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Posted on March 6, 2008 by  & 

Investing in the metals that will be needed

The outstandingly successful investor Jim Mellon in the UK has recently invested heavily in solar power, initially in the form of the rare metals that will be needed such as gallium used for Copper Indium Gallium diSelenide CIGS versions made by Honda, in Japan, Global Solar Energy in the USA and Nanosolar in Germany for example. Another target is germanium used for very high efficiency, lightweight GaAs-Ge cells as made by Boeing subsidiary Spectrolab. The Spectrolab top dollar products have world record efficiency of over 40%. As the demand for more powerful, more efficient, and more capable satellites increased in the 1970s and 1980s. Spectrolab continued to lead the industry with increasingly more powerful solar cells, and with each successive innovation, increased the efficiency from the 12% conversion rate of a silicon solar cell to a maximum efficiency of 29%, using state-of-the-art gallium arsenide on germanium wafers to produce multi-junction solar cells. By the year 2009, the company hopes to offer mainstream solar cells with efficiencies as high as 33%.
Emerging metals Ltd
Jim Mellon has invested in Emerging Metals Ltd in the UK. He says photovoltaics will be "bigger than the internet within five years". He adds, "Solar is genuinely clean - it ticks all sorts of zeitgeist boxes. Within five years, solar power will be as cheap as oil and gas without the subsidy." Although there is doubtless an element of exaggeration about this he has a point and he is right to perceive that little of this potential will be tackled with conventional crystalline or amorphous silicon.
Seasoned investors in rare metals, Mike Beck and Stephen Dattels founded Emerging Metals Ltd., to focus on the "minor metals" such as tungsten, gallium and germanium, particularly in Africa. For example, they have identified about $2-billion of germanium and gallium in a property in Namibia, and expect to go public in a few months. Emerging Metals Ltd acquired the blast furnace and slag dumps of Weatherly International PLC, a London-based copper mining company.
They like the minor metals because China, the biggest exporter of them, is clamping down on exports in order to to keep the supply for domestic use. "To us, it looks a little bit like uranium did three years ago," says Mike Beck. "You're going to hear more about this and it will be a very hot topic." Meanwhile, even conventional silicon is making some people very wealthy, such is the race for the new power sources. For example, directors of PV Crystallox Solar in the UK netted $480 million when it floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2008.
More about Spectrolab USA
Spectrolab Inc. is a wholly-owned Boeing subsidiary, and it is the leading supplier of high efficiency space solar cells and panels as well as solar concentrator cells. The Sylmar-Calif.-based company is working with a number of international and domestic manufacturers of solar concentrator systems. Spectrolab's solar cells have delivered clean, renewable solar power into the grid through a 1-kilowatt solar concentrator test system in the Arizona desert for more than two years. Spectrolab's terrestrial concentrator cells also are generating power in a 33-kilowatt, full-scale concentrator system in the Australian desert.
Spectrolab's origins can be traced back to a group of engineers who began providing high-quality optical filters and mirrors for use in government contracts. Spectrolab established its credibility in the space industry with Pioneer 1, in 1958, carrying the company's first body-mounted solar panels; Explorer 6, the satellite that in 1959 provided the first photo of Earth from space, carrying Spectrolab's first solar arrays; and the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969, which placed the first solar cell panel on the moon. Galaxy IIIC, the world's highest capacity satellite launched on June 15, 2002. It carries the latest solar cell technology (Improved Triple-Junction with a minimum average efficiency of 26.5%) developed and manufactured at Spectrolab. The Ultra-Triple-Junction solar cells, with a minimum average efficiency of 28.3%, is now in production and gives satellite operators the choice of increasing the capacity of their existing satellite platforms.
As the demand for more powerful, more efficient, and more capable satellites increased in the 1970s and 1980s. Spectrolab continued to lead the industry with increasingly more powerful solar cells, and with each successive innovation, increased the efficiency from the 12% conversion rate of a silicon solar cell to a maximum efficiency of 29%, using state-of-the-art gallium arsenide on germanium wafers to produce multi-junction solar cells. By the year 2009, the company hopes to offer solar cells with efficiencies as high as 33%.
