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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

GT Advanced Tech moves solar-cell division from St. Louis to Merrimack

In the face of a competitive market for solar-power cells, GT Advanced Technologies is consolidating its furnace business in Merrimack and is looking to sell a solar wafer manufacturing facility in St. Louis, which it bought for $60 million in August 2011.

The move, which includes laying off 35 workers at the facility, is part of a general restructuring at the firm, which got started as GT Solar selling furnaces to make solar cells. ...

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In the face of a competitive market for solar-power cells, GT Advanced Technologies is consolidating its furnace business in Merrimack and is looking to sell a solar wafer manufacturing facility in St. Louis, which it bought for $60 million in August 2011.

The move, which includes laying off 35 workers at the facility, is part of a general restructuring at the firm, which got started as GT Solar selling furnaces to make solar cells.

A glut on the photovoltaic solar-cell market has forced a push for cheaper methods, including what GTAT calls HiCz, which uses cubic zirconia as a building block.

That search is why GTAT bought Confluence Solar, with plans to expand the plant. But solar-cell prices have stayed so low, partly because of a trade war with China’s massive solar-power push, that more consolidation is needed, GTAT said.

In October, GTAT said it laid off a quarter of its workforce worldwide, including 40 employees in New Hampshire, and downgraded its revenue forecast for the year by about $200 million.

Although GT Solar was built on photovoltaic-cell furnaces, that business is now only about 1 percent of GTAT’s revenue. The company is now focusing on furnaces that crystallize sapphire for LEDs and cellphones.

“These things go in cycles,” GTAT spokesman Jeff Nestel-Patt told the New Hampshire Business Review. “Right now, the solar industry is in a downturn, and there is not a lot of investment in new technology. The companies that will prosper will be those that are willing and able to make that strategic investment and be ready for the next upturn.”

Traditional solar panels are made by slicing a 200-micrometer-thick wafer from a block of crystalline silicon, covering it with electrodes, then making power via the photovoltaic effect (hence the name), by which silicon electrons are excited when hit by photons, generating a charge. A number of firms are working on commercializing new methods of creating the wafers from other materials and other processes to reduce costs.

In a reorganization, GTAT said research and development in solar photovoltaic technologies will be managed by Vikram Singh, vice president of Advanced Systems Development, while sales, service and worldwide operations are centralized under Vice President Dan Squiller, who reports to President and CEO Tom Gutierrez. Squiller formerly worked with PowerGenix Corp., of California, which develops batteries for hybrid vehicles.

David Gray, chief strategy and new business officer, and Cheryl Diuguid, vice president and general manager of the sapphire business, will be leaving the company, GTAT announced.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Follow Brooks’ blog on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).