Intel Antes Up On Solar with German Thin-Film Solar Sulfurcell

On the heels of Intel’s announcement that it had spun out and funded a solar startup doing “advanced solar cell technology” called SpectraWatt, Intel says it has invested €24 million (or $37.5 million) into German thin-film solar module maker Sulfurcell. Sulfurcell makes thin-film solar modules out of copper indium sulfide (CIS) and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), which are next-generation solar technologies that have received a whole lot of attention from startups and big chip companies alike.

Intel’s VC arm Intel Capital made the investment as part of a €85 million (or $133.8 million) financing round raised by Sulfurcell, which also included Climate Change Capital Private Equity, AIG, Demeter Partners, Zouk Ventures and BankInvest. Heiko von Dewitz, investment director for Intel Capital, tells the EETimes that Intel invested in Sulfurcell because the company’s solar modules are highly efficient. The investment is also complimentary to Intel’s SpectraWatt funding, von Dewitz is quoted as saying.

Sulfurcell was spun out of the Hahn-Meitner Institute 11 years ago by Nikolaus Meyer and Martha Lux-Steiner. The company says it already started commercial production in 2006, which would make it one of the earliest companies making thin film based on CIS out there. Nanosolar started producing its CIGS-based (Copper-Indium-Gallium-Selenide) solar thin-film in December, and Global Solar has said it will start selling its CIGS-based thin film solar in July.

Intel is just the latest chip company to start investing in solar production. IBM announced a new joint effort with chip gear maker Tokyo Ohka Kogyo to develop thin-film solar panels based on CIGS in mid-June. Then there was the news last week from National Semiconductor (NSM) introducing a technology called SolarMagic, which it claims can recoup as much as 50 percent of solar systems’ output lost due to shade and debris. For years, Cypress Semiconductor has done well with its solar-cell maker SunPower.

Chip companies can see the money in sunlight. Particularly thin-film solar, which last week Lux Research said would account for 28 percent of the solar market by 2012. Venture capitalists are getting ready for the boom, too, and earlier this week a startup called Innovalight, which makes photovoltaic silicon ink for thin-film solar printing, said it had received $5 million in equipment lease financing from ATEL Ventures.

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