Early in the development of solar cells, Spectrolab recognized an industry need to have the capability to test solar cells and other devices in the vacuum of space. In 1962, the company designed and began manufacturing both steady-state and pulsed simulators, which have since become an industry standard.
The foundation of Spectrolab's success lies in its ability to rapidly transfer cutting-edge technology from a laboratory setting to a manufacturing process. The company's first mass production line was established in 1982. Today Spectrolab has the ability to produce nearly one megawatt of solar cells per year, enough to outfit 100 10,000-watt spacecraft, such as the Boeing 601 satellite, manufactured by Boeing Satellite Systems, the world's largest satellite manufacturer.
Spectrolab has invested extensively in high-technology machinery to achieve its high production rate. In 1993, the company installed the world's largest advanced MOVPE (Metal Organic Vapor Phase Epitaxy) reactor as part of a high-capacity gallium arsenide solar cell production line. Through the addition of these and other manufacturing process enhancements, the company hopes to continue to increase its production capacity and capture even more of the world's solar cell market.
The Boeing Company signed a contract in August 2006 to provide 600,000 silicon solar concentrator cells to SolFocus, a California-based renewable energy company that is developing renewable terrestrial energy alternatives.
"Companies on the cutting edge of the renewable energy revolution come to us because we are the world's leading manufacturer of solar cells," said Charles Toups, vice president of engineering for Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems. "Our Spectrolab subsidiary has leveraged its expertise in space photovoltaic products to create solar cells with record-breaking efficiencies for Earth-based applications."
This is under the 12-month contract from SolFocus, Inc. of Palo Alto, California, US.
Spectrolab will build and deliver 600,000 solar concentrator cells that will be used to convert the sun's rays into affordable electricity for homes and businesses. The cells produced for SolFocus will be capable of generating more than 10 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power about 4,000 U.S. homes. With the average solar cell efficiency above 35 percent at concentration, Spectrolab's concentrator photovoltaic cells generate electricity at a rate that can be more economical than electricity generated from conventional, flat panel photovoltaic systems.
"Our mission is to deliver reliable solar-generated electricity at wholesale energy prices, and Spectrolab's multi-junction concentrator solar cells are key to making that possible," said Gary D. Conley, CEO of SolFocus. "Spectrolab's cells will be integrated into our upcoming solar concentrator field test program and then into the first phase of active deployments."
A significant advantage of concentrator systems is that fewer solar cells are required to achieve a specific power output, thus replacing large areas of semiconductor materials with relatively inexpensive optics that provide optical concentration. The slightly higher cost of multi-junction cells is offset by the use of fewer cells. Due to the higher efficiency of multi-junction cells used in the concentrator modules, only a small fraction of the cell area is required to generate the same power output compared to crystalline silicon or thin-film, flat-plate modules.
SolFocus Inc. develops and markets products that generate electricity using solar concentrator photovoltaics (CPV). The low cost of SolFocus solar panel products will enable a dramatic reduction in the cost of delivering renewable solar energy, and for the first time, enable solar energy to compete with conventional fuels in several large multi-billion dollar energy markets. In November 2005, the National Renewable Energy Lab Growth Forum recognized SolFocus Chief Executive Officer Gary D. Conley as the 2005 Clean Energy Entrepreneur of the Year. In February 2006, SolFocus announced a strategic partnership with Palo Alto Research Center for core patents and technology development in CPV.
A unit of The Boeing Company, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is one of the world's largest space and defence businesses. Headquartered in St. Louis, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is a $30.8 billion business. It provides network-centric system solutions to its global military, government, and commercial customers. It is a leading provider of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems; the world's largest military aircraft manufacturer; the world's largest satellite manufacturer; a foremost developer of advanced concepts and technologies; a leading provider of space-based communications; the primary systems integrator for U.S. missile defence; NASA's largest contractor; and a global leader in sustainment solutions and launch services.
Source of top image: SolFocus Inc

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Posted on: March 6, 2008

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