Hanwha Solar opens North American R&D center

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The company has invested $14 million in the new, 30,000 square foot facility, 60 percent of which has been devoted to lab space.

The facility has been "built with room for expansion in mind," said Hanwha in a statement released. It added that Silicon Valley was chosen, due to its being an "epicenter" of clean R&D technology. A total of 30 people will be employed there, thus bringing its U.S. workforce to 77.

The first project will focus on thin silicon substrates, in particular, increasing efficiencies. Chris Eberspacher, chief technology officer, Hanwha Solar, will oversee the work. "The lab is engineering methods of applying a thinner layer of silicon, which will make the panel less expensive while not compromising effectiveness and energy efficiency," explained the company.

Hee Cheul Kim, president of Hanwha Solar, commented, "It is critical for a global company like Hanwha Solar to have a strong presence in California, because it is the epicenter of clean technology R&D. The investment being made in solar is a reflection of the confidence the Hanwha Group has in clean energy as a long term growth engine."

Overall, the company says it has invested $50 million in the U.S. over the past two years, through partnerships with businesses like OneRoof Energy, Crystal Solar, Solar Monkey and 1366 Technologies. "Hanwha Solar will continue to increase the company’s footprint in the region over the coming years, making additional investments and increasing employment," continued the statement.

Developing technology

In related news, Hanwha, well-known for its solar and chemical operations, exhibited its solar technology for the first time at the International Green Energy Exhibition in Daegu, South Korea, this March. Hanwha TechM used the event to showcase its newly developed equipment, which includes wire saws and a module production line. Next year, the company will head to the U.S. and Europe to tout its products at such shows as the SPI and Intersolar.

Jun-Suk Byun, manager of the sales team for the machine tool division told pv magazine that the company is beginning to focus its efforts on the upstream business. While the equipment is still in the early phase of development – "a baby" – he is confident that mass production on the module line, of which there is currently one in operation, will be reached in the next two years. Furthermore, he states that the equipment is cheaper than the competitors’, like Centrotherm.

With regard to its wire saws, which use diamond wire technology, they are said to be helping to both lower costs, by around 15 percent, and increase quality. Jun-Suk Byun adds that diamond wire technology is better than slurry, for instance, as there are fewer associated environmental problems.

Although Hanwha TechM is currently working on the production technology in Korea, it does intend to establish a manufacturing base in China in the future.

He says that the company is also looking to develop its own string technology. In terms of its key sales markets, China is sitting at number one, followed by Taiwan.

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