A Q-Cells subsidiary that makes micromorph thin-filmsolarpanels is scaling up its production nicely, the company said Tuesday.

Sontor, founded in 2006, started mass production at its German factory last August and rolled out 3.6 megawatts worth of solar panels last year. A solar power plant in Lower Bavaria installed 1.6 megawatts worth of those panels, which are now producing power and hooked up to the grid, the company said.

Sontor said it began pilot production with an 8-megawatt line in 2007. It has since expanded the factory to 24 megawatts in annual production capacity. The company said one of its goals for 2009 is to scale up its production to make full use of its equipment.

Q-Cells said the micromorph technology used by Sontor was developed jointly by Q-Cells, Applied Materials in Santa Clara, Calif., and the Julich Research Center in Germany, according to the Q-Cells Website.

The announcement provides some glimpse into Applied's progress on the micromorph technology, which refers to the use of a layer of amorphous silicon and a layer microcrystalline silicon on glass to make the panels. This two-layer approach, called tandem junction, is a new thin-film technology on the market today.

Applied, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has been talking about its customers using equipment to make solar panels with a single layer amorphous silicon. Those panels aren't as good at converting sunlight into electricity as those with micromorph technology.

Applied's chief rival, Switzerland-based Oerlikon Solar, recently announced that one of its customers, Inventux Technologies, had begun mass-producing tandem junction cells using its micromorph technology.

Oerlikon and Applied's customers have fought over micromorph technology development in the past. Oerlikon filed suit against Sunfilm in Germany last year, contending that Sunfilm's plan to use Applied's equipment to make tandem-junction solar cells violated its patent (see Oerlikon Solar Sues Sunfilm).

Sunfilm and Q-Cells, among others, had previously disputed Oerlikon's patent by filing objections with the European Patent Office. Q-Cells makes solar cells using crystalline silicon as the active ingredient, a different technology than what's offered by Oerlikon. But Q-Cells has invested in several companies to explore other types of solar technologies, such as using cadmium and tellurium – or a combination of copper, indium, gallium and selenium – as active ingredients.

Both Oerlikon and Applied are working on improving their offerings to reduce the costs of manufacturing tandem junction panels (see Applied Materials Sees Crunch, More Customers Using Thin Film in '09 and Oerlikon Boosts Fab Line Efficiency).

Last month, Applied declined to comment on reports that the company is introducing a complete set of equipment this summer for making microcrystalline panels (see Green Light post).