United Microelectronics to Enter Solar Cell Business in Collaboration with Ulvac

March 27, 2007 by Jeff Shepard

United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC) announced that it has decided to enter into the rapidly growing solar cell market and Ulvac Inc. will provide the firm with thin film solar cell production facilities and technical support. To launch the photovoltaic business, UMC established NexPower Technology Corp. in November 2005 with NT$800 million (about US$24 million).

"Today’s signing ceremony means that UMC group decided to enter the solar cell market," said John Hsuan, Vice Chairman of UMC. "Once UMC makes a decision, it’s the basic policy to establish the business as quickly as possible." Hsuan said UMC gave Semi Wang, NexPower President and CEO, full responsibility for the business launch.

NexPower will invest about NT$2 billion (roughly US$60 million) this year to build a production plant in Hsinchu, Taiwan. The venture is scheduled to begin production of thin film amorphous silicon solar cells in the first quarter of 2008. The plant’s start up capacity will be 12.5 megawatts per year.

UMC has selected thin film type solar cells rather than crystal solar cells. "Thin film type has great potential in technological evolution," Huan said. "It is low in electric generation efficiency (compared to that of crystal solar cells), but that means there is big room for technological improvement. Furthermore, the applications of thin film solar cells are much wider than crystal silicon solar cells."

NexPower intends to add tandem solar cells, which have the tandem structure of micro-crystal silicon and amorphous silicon, to its product portfolio for better efficiency. Ulvac has been supplying plasma chemical vapor deposition CVD systems for domestic solar cell manufacturers. The deal with UMC is a package deal, however, that includes the production facilities and technologies for solar cells from plasma CVD, sputtering to sealing systems and also technical support.

Ulvac is building a pilot line using 1.1 x 1.4m substrates in its headquarters premises. The line, to be complete by July, will serve to verify practical operation of the facilities supplied to UMC and to demonstrate the performance to possible customers. Ulvac is also preparing production technologies for UMC to manufacture tandem solar cells.