TEL/Sharp to debut thin-film CVD tools for PV

Feb. 18, 2008 – Tokyo Electron has launched its entry into the solar equipment market to commercialize plasma CVD systems for thin-film silicon photovoltaics (PV), via a planned JV with Sharp.

The new JV, Tokyo Electron PV Ltd. (51% owned by TEL), is located in Nirasaki City, Yamanashi Prefecture and capitalized at ¥50M (US ~$465K), aims to develop a high-productivity plasma CVD system combining TEL’s vacuum plasma technology for semiconductor and FPD production, with Sharp’s expertise thin-film silicon PV cell production. Manufacturing and sales of the final tools will be conducted solely by TEL, with first shipments planned for 2009. Both companies stated that the joint work will not apply to any other technology areas (e.g. flat-panel displays).

Weeks ago SST partner Nikkei Microdevices, had reported TEL’s imminent entry into the PV sector with a thin-film deposition system, but did not identify Sharp as a JV partner.

The Nikkei daily reports the JV probably will mainly supply Sharp’s proposed ¥100B(US ~$860M) thin-film solar cell plant in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, a change of pace for the company which previously had planned to develop its own such manufacturing equipment. The paper noted that Sharp feels its efforts are better focused on its PV cell output, to reverse a 16% dropoff in production (to 363MW) last year, and fight off stiffening competition from Germany’s Q-Cells AG

Sharp recently announced plans to build a 1000MW thin-film factory to be ready by 2010. The Nikkei daily reports Sharp’s Sakai plant, coming online in FY09, will have estimated 1GW output at peak capacity. Other reports have indicated Sharp is targeting up to 200MW/year by later this year, mainly from a new ¥10B (US ~$86M) line at its Katsuragi facility in Nara Prefecture.

For TEL, the move into thin-film PV tools is geared to offset price pressures in its other businesses (semiconductors and FPDs), and create a third source of earnings in a new business field, the Nikkei Business Daily noted. And it’s also a way to catch up to rivals Applied Materials (chips) and Ulvac (FPDs) which have already made inroads into production systems for solar cells.


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