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Taiwan's UMC enters solar cell market

Posted: 27 Mar 2007     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:UMC solar cell business  UMC  Ulvac  solar cell  plasma chemical vapor deposition systems 

United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC) has decided to enter into the rapidly growing solar cell market, with Ulvac Inc. set to provide the firm with thin-film solar cell production facilities and technical support to get the ball rolling, the two companies announced on March 23.

"Today's signing ceremony means that UMC group decided to enter the solar cell market," said John Hsuan, vice chairman of UMC. "Once UMC makes a decision, it's the basic policy to establish the business as quickly as possible."

UMC established NexPower Technology Corp. in November 2005 with about Rs.105.89 crore ($24 million) to launch its photovoltaic business.

NexPower will invest roughly Rs.264.72 crore ($60 million) this year to build a production plant in Hsinchu, Taiwan. The venture is scheduled to begin production of thin film amorphous silicon solar cells in the first quarter of 2008. The plant's start up capacity will be 12.5MW per year.

"We are aiming to ramp up the capacity to 100MW per year in three years from now," said Semi Wang, NexPower president and CEO.

UMC has selected thin-film type solar cells rather than crystal solar cells. "Thin-film type has great potential in technological evolution," Huan said. "It is low in electric generation efficiency [compared to that of crystal solar cells], but that means there is big room for technological improvement. Moreover, the applications of thin film solar cells are much wider than crystal silicon solar cells."

NexPower intends to add tandem solar cells, which have the tandem structure of micro-crystal silicon and amorphous silicon, to its product portfolio for better efficiency. Ulvac has been supplying plasma chemical vapor deposition (CVD) systems for domestic solar cell manufacturers. The deal with UMC is a package deal, however, that includes the production facilities and technologies for solar cells from plasma CVD, sputtering to sealing systems and also technical support.

"We've received inquiries from many companies that are considering solar cell production. We are going to supply a solar cell production line with performance guarantee. We are glad to start this package business with UMC, an influential company in the industry," said Hidenori Suwa, president and CEO of Ulvac.

Ulvac is building a pilot line using 1.1-by-1.4m substrates in its headquarters premises. The line, to be complete by July, will serve to verify practical operation of the facilities supplied to UMC and to demonstrate the performance to possible customers.

"We expect to conclude one another similar deal by June and several deals in its next fiscal year [ending June 2008]," said Suwa.

Ulvac is also preparing production technologies for UMC to manufacture tandem solar cells.

- Yoshiko Hara
EE Times

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