FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Colorado State University has announced that a new method for manufacturing low-cost, high-efficiency solar panels is nearing mass production. AVA Solar Inc. is expected to start production by the end of next year on the pioneering, patented technology developed by mechanical engineering professor W.S. Sampath at Colorado State.

Produced at less than $1 per watt, the panels are expected to significantly reduce the cost of generating solar electricity and could power homes and businesses for roughly the same cost as traditionally generated electricity.

Sampath has developed a continuous, automated manufacturing process for solar panels using glass coating with a cadmium telluride thin film instead of the standard, higher cost crystalline silicon. Because the process produces high efficiency devices (ranging from 11 percent to 13 percent) at a very high rate and yield, it can be done more cheaply than with existing technologies. The cost to the consumer could be as low as $2 per watt, about half the current cost of solar panels, and competitive with the cost of power from the electrical grid in many parts of the world.

“This technology offers a significant improvement in capital and labor productivity and overall manufacturing efficiency,” said Sampath, director of Colorado State’s Materials Engineering Laboratory. “The current market is over $5 billion annually and additional markets are developing.”

Colorado State’s Office of Economic Development and the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp. have supported the startup, and the Colorado State University Research Foundation holds equity in the company as part of a licensing arrangement.

“We have an unusual situation in that there is more demand than there is supply,” said Pascal Noronha, president and chief executive officer of AVA Solar. “The world has an energy problem. The time is right to solve this problem with a green solution, especially given that electricity consumption is going to grow astronomically.”

Sampath - along with two affiliate faculty members and former students of his, Kurt Barth and Al Enzenroth - formed AVA Solar in January to commercialize the technology. Since then, the company has raised two rounds of funding and recently was awarded a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar America Initiative. The company now employs 28 people with John Hill, former vice president of sales and marketing for Storage Technology Corp. and founder of Hill Carman Ventures, serving as chairman of the board.

“The key to expanding the U.S. market is to lower manufacturing costs so more people can afford the technology,” Sampath said.

Key advantages of AVA Solar’s technology include:

• Simple manufacturing process - fully automated and continuous production with no batch processing yielding high throughputs or production rates;

• High yields - enabled by tightly controlled process parameters;

• Low waste - less than 2 percent of the materials used in production need to be recycled;

• Inexpensive, efficient raw materials - because they convert solar energy into electricity more efficiently, cadmium telluride solar panels require 100 times less semiconductor material than higher cost crystalline silicon panels.

For more information about AVA Solar, go to

Publication date:10/01/2007