LOS ANGELES German solar start-up Sulfurcell raised $25 million from Intel Capital and other investors to fund the development and production of its higher-efficiency solar cells.
The Berlin company is one of many small solar companies that make panels out of copper, indium gallium selenide (CIGS) cells instead of the polysilicon cells used in most solar equipment. CIGS cells are less efficient at turning sunlight into electricity, but cost less to manufacture.
CIGS manufacturers such as Sulfurcell and U.S.-based Miasole, SoloPower and Global Solar -- to name a few -- hope to challenge the dominance of polysilcon-based solar panel makers and sector cost-leader First Solar Inc in the global market for renewable power.
But CIGS have been slow to enter the commercial market because the complicated manufacturing process needed to combine the four materials has slowed mass production.
Sulfurcell's chief executive said his company is better placed than many of its U.S. peers because it has been manufacturing and shipping commercial products since 2005.
"Many of the U.S. start-ups have great lab results, but almost no experience in manufacturing and applying these products," Sulfurcell CEO Nikolaus Meyer said in an interview.
Sulfurcell is migrating its production from sulfur-based CIGS cells to higher-efficiency selenium-based CIGS cells and is targeting 14 percent efficiency in those products within the next 12-18 months, Meyer said.
"We are now in a leading position in terms of efficiency of our CIGS module and we see even more potential in the material and in our process," Meyer said.
He would not disclose the company's cost per watt.
Rival Miasole of Santa Clara, California, has said it will start shipping modules with 13 percent efficiency in the second quarter of this year.
Sulfurcell's so-called thin film products are made to be integrated into a building's architecture, Meyer added, so the company's projects are small, between 50 and 500 kilowatts.
Sulfurcell plans to ship between 20 and 25 megawatts of solar products in 2011, most of which will go to European customers, with a small number in the United States, China and India.
The company produces its solar modules at two facilities in Germany.
Other investors who contributed to the funding round included London-based Climate Change Capital Private Equity and Zouk Ventures, Denmark's Bankinvest Group, France's Demeter Partners and Masdar Clean Tech Fund, a partnership between Abu Dhabi green energy company Masdar and Swiss bank Credit Suisse Group AG, London-based Consensus Business Group and German conglomerate Siemens AG.
(Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Andre Grenon)