Semprius is readying the opening of its first manufacturing facility later this month in Henderson, North Carolina. With backing and support from the Obama Administration, the DOE, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, Semprius uses some of the world’s most efficient solar PV cells. Its concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) technology is capable of converting 33.9% of the energy in sunlight to usable electricity, according to the parties involved.
Management initially expects to produce five to six megawatts (MW) worth of its leading-edge CPV modules per year at the Henderson, NC plant. That could over time expand to as much as 35 MW and employ as many as 250 people in doing so, according to a Bloomberg News report.
Swimming Against the Tide
Semprius is opening its CPV plant amidst a general backdrop of solar energy market and industry turmoil, manufacturing plant slowdowns, shutdowns, and layoffs — both in the US and other other major solar-producing countries, including Germany and China. Management and its investors believe that the combination of high-efficiency and low-cost production will prove the company viable in a fiercely competitive global solar PV market that governments around the world have targeted as a low-carbon, green economy growth engine.
“Semprius’ modules are the most efficient in the world and ‘very price competitive’ with rivals such as First Solar Inc. (FSLR) and SunPower Corp. (SPWR), among others,” Bloomberg quoted Semprius CEO Joe Carr as saying. “In very high brightness areas where we do our best work, we’re highly competitive.” Carr declined to discuss cost details.
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Siemens AG — both of whom have taken equity stakes in the emerging solar CPV manufacturer — are two of its initial customers. Semprius has raised $40 million from investors over the past 15 months, Bloomberg reports. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Siemens together own 16% of the company.
A SunShot CPV Manufacturer Ready to Go Commercial
Semprius received initial seed funding from the DOE under President Obama’s “SunShot Incubator” program, refining and proving its technology with NREL in Golden. NREL validated Semprius’ tiny, dot-sized CPV cells as having an energy conversion efficiency of 41% at a concentration of 1,000 suns.
In its search for a location to build a manufacturing plant to commercialize its CPV cells and modules, Semprius landed in Henderson, NC. Construction of its 50,000-square-foot plant began earlier this year, with the state government and local agencies contributing $7.9 million towards construction.
About the diameter of a dot made by a ballpoint pen, Semprius’s solar photovoltaic (PV) cells are triple-junction cells made of gallium arsenide. Low-cost lenses concentrate sunlight 1,100 times onto the cells. Their tiny size reduces module cost, as they take up only 1/1000th of the entire solar module area. It also enables a high density of cells per module, which better distributes unwanted heat across the entire solar module solar area. That eliminates the need for heat dissipation hardware, such as heat fins, further reducing production costs.
Semprius’ patented micro-transfer printing process allows thousands of its concentrated solar PV cells (CPV) to be transferred from a growth substrate to a semiconductor wafer or other form factor. It’s a continuous, massive parallel process that runs continuously and allows the growth substrate to be used repeatedly, which cuts costs dramatically, according to NREL and Semprius.