September 23, 2008

Albany NanoTech Makes Big Push In Cleantech

By: by Mark LaPedus, EE Times


ALBANY, N.Y. " Seeking to replicate its success in semiconductors, Albany NanoTech and its parent organization are bringing its collaboration model over to clean technology.

As part of its major efforts in clean technology, Albany NanoTech is quietly putting together a solar-cell consortium that involves undisclosed panel, equipment and material vendors.

The Albany, N.Y.-based organization is also looking to launch at least two new and separate R&D initiatives in the arena, including a test farm and the so-called Zero-Energy Nano Building (ZEN). Both initiatives will conduct research in fuel cells, power management, solar cells, ultracapacitors and other technologies.

Slated to open in early 2009, the test farm will conduct the initial R&D in clean technology. The test farm will be situated within a new and larger $150 million facility in Albany, dubbed NanoFab 300 East. NanoFab 300 East will also house a new 300-mm R&D fab as well as the new headquarters of chip-making consortium International Sematech.

Then, over time, the organization envisions that the more feasible projects will be transferred to ZEN. Still in the planning stages, ZEN is a $85 million facility that is projected to open within the next three to four years.

ZEN will become a ''living laboratory" of clean technology R&D, said said Alain Kaloyeros, senior vice president and chief executive of the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) at the University of Albany, N.Y.--State University of New York (SUNY). Albany Nanotech is part of CNSE.

The organization has been conducting research in solar and other clean technologies for several years. But in a slight change in strategy, the group hopes to spearhead industry collaboration among various clean technology companies, Kaloyeros said.

"We are trying to put together a consortium of solar-cell and equipment makers," added Pradeep Haldar, head of the Nanoengineering Constellation and director of the Energy and Environmental Technology Applications Center (E2TAC) at CNSE.

Housed in a $4.2 billion, 450,000-square-foot complex--which is being expanded to 800,000-square-feet--the CNSE is a sprawling empire of buildings, labs and R&D fabs on the campus at the University of Albany.

Within CNSE, there are a dizzying array of R&D programs in biotech, clean technology and semiconductors. Considered part of CNSE, Albany NanoTech consists of a cluster of 200- and 300-mm R&D fabs, labs and related facilities. It also houses one of world's two alpha demo extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography tools, which are made by Dutch-based ASML Holding NV. The other alpha EUV tool is located at IMEC.

In semiconductors, Albany Nanotech is involved in various collaborations. For example, as part of its plethora of programs, IBM Corp.'s ''fab club'' conducts R&D within Albany Nanotech. In another example, fab-tool rivals Applied Materials Inc. and Tokyo Electron Ltd. (TEL) conduct separate R&D programs at Albany NanoTech.

Kaloyeros, a candid and outspoken technologist, believes that the same collaboration model can work in clean technology, a sector that tends to operate in silos. ''If we can put Applied and TEL together, we can create miracles," he said at a press event here this week.

It will take miracles to bring clean technology into the mainstream. Despite the hype for electric cars, solar, thermal, wind and other technologies, the progress is still slow and disappointing in the arena.

Real breakthroughs in clean technology are few and far between. Government and industry leaders are simply not doing enough. For example, the U.S. Congress is unwilling to pass a simple solar tax credit bill. Mass transit remains non-existent in most U.S. cities. And there is no sense of urgency among consumers worldwide.

However, there appears to be a sense of urgency at CNSE. In solar, for example, CNSE is working on solar cells based on polysilicon, thin film and polymers. Within those headings, the organization on its Web site said it is working on the following technologies:

*The development of sputter deposition processes for CIGS, low-cost methods for selenization, and studies of substrates and barrier layers.

*Increasing the efficiency of polymer-based solar cells and on improving their durability and immunity to environmental effects.

*Investigation of spin-coating techniques for producing wafer-based silicon solar cells, research on thin-film crystalline silicon solar cells, and work on anti-reflection and passivation coatings.

To test these technologies, E2TAC has received $3.5 million in funding for the test farm from the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology, and Innovation (NYSTAR).

Other technologies will also be investigated at the test farm, including fuel cells, ultracapacitors, power electronics, sensors, superconductors, thermoelectrics for generating electricity from waste heat, and building energy system monitoring and control sensors.

During a presentation, Halder was optimistic about solar. "It's a matter of three-to-five years before solar reaches grid parity in certain applications," he said.

He was less optimistic about fuel cells for cars, saying the technology is far too expensive right now. CNSE is also conducting research in the fuel cells for cars and back-up power supplies.

Meanwhile, CNSE is involved in other fronts. It is a member of the Clean Energy Alliance or also known as the National Alliance of Clean Energy Business Incubators.

Established in 2000 by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the group is an alliance of leading business incubators dedicated to providing business and financial services tailored to the needs of the clean energy community.

Indeed, New York is turning its attention towards solar, especially in the Hudson Valley.

Several smaller solar startups have set up shop in Hudson Valley, which is just outside New York City. But the area may get a huge boost, as IBM Corp. is reportedly looking to enter the solar-cell fray.

Encompassing nine counties that stretch 150 miles from just outside New York City nearly to Albany, the Hudson Valley is the fastest growing part of New York State.