Cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar panels are not toxic if carefully handled throughout their life cycle. The toxicity of CdTe-based PV is considerably higher, however, for investors and startups in this materials system.

Today's casualty is Willard & Kelsey of Ohio. The firm seemed to specialize more in extracting tax breaks from the locals and paying its executives lavish salaries than in building solar panels, according to the reporting in the Toledo Blade. The firm officially closes today after ramping down over the last several years and burning through more than $60 million in investor and taxpayer money. The founders had roots in the early days of First Solar.

When it comes to volume shipments of CdTe, there's First Solar and there's everyone else.

Efficiency and cost are what counts in solar panels. First Solar's average production module efficiency was 12.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, while its "lead line" was producing modules with 13.1 percent efficiency during the fourth quarter at a cost of below $0.70 per watt. Silicon solar panels have efficiencies in the mid- to high-teens, while efficiency leader SunPower ships c-Si modules with greater than 20 percent efficiency. Leading Chinese solar module manufacturer cost is below $0.60 per watt.

CdTe firms still in the fight include:

  • Reel Solar raised $19 million from Mayfield Fund, CalCEF, CMEA Capital, and Pangaea Ventures. According to sources close to the company, Reel Solar is working in CdTe and using what is known as the BP process. The BP process uses an electrodeposition technology "inherited from Monosolar." BP dropped the CdTe technology a decade ago and has since completely retreated from the solar business.  
  • General Electric's PrimeStar Solar acquisition lies fallow awaiting the market to revive, according to GE. PrimeStar, acquired by GE in April 2011 uses (as did Abound) a close space sublimation (CSS) process for CdTe
  • Calyxo was acquired by Solar Fields from Q.cells
  • Lucintech, the former Xunlight 26, is building prototypes on flexible substrates with CdTe and CdS deposited via magnetron sputtering. The company is still in early development with VC funding from Ohio Third Frontier, NSF-SBIR, and DOE-STTR.

Firms that have recently lost the battle with cadmium telluride include:

  • Abound Solar (DOE loan recipient)
  • Alion (formerly known as Sunprint, with funding from Sequoia Capital, DAG Ventures, Bright Capital, and Cleantech Group. The firm was once intent on building utility-size, large-format CdTe panels with a wet print technology akin to that used by Nanosolar with CIGS materials and has since pivoted to a robotic panel mounting plan)
  • Solexant moved from CdTe to CIGS

First Solar continues to set CdTe records in the labs and on the production line.