The 20-megawatt factory, expected to begin production next year, is slated for the Expo Business Park in Austin, Texas. In October, HelioVolt -- also based in Austin -- closed a $101 million Series B round of venture-capital funding, which it will use to finance the construction (see HelioVolt Gets More Cash for Thin Solar).
"We are delighted to be entering the next stage of growth with our first factory," HelioVolt CEO B.J. Stanbery said in a written statement.
The details about HelioVolt's thin-film plant come on the heels of an announcement earlier this week that Nanosolar had begun production of its first commercial thin-film panels (see Nanosolar Begins Production).
Thin-film solar technologies use little or no silicon, a potential advantage in today's worldwide shortage of solar-grade silicon. Instead of slicing wafers of silicon crystals to make solar cells, thin-film companies coat plastics, glass or other substrates with thin films of material that convert sunlight into electricity.
Advocates say such technologies could drastically reduce the cost of solar power. But in spite of decades of research, thin films had proven difficult to produce cost-effectively until last year, when First Solar churned out 60 megawatts of cadmium-telluride films.
In 2006, thin-film solar grew from 5.8 to 7.5 percent of the worldwide solar-electric equipment production, according to a report by Greentech Media Research and the Prometheus Institute. The report projected that thin films would continue to gain market share, reaching about 20 percent by 2010, making up 2.5 gigawatts of capacity and nearly $5 billion in module sales.
Still, many thin-film technologies -- including cadmium-telluride -- have lower conversion efficiencies than traditional solar cells, meaning they convert sunlight into electricity less efficiently (see Does Going Organic Require Exaggeration?).
HelioVolt and Nanosolar are among the companies pursuing a copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) film, a technology which has converted sunlight into electricity more efficiently than other thin-film technologies in tests.