Natcore building new prototype machine

Natcore manufactures new machineNatcore Technology has commissioned a second-generation machine to build its famed black silicon cells.

Black silicon has an etched surface that prevents the cell from reflecting light and offers more surface area for light absorption so traditional solar cells can produce more power with a minimal financial investment.

The new machine is one of the final steps toward commercialization. Natcore CEO Chuck Provini said he expects the machine prototype to be complete in the first quarter of 2013. Once it’s tested and approved, the New Jersey start-up can start selling it’s liquid-phase deposition machines with black silicon capabilities to solar cell manufacturers around the world.

The company already has joint-venture agreements with some Chinese solar manufacturers who want to buy the technology as soon as it’s available, Provini said.

Natcore contracted with MicroTech Systems in Fremont, Calif. to build the second-generation machine. The 12-year-old Silicon Valley company built Natcore’s first machine and is known for producing high-quality components for the LED, solar, semicondctor, biomedical and data storage industries.

Natcore got some heat early in its evolution for considering moving its operation to China. But that’s not why Provini said he decided to keep manufacturing in the United States. MicroTech has worked with Natcore in the past and they produce high-quality machines.

The quality is more important than the cost in this instance, Provini said. Solar manufacturers will not be buying a lot of machines or regularly replacing them, so it’s OK if they cost a little more as long as they’re built to last.

“We were very careful not to give them any exclusivities,” Provini said.

That means Natcore can contract with other companies to manufacture the machines as well. While manufacturing is likely to stay in the U.S. for now, he said there are some European companies that could be contenders for future development contracts.

Natcore successfully built a black silicon cell, but is working to improve efficiencies. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado initially developed the technology and achieved a higher efficiency than Natcore. But NREL licensed Natcore to develop and commercialize the technology because NREL got it to a high efficiency in a highly-inefficient way, using chemicals and processes that were costly and cumbersome.

Provini said Natcore is working with NREL to improve the black silicon efficiency using Natcore’s patented liquid-phase deposition.

The technology is on the cusp of commercialization and Provini said there will be a few different revenue streams once it hits the market.

Natcore will be able to sell license agreements to companies that buy the machines and will be able to collect from a mark-up on the machines they sell. But the primary income stream will be the continuous chemical sales.

“From our point of view that will be the most important revenue because it’s continuous,” Provini said.

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