrestrial deployment.

However, Emcore is already enjoying some early success in the terrestrial market. In a conference call to discuss financial results earlier this month, CEO Reuben Richards revealed that Emcore already has three terrestrial customers lined up – one in Spain and two in Asia.

The company has started manufacturing solar cells for the first of those customers one quarter earlier than expected, added Richards.

Image credit: NOAA, US

With the political mood in the US now appearing to back solar energy strongly, the Bush Administration has proposed a $148 million fund for the Solar America Initiative in 2007, up $65 million on the 2006 figure.

"Within 10 years, we estimate that this program will result in 10 GW of grid-connected solar electric capacity," said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, DC. "That would be 20 times today's levels."

Emcore looks set to tap into this emerging market. According to its analysis of one forecast, Emcore expects to see a total addressable market of over $1 billion by 2010, mostly in utility-scale solar energy farms connected to the grid.

"Emcore changed the direction of solar power for space applications. We are going to do the same on Earth," announced the company in a presentation to investors on February 21.

From Compound Semiconductor magazine.

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