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The Top PV Equipment Manufacturer Establishes R&D Lab in Xian

With China expected to account for two thirds of world photovoltaic production, Applied Materials is going where the action is

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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 butthe equipment is just arriving next month. The second floor is a full thin-filmline--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.

 

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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