Best known outside China for the ancient terra cotta army found nearby, Xian also is one of China's major high-tech hubs and manufacturing centers, where many multinationals conduct operations. Though desperately polluted, like so many of China's big cities, it also has considerable charm, with old walls, a bell tower, a thriving Muslim community, and a lovely cloistered mosque. Soon it also will be home to what surely will be the world's foremost R&D lab for photovoltaics manufacturing equipment. Applied Materials, the leading maker of semiconductor and flat-panel-display equipment, is setting up an R&D lab in Xian and deploying one of its star chief technology officers, Mark R. Pinto, to run it.
Pinto describes the basic setup as follows: "The building has two floors for labs (each floor is the height of two office levels). The first floor lab will be mostly a crystalline silicon PV lab but the equipment is just arriving next month. The second floor is a full thin-film line--the one we've been working on with the 5.7-meter-square panels, so it is huge. And we just made our first panels this week.The main objective of both labs is to use equipment to prove in processes at full scale, something we cannot do in our other locations."
As described here last December in a post about utility-scale photovoltaics, Applied Materials has made a nice business out of offering complete sets of tool-making equipment to aspiring makers of thin-film silicon sheets, in effect just about everything that's needed in the manufacturing process, which it has branded with the name SunFabs. An interactive video on the company's website describes how a SunFab factory can be linked to a solar farm; a photo-essay describing its production processes also can be found in the current issue of MIT's Technology Review.