United Solar Systems Corp., a joint venture between Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. and N.V. Bekaert S.A., announced the official inauguration of the world’s largest thin-film solar cell manufacturing machine and related assembly equipment at its Bekaert ECD Solar Systems (its joint venture with Bekaert) facility in Auburn Hills, Mich.

The new machine is capable of producing nine miles of solar cells in three days’ time, making United Solar and Bekaert ECD one of the four largest producers of solar cells and related products in the United States as well as one of the leading producers in the world.

The manufacturing equipment, designed and built by ECD, is the world’s largest and most advanced production machine for the manufacture of thin-film amorphous silicon alloy solar cells and related products that convert sunlight to electricity. The products are used for a variety of applications ranging from solar lanterns of 2-3 watts to large solar farms of 500 kilowatts. Because of characteristics unique to United Solar’s solar cell technology, such as lightweight, ruggedness and flexibility, they are ideal as building-integrated photovoltaic roofing systems for residential and industrial customers.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham congratulating United Solar on the inauguration of the plant stated, “This announcement of the world’s largest thin-film solar cell manufacturing plant comes at a time when the Nation is faced with increased concerns about energy, security and the reliability of the electric grid. The photovoltaic products you are bringing to market are an important response.” He also noted, “We at the Department of Energy and The National Renewable Energy Laboratory are particularly proud of your accomplishments and are honored to have worked with you on contracts that have resulted in achievement of world record efficiencies in amorphous silicon alloy solar cells and modules, the development of award winning products such as the solar roofing shingles, and the development of your unique proprietary roll-to-roll manufacturing process.”

Subhendu Guha, President of United Solar and Bekaert ECD, said, “Building on the pioneering proprietary materials, device and production technology of its parent, ECD, United Solar is the world leader in the development of high efficiency amorphous silicon alloy solar cells and modules. With this new plant, we now have the production capacity to meet the increasing market demand for solar energy.”

In commenting on the new manufacturing facility, Stanford R. Ovshinsky, the originator of the roll-to-roll multi-junction process and CEO and Chairman of United Solar and President and CEO of ECD, and Robert C. Stempel, ECD Chairman, in a joint statement said, “We are happy that we have been able to realize this historic milestone in cooperation with our joint venture partner Bekaert. With the increasing need for energy independence and the problems associated with the negative environmental impact of conventional fuels, we are pleased to be part of the solution. We look forward to further increasing our capacity in the future.”

Guy Haemers, Chairman and CEO of Bekaert ECD and Corporate Vice President of N.V. Bekaert S.A., said, “With this plant, we enter the full industrialization of a unique technology allowing us to accelerate the growth of the company. The European market is growing rapidly, and we expect to get a larger share of the market with the commissioning of the plant”.

“The new facility demonstrates Michigan’s commitment to and increasing role as a world center for new, environmentally friendly technologies that can significantly reduce the nation’s reliance on oil and fossil fuels,” said United States Senator Carl Levin (D., Michigan).

ECD pioneered and developed the continuous roll-to-roll solar cell deposition process (analogous to low-cost, mass production processes such as for newsprint or photographic film). ECD and United Solar hold the fundamental patents in this technology. This approach is unique in the industry and in high volume production (100 MW) makes it possible for solar energy to become competitive with conventional fuels.

Derick Lila
Derick is a Clark University graduate—and Fulbright alumni with a Master's Degree in Environmental Science, and Policy. He has over a decade of solar industry research, marketing, and content strategy experience.

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