Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Intel, IBM Get Solar Exposure

Intel and International Business Machines have joined the parade of technology companies making alternative-energy plays, announcing Monday separate efforts to put their manufacturing smarts to work cranking out solar cells.

Intel (nasdaq: INTC - news - people ) and IBM (nyse: IBM - news - people ) already have plenty of relevant manufacturing and materials know-how, with IBM's PowerPC processors competing with Intel's ubiquitous x86 processors to power high-end servers.

IBM and Intel, however, are taking very different approaches, with Intel tapping into its long experience working with slabs of silicon and IBM pursuing a technology based on thin, flexible films developed at its research arm.

Intel said Monday it will spin off a new venture, dubbed SpectraWatt, that will build a factory in Oregon in the second half of this year and begin sending solar modules to customers by the middle of next year.

Intel will lead a $50 million investment in SpectraWatt, an effort that will be spun out of the company's new business initiatives arm. Other investors include Goldman Sachs (nyse: GS - news - people ) subsidiary Cogentrix Energy, PCG Clean Energy and Technology Fund, and Solon AG.

IBM's approach is based on a process developed by IBM Research to crank out so-called thin-film solar cells based on copper, indium, gallium and selenide.

Solar cells, which convert light to electricity, have long relied on silicon, the same material upon which companies such as IBM and Intel build computer chips.

The idea behind thin-film solar cells, however, is to work with flexible films, slashing costs while creating solar cells that can be wrapped around walls or even incorporated into tinted windows. It's an idea being pursued by a clutch of start-ups, in addition to IBM.

The goal, according to IBM, is to create solar cells that convert 15% of the energy that hits each cell from sunlight into useable electricity, up from a range of between 6% and 12% today. The technology giant will collaborate with Japanese manufacturer Tokyo Ohka Kogyo on the project.

Original here

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