UPDATE 1-Schott expects bids for solar ops in February - source
* Seeks partner to take majority of CSP unit - source
* Unit could attract bidders from Europe, Gulf, Asia
* Schott says open to cooperation with partners (Adds details, background)
FRANKFURT, Feb 8 (Reuters) - German glass maker Schott expects preliminary bids for a majority stake in its solar thermal unit within the next two weeks, a source familiar with the sale said on Friday.
Schott has mandated BNP Paribas to look for a partner to take the lead at its Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) unit to cut its exposure to a sector that has not lived up to its hopes, and to improve its chances in winning major contracts like Saudi Arabia's $100 billion solar plan.
Schott CSP produces parts for solar power plants with parabolic trough technology, which uses mirrors to reflect the sunlight on a tube containing a fluid that is heated to a high temperature.
The unit has about 130 million euros ($174 million) in annual sales and a double-digit margin on earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).
The small photovoltaic unit of Schott - which produces solar cells that convert sunlight directly into electrical power - is not part of the transaction.
The thermal solar power sector has been spared the crisis that has ravaged the photovoltaic sector, where several firms have filed for insolvency due to overcapacity and falling government support in key markets.
But it has not been immune to a faltering global economy.
"For the development of our technology we are in principle open for a cooperation with partners and are receiving positive responses from different regions," a Schott spokesman said.
Big French engineering groups with solar thermal operations like Alstom and Areva are expected to express interest in Schott CSP, as well as groups from the United States, Asia and the Gulf region, the source said.
Private equity groups IK and VMCap, formerly known as Ventizz Capital, are also expected to bid as they have solar thermal suppliers in their portfolios. IK owns Flabeg and VMCap together with Spain's Abengoa holds Rioglass.
Other financial investors could also throw their hat into the ring, though are likely tie up with industrial partners.
Schott in 2008 scrapped plans to float Schott Solar.
At the time, investors had approached the company offering to pay more than 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) for the solar business, the source said. The source declined to comment on the size of potential bids, but said a similar valuation was now seen as unrealistic given the solar sector's troubles.
BNP declined to comment.
($1 = 0.7469 euros) (Reporting by Arno Schuetze; Additional reporting by Frank Siebelt; Editing by Martin Zwiebelberg and Mark Potter)