Miasolé, the sometimes troubled maker of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar cells, has lost its chief research officer to a rival down the road.

Kannan Ramanathan, who served as chief research officer at Miasolé from 2006 to 2008, became a senior researcher at SoloPower this month, according to sources. His LinkedIn profile, in fact, also confirms the move.

The move is certainly not good for Miasolé. Ramanathan is one of the top researchers in CIGS. Prior to Miasolé, Ramanathan worked at the National Renewable Energy Labs.

That makes the second well-known CIGS researcher to land at SoloPower. In February, Rommel Noufi joined the company from NREL, where he ran both the CIGS and cadmium telluride research programs. He headed up the teams tha set the world record for efficiency for both CIGS (19.9 percent) and CdTe (16.5 percent). A new CIGS record, however, is supposed to be announced soon.

Miasolé and CIGS both want to make planar, thin-film CIGS solar cells. Where they differ is manufacturing process. Miasolé sputters the active material onto sheets of glass and foil, similar to the way magnetic materials are sputtered onto hard drives. the company was founded by Dave Pearce, who worked in the drive industry for years.

SoloPower, meanwhile, wants to electroplate the materials onto a substrate. Electroplating is also being deployed by a new company called Bloo Solar, which electroplates CdTe onto microscopic, conductive posts.

Although an early U.S. pioneer in CIGS, Miasolé has seen its share of ups and downs. In 2006, with $56 million in venture funds, Miasolé said it would be able to enter commercial production that year. By the end of 2007, it said it might even be hitting a run rate of $100 million.

Product delays and lower-than-expected performance forced the company to postpone the commercial release. In late 2007, chip equipment veteran Joseph Laia replaced Pearce as CEO.

Although Miasolé has produced CIGS modules with a greater than 10 percent efficiency, it is still not in commercial production. That isn't expected to begin until 2009.

SoloPower, however, isn't in commercial production either. Only two of the U.S. startups, Global Solar and Nanosolar, have entered into commercial production and, reportedly, in somewhat small commodities.

The biggest threats for these companies, though, may lurk overseas. Honda, Shell and BP all have active CIGS or CIS programs. Honda's is particularly interesting, according to Travis Bradford of the Prometheus Institute, a Greentech Media partner.

Bradford expects CIGS and CIS (CIGS without the gallium) to move into larger volume production next year.